Google Places glitch hurts small-business owners

Small businesses worldwide report they're losing customers after their positive reviews disappear from Google Places

Small-business owners from around the globe are reporting that their businesses are suffering because positive customer reviews of their businesses have disappeared from their Google Places listings. Beyond losing useful feedback that could sway new customers, the disappearance has affected business search rankings, according to the business owners.

The situation clearly demonstrates how much businesses rely on Google to freely promote their goods and services. Many of the businesses reporting the problem commented that they've seen a drop in business as a result of their reviews disappearing and their search rankings dropping.

The problem was brought to Google's attention as early as Oct. 1 on the Google Places forum. Bill Higgins, the owner of a guitar studio in Dundee, England, reported that "All 13 [of my] reviews have disappeared from my Places page, and now my students tell me their reviews fail to register on my page. This is terrible for my business."

Since that initial posting, dozens of other business owners have reported similar problems on the thread. Just today, Daniel Bodnar, the owner of a computer-repair business in Denton, Texas, posted the following: "Our reviews have been missing for about six weeks, and we've lost a ton of business because of this mistake."

"We've worked really hard for two years building those reviews, and they are one of the most visible ways we stand out from our competition," Bodnar continued. "We don't have many ways to advertise as a small business, and when something like this happens, our business gets cut in half. At this point, if something doesn't change this month, I am going to have to start letting go of employees."

As for Google's response, the company's first public acknowledgement of the problem came on Oct. 25, three weeks after the first report, in the aforementioned forum thread. "We suffered a temporary indexing outage beginning of October that prevented us from correctly serving reviews for some listings. The reviews should now be restored," wrote Stephan Seyboth, a Google employee.

Whereas Higgins, the original poster, did later report that his reviews had been restored, dozens of business owners from locations around the United States and the United Kingdom chimed in on the thread, reporting that their reviews have not been restored or have since disappeared.

Moreover, according to one respondent, a Phoenix-based chiropractor named Peter Nemanic, this isn't the first time business reviews have disappeared from Google Places. "I too have lost reviews. This is the second time. The first time, about a year ago, was eight lost reviews that never came back. This time (lost some time overnight on the 24th or early 25th of October), nine reviews."

This article, "Google Places glitch hurts small-business owners," was originally published at InfoWorld.com. Get the first word on what the important tech news really means with the InfoWorld Tech Watch blog.

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