Google has been attacking the local market in a big way – “Places” is an attempt to compete directly with Yelp in the local business review market, and their Groupon clone is rolling out slowly across the country as well. While many observers dislike Google’s philosophy of “buy it or copy it” (in addition to creating a near-clone of Yelp in Places, Google Offers is a straight riff on Groupon, which Google failed to acquire last year after offering billions), the company’s ubiquitous presence means that nearly anything they launch should be watched carefully.
Google is serious about making Places the go-to service for local reviews, and they’ve built a local presence in many markets to promote it. Here in Austin, both Places and Offers are receiving heavy promotion on social media, and it’s interesting to see Google’s enthusiasm for promoting their own services rub up against their public fight against web spam and junk content. In its aggressive promotion of review writing for Places, Google is essentially encouraging the creation of low-quality content to boost the service’s own ranking.
This promotion popped up last week: looks innocuous enough, and there’s a quick aside to discourage you from posting spam. But by holding contests to get users to post as many reviews as possible in a very short amount of time, Google cannot be serious about quality – quantity is the goal here, because more reviews beget better rankings.
If Google cared about review quality, they certainly wouldn’t encourage users to write reviews as quickly as possible. It calls into question the whole purpose of the service, and indeed Google’s attention to content quality in general. How can you downgrade content farm sites globally while at the same time encouraging a content farm mentality for services where you’re trying to build market share on your own?
Google’s webmaster guidelines for content quality suggest asking yourself “Does this help my users?” when considering the content you create and publish. In the case of contests to quickly create business reviews in as short amount of time as possible, I think the answer is clearly no.