Google’s Management of Reviews and Q&A During COVID-19 – Updated

This post is being updated as we follow Google’s management of reviews and Q&A during COVID-19. The most recent updates are at the top of this article and the first update is from 3/20/20 when Google announced they were temporarily pausing reviews and Q&A features.

Some general observations about the on-going return of Google reviews and Google Q & A:

1- The return of Google reviews and Q & A is on a rolling schedule per category and country. While they might roll out in the US or in specific categories they might not yet be rolled out to other countries or all categories.
2- There will be no notification from Google when “furloughed” reviews have been published. So any reviews that your customers left during the furlough period will just show up in your GMB dashboard. This makes GatherUp’s review monitoring which includes alert emails and the activity dashboard more important.
3- The Google Q & A rollout so far is more limited than reviews … restaurants and shopping and a few other categories and only in the US.
4- So while things are returning, it is still wonky and you need to realize that you might be in a country or category that has not yet been fully turned on.

Update 7/9/20

We are getting there. Almost back to normal. Google Q & A has been fixed by Google so we now are once again able to give, respond to and monitor Google Q & A on all locations, even medical facilities. Both the front end link bugs AND the API have been repaired and are working normally.

With the return of Q & A to fully operational status, the only missing piece are the reviews furloughed for medical categories that have not yet returned. So while you can leave a new review for a medical practioner, Google has not yet chosen to display provided during the 3/20 to 6/17. Hopefully soon.

Update 6/17/20

There are reports that reviews are starting to be allowed to be left for some of the medical categories that have been absent up to now. There has been no indication that furloughed reviews have returned yet.

Update 6/09/20

Google has noted that review replies, user reviews, user photos, and Q&A are now available in all countries with some exceptions:

The following services are still currently unavailable:

  • Reviews, photos, and Q&A for businesses in a narrow set of medical categories, such as hospitals and doctors’ offices
  • Video uploads
  • Q&A via API (there is also a Google bug that is preventing scraping as well)

Update 5/29/20

We started seeing Google Q & A return to a few more categories in the U.S. today with them now visible in car washes, plumbers and hvac categories.

Update 5/18/20

Review counts, at least in the US, have normalized and now reflect the actual number of reviews that a business has. All of the reviews received during the “furlough” are now counted accurately. Review counts often lag behind the actual number of reviews.

Update 5/15/20

Google new review alert e-mails have returned but they are currently delayed by up to a day. This recently received alert (rec’d at 11 am) was from a review left early yesterday.It is unlikely that you will get notified for older reviews that show back up so you want to be sure to check your listing or your GatherUp Dashboard. GatherUp alerts are coming through in a timely fashion.

Google Q & A, which returned to shopping and restaurants on 4/23 has still not returned to other categories.

Update 5/14/20

We are seeing both our own Google reviews for GatherUp and many of our client’s furloughed AND new reviews coming in hot! And this is in almost all other categories and not just shopping or restaurants.

Update 5/13/20

We are starting to see the ability to leave new reviews for lawyers, dentists and service businesses. That is beyond just retail and restaurant reviews that could be left previously. The “furloughed” reviews have not started to show back up for these new categories.

Update 5/8/20

Reviews that were “furloughed” (ie accepted but not shown in the later part of March) have been returning for shopping and restaurant categories.

Google Q & A which reappeared on Google for shopping and restaurants categories on 4/23, disappeared on 5/2/ but has returned once again on shopping and restaurants. Roughly half of all Q & A has returned..

Update 5/1/20

Furloughed reviews have started to return. We are starting to see reviews left during Google Review shut down. This review is dated 4/05, during the height of the shutdown and it was seen via the API today. Like new reviews and Q and A these are coming back to shopping and restaurants first.

Update 4/17/20

Reviews can now be left on shopping and restaurant business categories worldwide. Other categories have not yet been turned on.

Update 4/13/20

We are seeing new reviews consistently posting for restaurants and major brands. None of the reviews that were furloughed during the hiatus have yet to return.

Update 4/9/20

Some new reviews are being published, sort of. It is too early to tell when all new reviews will be published as some still are being temporarily filtered but some are being shown. It is likely that it will be off and on for the next few days but you should start seeing them reliably.

Update 4/9/20 – 9:00 PM

Google has updated their GMB Covid-19 page to indicate that leave a review functionality is rolling out on a region by region basis:
“Review replies are now available. New user reviews, new user photos, new short names, and Q&A will gradually return by country and business category.”

 Update 4/7/20

Google has reopened the ability of businesses to reply to reviews via the API within GatherUp as well as the Google My Business dashboard and app. They have also noted that new user reviews, new user photos, new short names, and Q&A will gradually expand by country and business category over this week and next.

Update 3/31/20

On Friday, Google changed the messaging upon leaving a review and now Google has now indicated that they will in fact attempt to republish reviews and review responses that have been filtered during the Covid crisis. Their aim is to moderate and publish that content as they resume normal operations.

Google review notification

Update 3/22/20

Google has apparently removed visibility of all existing Google Q and A from business profiles. Initially they had just limited the ability to leave new ones and respond. Google has indicated that these will return but timing is not at all clear and it is likely to occur after reviews have been fully restored.

Original Post on 3/20/20

On the Google My Business Covid alert page, Google has just stated that: “New reviews, review replies, and new Q&A will be unavailable during this time”.

They have noted that they have taken steps to reduce the number of staffers that come into their offices and as a result are focusing their few remaining staff on Google Maps and Local search information “quality and reliability”.

So existing Google reviews, replies and Q&A are all still displaying, but for the time being no new ones will post.

Google is noting that:

We will prioritize reviewing all edits for critical health-related businesses. At this time, we will also prioritize reviewing open and closed states, special hours, temporary closures, business descriptions, and business attributes edits for other verified businesses. 

The approach that Google seems to have implemented is that a user can post and see the review themselves but the review is not visible to the public. 

Our api based responses for both reviews and Q&A are received by Google but not showing publicly. 

We do not know if Google will show these reviews in the future but given the many other demands on them I wouldn’t count on it. And it is prudent to stop asking for google reviews. 

We will update this post if or as more information becomes available on this.


About The Author

Mike Blumenthal is a co-founder of GatherUp and helps oversee our research, industry insight and agency offering. Mike has long been regarded as the foremost expert on local search and Google Maps, earning the nickname “Professor Maps”. Mike also co-founded Local University, which provides small business and agency training in sustainable local search marketing. His motto: All Local All the Time.  He writes at his blog and does a twice a week LocalU podcast about Local marketing. 

12 Replies to “Google’s Management of Reviews and Q&A During COVID-19 – Updated”

  1. Thanks for the update Mike!

    Passing this message along to all our clients and contacts is one of the few things we can do.

    I to suppose that getting reviews direct to business will likely be one of the better options for the moment too?

    You’re one of the reasons this industry has some sanity. Thank you!

    1. Thanks Marc.

      It is important in times of change to sit back, remain calm and take a long look at what is the best path forward.

      It is important to remember that getting Google reviews is just a tactic and businesses need to stay focused on the big picture of customer relations and experience.

      Most importantly businesses need to be respectful of their customers, their needs and have to be particularly careful about how they communicate with their clients.

      But for those businesses that have the ability and space to do so I do think that into this space temporarily created by Google, businesses need to give thought to rounding out their review profiles with their own reviews, reviews on FB and on what ever vertical site they have been ignoring for so long.

      I am not sure at moment many businesses have that luxury. So it is, as noted, a good time for sitting back and reflection

  2. Yes, thanks for the update Mike. I agree that rounding out your review profile is a good thing.

    I understand the need to limit new listings, etc. However, it doesn’t make sense to me that they would block reviews.

    The announcement says that the reduced staff needs to focus on quality and reliability, and critical services. This seems to imply that they normally have lots of staff focused working on reviews. Hah, they’re obviously not doing spam patrol, so what else would require so much manpower?

  3. Hi Tony

    Anything I say would be pure speculation. But I will speculate anyways.

    1- at Google’s incredible volume programs do much of the curation

    2- their rules are designed to minimize the need for reviews to be taken down but they still need some human curation and support staff to deal with the volume and special cases which is probably still large despite the lack of visible impact

    3- Google has a lot riding on getting their health care listings up-to snuff and their temporary closings under control AND accurate. A huge undertaking.

    4- For much of their “human review and let’s not take this review down” process they use contractors. In both the US and overseas.

    5- thank goodness but those workers have been sent home

    6- the full-time employees that they have that they trust to access core systems are probably working from home

    7- if we are to believe google and in this case I absolutely do, those few employees are heads down on the covid notifications and the world wide temporary closings of business listings they are trying to affect.

    8- those that arn’t working on the notifications & closings are servicing businesses who are critical to the world and are staying open. Like hospitals. In fact they helped me get a hospital listing squared away on Friday.

    9- some are also probably working on preventing nefarious actors from exploiting the local listings.

    I think we need to think of Google local at the moment as one huge public utility that is trying to keep the “digital grid” going despite having furloughed 90% (?) of their employers.

    And in that they are cutting non-essential services.

  4. Thanks for the find, Mike.

    As a test, I just left a rating-only review of my own business, and it went up right away and was visible in all the places I expected to see it. So my guess is that either ratings (without text) are an exception, or Google is in the process of rolling this out.

  5. Thanks for your insights, Mike. Before this pause most of our clients were primarily focused on acquiring Google reviews. Now we’ve configured a different request mode to point to internal & Facebook reviews to round out their review profile. Since people who are being serviced by small businesses right now are largely grateful the business is operating, we’re hoping this translates into stars. When things return to normal, then we’ll likely revert to a Google-centric bend by shifting back to the original request mode. Meantime, thanks for your leadership now & always.

  6. Hi there! Has Google made a statement that: “Reviews can now be left on shopping and restaurant business categories worldwide. Other categories have not yet been turned on.”? Just wondering how we can verify this is the case and start communicating this to clients.

    Thanks!

    1. Paige
      I can confirm that this is what we saw in our logs over the weekend and I have personally tested as well. Google noted that they would soon update their GMB Covid page.

      So you can wait for that or it is easy enough to test it yourself to see.

  7. Hi Mike, I had found very useful your post.
    I noted yesterday and today the arrive of reviews collected during de lock-down.
    After responding 13 reviews I noted the review counter isn’t updated from the last 5 weeks.
    Have your clients experience as well?
    thanks!

    1. @Yair
      Yes we have seen that the counter is not yet accurate.

      The review counter update happens independently of reviews being added or taken away and can sometimes lag reality when the processing load is heavy.

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