For a long time, I’ve had some doctor friends complaining to me that once Google Places changed over to the new Google+ format, all their patients lost the ability to leave anonymous reviews (thus hurting their business and their rankings).
They asked me what to do; and I, in turn, asked my fellow SEO friends what to do.
No one really had a good answer, except to start leaving reviews on doctor-specific sites like healthgrades.com and vitals.com. That never seemed like a good answer to me, so I kept searching. Even answers from Google staff (in Google Groups) don’t shed much light on the situation:
Jumping into this thread to confirm that all new reviews on Google+ Local are tied to a Google+ profile and therefore must be left under a user’s Google+ profile name.
We believe that sharing reviews publicly creates a strong foundation for high quality and trustworthy reviews in Google+. Publishing reviews under your Google+ profile name is also a benefit for businesses, who commonly receive spammy/critical reviews written by competitors who don’t identify themselves. For businesses and users alike, we’re committed to surfacing high-quality and accurate information. We believe that when reviews are associated with the person who’s writing the review, we’ll see a better experience for all.
I understand what Jade was going for in her response above. It does make some sense to require people to use their full name when reviewing a restaurant, bar or café. Unfortunately, in some other cases, that’s not true. It does not matter how awesome (or horrible) your proctologist, gynecologist, psychologist or oncologist is — you might not want your name associated with a review of their services online for all to see for the rest of eternity.
Anonymous Reviews On YouTube
I always felt bad about my inability to help my doctor friends, so when I finally saw Googler John Mueller share something on Google+ about leaving anonymous reviews on YouTube, I was intrigued — why was this possible for silly cat videos, but not for serious medical practitioners?
I added this question to the Google+ comments about the article, and John was nice enough to respond, telling me it was 100% possible to leave anonymous business reviews.
Apparently, in a move that seems to go against the primary goals and spirit of Google+ (and the quote from Jade above), they actually allow you to leave reviews via pages created off of your primary Google+ profile. (OMG. This seems 100% evil, and fraught with potential abuse — and my white-hat mind would hardly allow me to conceive of it or, for that matter, of a Googler suggesting it!) Anyway, here is how you can leave anonymous reviews in Google+ Local….
Anonymous Business Reviews Via Google+ Local
Go to your profile page in Google+ and click on the upper left-hand drop down, and then click on the button that says “Pages.” Once the new page loads, click the “Create a page” button that appears in the upper right-hand corner (as shown in the image below):
After that, you have to pick a category — in this case, “Other.”
You can name your dummy account anything you want, keeping in mind that it will show up next to the reviews that you are going to post later.
If you are being serious, I suggest something like “Anonymous” or “A Google User.” Note that older anonymous reviews from before the Google+ Local transition are shown with the user name “A Google User,” so that one is probably the most standard.
Once you are done, just hit “Continue” and then you will be taken to the “Pages” dashboard that, in my case, looks like this (notice the real business page on the right, and the new anonymous commenting account on the left):
Now, all you have to do when you want to leave an anonymous review (or a couple) is:
1) Switch to your new dummy profile by clicking the primary account profile picture in the upper right-hand corner, then select the dummy account from the resulting drop-down.
2) Find the business in Google+ Local by clicking the other drop-down, in the upper left corner. In the drop-down, click on “Local,” then search for the business, click on the pencil image to the right of the business listing, and finally, write your review. Mine looks like this:
When you are done, you will get a “Thank You” message that looks like this:
But They Could Be Gamed
The problem is, I don’t think anyone but SEOs will do this to leave a legitimate review — and honestly, most SEOs will probably try to game it a bit. Being tied to a primary account gives Google some governance, but what is to keep people from creating, optimizing and building up lots of dummy primary accounts with multiple dummy sub accounts (then potentially even monetizing the accounts or the reviews from the accounts).
No doubt Google has algorithms to check for this, and reviews do go through additional processing once they are submitted, but the system may indeed still be gameable.
To be clear, I am not suggesting anyone partake in spammy behavior — that would be a clear violation of Google’s guidelines (and the terms you agree to when you set up the accounts). There would probably be serious consequences if Google discovered attempts to manipulate the system. And remember that if you are spamming from your primary Google+ account, that could be tied in with all your other Google accounts (including Webmaster Tools, AdWords and Analytics) — so don’t put those at risk!
My point is just that very few normal people would go to this level of effort to simply leave a review. There is no way I would be able to explain this to my doctor friends with a straight face, and there is a 0% chance they would understand it or tell patients to do it. Even though this process technically works, for the large majority of people, it is seriously broken.
It Works & You’re Anonymous
When I went about the anonymous account creation process for a legitimate purpose, I felt a bit dirty. While I can now feel confident that only Google will know the various doctors that I visit and review online (or other private stuff, like kids’ daycare, voting centers, churches, funeral homes and whatnot), at least if I want to leave them a compliment or tell people to avoid doing business with them, I can now do that knowing it won’t be published on the Web with my name on it, for all to see.
Lots of thanks goes to John Mueller at Google for helping me figure this out. While I do not love the solution, I do appreciate the assistance!
Opinions expressed in the article are those of the guest author and not necessarily Search Engine Land.