No different than numerous dealers, a client of mine, 25-year dealer Mohammad Ahmed―president of Northend Motors in Canton, Mass., in the Boston area―had numerbous positive reviews, all collected legitimately through very satisfied customers, stripped from his Google Places listing. Before this action, his dealership rated a score of 28 out of 30, which by Google standards is defined as “Extraordinary to Perfection.”
Removing his 145 legitimate positive reviews is one thing, but Google chose to leave six negative reviews and three negative scores without reviews―he has collected one positive review since. His dealership score has fallen to a 5, which is defined as “Poor to Fair” by Google.
According to articles posted by industry experts online, 70 percent of customers are using online reviews as part of their consideration as to where to buy. The results of Google’s actions have had a devastating effect on Northend Motors, even though they have hundreds of other reviews posted on CitySearch, Dealer Rater, InsiderPages and Yahoo.
Mohammad is not alone! Many other dealers all over the country have noticed the same thing.
How can you possibly fight a company like Google―which is so big and all-encompassing―where you have no real customer service contact and their own sales and engineering sides do not even communicate on their changed algorithm issues? E-mails sure aren’t going to do any good.
My brainstorm today was for Mohammad to do what so many consumers seem to do when they have a problem with their car … contact the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) and the Massachusetts Attorney General’s office. It may have worked. If you, too, have had a problem, I suggest you take similar action immediately!
The following is directly from Mohammad:
“I called FTC, (877) 382-4357, and also used FTC.gov and IC3.gov (Internet company complaints). I have not filed a complaint in writing yet because the person I spoke to on the phone took the complaint over the phone. My complaint number is 39764404. After I explained in five minutes what Google had done throughout the country to good businesses, she was very receptive and (she) also said this doesn't help the consumer because they are only seeing the bad reviews. ‘They should see both, only then a consumer can make an educated decision.’ She recommended that we should have every business that we know and dealership that we know file a complaint and that will speed up this process because this is unfair to business and to consumers.”
Mohammad also reached out to his attorney general. He was less successful there since Massachusetts only takes complaints from individuals—not businesses. However, they thanked him and gave him a feeling that even though they don’t take complaints from businesses, if they received enough calls they would take their own action. Each state has its own position, so don’t rely solely on Massachusetts’ stance.
If you are a dealer or dealership employee, this is where you come in. Have you checked your Google reviews? If you haven’t, you should. Nearly every client I have has found their positive reviews have disappeared. A prominent dealer and client of mine in central Kansas had hundreds of reviews and a score of 29 disappear, leaving but four negative reviews that averaged five-and-half-months old. They now have nine reviews (five new) and no score. Any doubt how that impacts a business?
I am not an attorney, but my opinion is what Google has done reeks of a deceptive trade practice (treble damages), and I think it could well cross the line of libel.
If you have the same problem, I urge you to call the FTC using the number Mohammad provided. He said you are welcome to reference his case number. I would also recommend you contact your state attorney general’s office.
Very few dealers, no matter their size, can have an immediate impact with a company the size of Google. The federal and state governments can. Google just paid a $22 million fine recently (I know, a drop in the bucket for them), and they will have to answer to the FTC.
It is their business, and they can cause changes like this at will, unless it materially misrepresents what your customers previously posted. Removing your positive reviews and leaving negative ones does just that. You may never get your positive reviews back, but just as the woman at the FTC said, leaving the old negative reviews just isn’t right. Hopefully, they will relent and repost the positive reviews; but if not, with enough of a voice against them, I would think they will quickly remove the old reviews as well.
Thanks for your ears today. Good selling, and for once, maybe the FTC can be viewed as a friend of the dealership as opposed to the bad guys. Go do your part!
Greg Goebel, CEO
Auto Dealer Monthly, LLC