Even with Zagat Google has struggled to build its corpus of reviews and keep them coming. The company’s recently implemented City Experts program is another, fairly strained effort to improve review quality and frequency.
However with the announcement of a new Shared Endorsements ad unit Google may have done itself a major disservice in terms of review generation. Shared Endorsements could boost display ad performance but might have the unintended consequence of discouraging reviews.
I wrote about Shared Endorsements on Marketing Land. The program emulates Facebook’s Sponsored Stories. It will use images, user comments, +1s, reviews and other user-generated content on Google display ads unless users opt-out. Most users won’t even know the program is being implemented and will have difficulty figuring out how to opt out.
Here’s what Google says in its terms about the change, which will go into effect on November 11:
Recommendations from people you know can really help. So your friends, family and others may see your Profile name and photo, and content like the reviews you share or the ads you +1’d. This only happens when you take an action (things like +1’ing, commenting or following) – and the only people who see it are the people you’ve chosen to share that content with. On Google, you’re in control of what you share. This update to our Terms of Service doesn’t change in any way who you’ve shared things with in the past or your ability to control who you want to share things with in the future.
Feedback from people you know can save you time and improve results for you and your friends across all Google services, including Search, Maps, Play and in advertising. For example, your friends might see that you rated an album 4 stars on the band’s Google Play page. And the +1 you gave your favorite local bakery could be included in an ad that the bakery runs through Google. We call these recommendations shared endorsements and you can learn more about them here.
When it comes to shared endorsements in ads, you can control the use of your Profile name and photo via the Shared Endorsements setting. If you turn the setting to “off,” your Profile name and photo will not show up on that ad for your favorite bakery or any other ads. This setting only applies to use in ads, and doesn’t change whether your Profile name or photo may be used in other places such as Google Play.
Those users who discover Google is going to use their content, including reviews, in third party ads might decide to stop creating reviews. This of course is an “empirical question;” it remains to be seen. And as I mentioned most people won’t event be aware of it so their existing behavior will likely continue.
It gave me pause however about continuing to review businesses. My first reaction is to continue to review local businesses but stop reviewing brands or major enterprises because I wouldn’t want to see them exploit my likeness or content for commercial purposes. I have less of a problem with that where local businesses are concerned.
What are your thoughts? Do you think this will cause Google users to stop creating content or reviews? Or do you think people simply won’t notice at all?
There was a class action lawsuit and FTC investigation into Facebook’s Sponsored Stories. Although Google is trying to be more “transparent” there is likely to be a similar class action and FTC inquiry here as well — if the government ever reopens.
Update and correction: I indicated above that Shared Endorsements was a new ad unit. It’s not. This is merely an expansion of the types of social content that may appear in search or display ads. But the speculation about the potential impact on user behavior stands.