In August 2012, Google's social media portal Google+ (think of it as Google's version of Facebook) purged thousands of reviews left on the Google+ pages of car dealerships and changed the algorithm for how reviews are rated. According to Automotive News, one dealer saw 300 published reviews drop to just 11, another lost 145 reviews, yet another dealer had 400 reviews go "poof" over the course of two days. Google never truly explained its actions, noting that its efforts to remove all "spammy" reviews, like those solicited from customers and written at the dealership, for instance, would mean perfectly legitimate reviews might also be eliminated. That sent hundreds of dealers – especially those who had gone from positive to negative overall ratings – immediately on the hunt for another way to get reviews.
Five months later, dealers are still searching, with sites like DealerRater.com, Cars.com, DriverSide.com among the top destinations. The key to finding a supplement to Google+ is ensuring that third-party-site reviews get the prominence they need. A dealership's Google+ page will show reviews from other sites and it's possible to get them to show up in Google search results, but it's more complex than when everything was in one place, and right now, there's still the need to rebuild the goodwill that the purged positive reviews were creating. The power of positive reviews is continually evident in the amount of increased traffic online and in the store, so it's something dealers can't walk away from. Which takes us back to Google's location on the Internet road map: It means dealers could have a long walk ahead.