5-Star Google Reviews Are Gone: 2012 Guide to Google+ Local

Written by: Drew Lyon   Austin, Texas

Posted on: September 5, 2012

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Let’s recap Google’s local platforms as they have changed over time…
 
Google Local, Google Maps, Local Business Center, Google Places (replaces Local Business Center), Google+ pages for Businesses, Google+ Local pages (replaces Google Places, converts all Google Places pages to Google+ Local pages and completes transition to Google+ Local)
 
That’s it! And they also made this little change:
 
Google ditched their 5-star rating system in favor of an arguably less intuitive 30-point scale lifted from Zagat, a restaurant guide it purchased in 2011 (more on that below).
 
Don’t worry, you’re not the only one confused by Google’s seemingly constant need to rename services or launch entirely new platforms or change review systems, but chin up, local business owner. This might be the one that has lasting power.
 
Google is highly invested in Google+ and it seems, it really does seem, for the time being at least, like their current implementation of Google+ Local featuring Google+ Local pages, now prominently displayed with its very own tab on Google+, will be the standard for a while.
 
Since that is the case, we might as well get familiar with it!
 

Google+ Local: Everything you need to know

 
Say goodbye to 5-star reviews – Google is now using the same 30-point scale developed by the popular restaurant guide Zagat. Google purchased Zagat in late 2011 and recently switched from a common sense 5-star system to Zagat’s 30-point itemized score.
 
For a restaurant, it looks like this:
 

 
The Zagat scoring system is designed for restaurants, so users are asked to give eateries a score of 0-3 for Food, Decor, and Service. Google then combines and averages the scores, once at least 10 people have submitted reviews, and gives the business a score (0-30) for each category.
 
Google hopes this system will provide users a more complete picture of the dining experience. In a blog post announcing the Zagat integration, Google said, “For example, a restaurant that has great food but not great decor might be 4 stars, but with Zagat you’d see a 26 in Food and an 8 in Decor, and know that it might not be the best place for date night.”
 

Categories make sense for restaurants, but what about other places?

 
Google has decided to apply the new rating system to ALL local listings; however, for the time being, most non-restaurant listings will be only given one overall score (0-30) instead of three separate scores.
 
The FindMyCompany Google+ Local page looks like this:
 

 

Does this system offer more insight into a non-restaurant business?

 
The answer to this question will likely come as Google establishes different categories for businesses, which we predict will be a strong area of focus moving forward. As of now, users are somewhat confined to a smaller range of scores (0-3), and the extrapolated 0-30 score can be misleading. As an example, the FindMyCompany score of 26 could be translated to a 2.6 out of 3. As Google develops categories for different types of businesses (some hotel pages already have categories), this new scoring system could potentially add value.
 
For now, the advice to owners of all types of businesses remains the same: strongly encourage customers to leave reviews on your Google+ Local page and update your page regularly. If you don’t see a score for your business, it’s because you have fewer than 10 reviews.
 
10 is the magic number.
 
For more information on Google reviews: how to get them and what to do when you encounter problems with them, check out our blog post devoted to the matter.
 

How do I get my business to show up on Google+ Local?

 
If you had a Google Places listing, it should have been AUTOMATICALLY pulled into Google+ Local. Do a quick search for your business on Google+ and make sure your business page comes up.
 
Manage and update your Local pages by logging into your Google account and editing your listings, the same as with Google Places, or if you are logged into the Google account associated with your Local page, you can click the link that says ‘Edit business details.’
 

 
WARNING: Do not create a duplicate page(s) for your business. Duplicate listings may confuse users, get your page removed, and/or cause reviews to be attributed to the wrong page.
 

What else can I do to leverage Google’s new Local platform?

 
DESIGN – The new layout is much more visually engaging. At the top of every Local page is a banner area that displays thumbnails of your business photos, or if no photos of your business have been uploaded, it will display your location on Google Maps.
 
Here’s how it looks with photos:
 

 
Here’s without:
 

 
Design Advice – Personally, I like the look of both. However, for optimization purposes, it is always advisable that you add media, photos & videos, to your Local page. Keep in mind the photos will show in the banner so make sure they look good.
 
SOCIAL – Google+ Local pages are inherently more social than places listings. There are buttons that make it easy for users to +1 or share your page on Google+ and users can upload or browse public photos of your business. For now, these are the only social features Google has added to Local pages, but we expect more social elements on the platform soon.
 
Social AdviceAdd a status update or offer to your Local page. This will keep your page looking current and entice visitors to act. You can add an update or offer by logging into your Google account and managing the page. This is the same as updating your Google Places listing.
 
SEARCH – Searching for local businesses on Google+ is simple and useful to find places near you. You can even filter results by personal taste, based on businesses you’ve reviewed, or places your friends recommend.
 

 
As has been the case with Map and Places listings, Google+ Local pages are tightly woven into Google’s traditional search result pages as well. Therefore, it is essential for all business that want a strong presence on Google to have a well-optimized Google+ Local page. That bears repeating: every business should have a Google+ Local page.
 
As mentioned previously, if you had a Google Places listing, you should already have a Google+ Local page. Just make sure you keep it up to date with new content.
 
MOBILE – Google is in the process of optimizing Google+ Local for mobile devices. Most Android devices already support Local pages, and support for iOS and other platforms is coming soon. This has the potential drive a lot of new traffic to your Local page. For now, there is nothing specific you need to do to optimize your Google+ Local page for mobile devices.
 

Am I forgetting something? Doesn’t everyone use Yelp?

 
Yelp may be the most popular stand-alone business review site, but Google, with its full array of web services (everything from Gmail and Docs to Maps and Youtube), is a near-constant presence in the modern web user’s life. Simply put, many people will not go a day, or an hour, without using Google, while there are still plenty of people who don’t even know Yelp exists.
 
This disparity is further illustrated by Google’s decision to curate content of their own. By controlling the listing platform, the review platform, and the search results, Google could be accused of favoring their content over that from third-party sources, Yelp reviews for example. To avoid this particular conflict of interest, Google made the decision to stop displaying Yelp, Citysearch, or any other third-party reviews on their Local pages. This means less overall visibility for Yelp and more emphasis on getting customers to use Google’s own review platform.
 
Bottom Line – Maintain a presence on Yelp, but focus the majority of your time and resources on Google+ Local reviews and optimization.
 

Conclusion: Where do we go from here?

 
This is the one. I know, I may be going out on a limb here, but have reason to believe Google is going to stick with this platform (Google+ Local) for the foreseeable future. Go ahead, invest some time in familiarizing yourself with Google’s latest, and hopefully last, local listing platform. It’ll be worth it, because all of Google’s services, including search, are integrating with Google+.
 
Google knows they need to incorporate both social and local signals in order to keep their search results relevant. Google+ is their answer. It doesn’t matter if Google+ ever matches the popularity of Facebook, because Google is completely different. Google’s business is search and if you want your business in their results, you will want to jump on the Google+ Local bandwagon.

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