Well I guess Google felt like it needed to leverage its purchase of Zagat last year by changing the way it captures and displays ratings and reviews. Basically Google has adopted a new 30-point rating scale for all businesses, not just restaurants, which have been Zagat's sweet spot.
Gone is the standard "5 Star" rating system with comment capability. It has now been replaced with "Individual user ratings" based on a zero- to three-point scale with comment capability. But wait, there's more - according to Google, "We take these ratings, average them, and then multiply by ten to arrive at averaged scores."
Now I am sure that "foodies" familiar with Zagat's rating for restaurants understand the rating scale, but I have my doubts for everyone else. This raises two concerns in my opinion. First, consumers will have a difficult time understanding and valuing businesses based on this rating information. While there is no single accepted scale for ratings, three-, five-, and 10-star (or point) rating scales are pretty much imbedded in consumers' understanding. The basic principles come from the widely used Likert scale where for example, one equals "strongly disagree" or "dislike" and five equals "strongly agree" or "like." Hence, a five-star establishment is better than a four-star one and much better than a two-star one. Will consumers be able to decode that a 22 is "very good to excellent"?
My second concern revolves around building review content for businesses. The majority of consumers (61 percent) rank "ratings and reviews" as important or very important in selecting a local business. Yet only 27 percent have published ratings or review information, according to my company's and Localeze's Local Search Study. So review content is vital for businesses to stand out in the consumer engagement and selection process.
Where Have All the Reviews Gone?
A recent search query for "Plumber Danbury, CT" in Google+ revealed only one business out of over 100 that displayed consumer ratings in their listing:
Yet the same search query in Google.com or Google Maps shows a number of businesses with reviews.
Currently, in order for a review to appear in Google+, the original review writer must go into their Google+ profile and allow Google to display their ratings information to other users. So review content within Google+, where Google is moving local search, has virtually no content with the exception of the restaurant content again streamed in from Zagat's database. Here is another window of opportunity for local merchants and national brands with local locations.
Advertiser Best Practices
Google's new rating scale hasn't changed the basics we reviewed in "Tips To Leverage Ratings and Reviews," however, businesses should also take these three tactics into consideration:
1. Ask existing customers to rate your business. It's critical that your business "gets credit" for all the reviews written about it, no matter where they appear. In addition to continuing to build review content by asking your customers to rate your business, go into Google.com and Google Maps and check to see how many reviews are linked to your listing. Now go into Google+ and see if the same review content exists there. Example:
Existing review content is displayed as "A Google User" in the Google+ page. In order for the number of reviews to be displayed in the Google+ listing, the page owner needs to go into the reviews and comment/respond to the review material. A simple "Thank you your feedback" or other friendly comment enables the Zagat-style review score bar to be displayed in the listing as pictured below:
2. Make Google your focus first. With Google still king of the hill for local searches, now more than ever merchants and brands need to review their listing and review content within Google. Because of these rating scale changes in Google+ and how they are impacting ranking position against local keyword queries, it's essential to focus your time on getting the most from any reviews on Google.
3. Monitor your reviews and have a response plan. Because of the visibility of reviews now directly in the Google+ listings and the fact that interaction and owner response are triggers for the Zagat-style review score in the Google+ local listings, a comprehensive plan to monitor reviews is vital. As I mentioned before, consumers don't expect every business to be perfect, but they do except the business to deal with any issues that consumers point out. And negative buzz that is not responded to can have a significant impact on your business. Make sure you are proactively policing posts, dealing with consumer issues, and responding for others to see that your business cares about your customers.
Google's adoption of a 30-point ratings scale seems like the search engine is trying to fit the Zagat model (square peg) into the world of local search (round hole). Only time will tell if consumers like and adopt the new scale. I am keeping an eye on competitors like Yelp to see if they benefit from any exodus of users. In the meantime, we will keep looking at tactics, like the owner interaction mentioned above, to help optimize local search positioning and content.
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Gregg Stewart is president of 15miles Local Marketing, a full-service marketing agency specializing in digital local solutions, headquartered in Connecticut. 15miles is a local search agency supporting the offline, online, and mobile solutions for businesses of all sizes, including Fortune 500 companies. At the helm, Stewart applies his successful, tenured career in interactive advertising and local search to the ongoing development of digital solutions for his clients' online-marketing campaigns. Through his strategic counsel, national and local brands become better equipped to target and reach niche consumers for increased leads and sales. In addition to his Clickz columns, additional columns can be found in the Search Engine Watch archive.
March 19, 2014