Google has done it again. Just as local business owners were getting a handle on local search, Google changes everything. Place Pages have been moved onto Google+ Local, as apparently Google Places is to be phased out entirely.
So far, the changes have been mostly related to the interface, but in the coming weeks, Google is going to more fully integrate Google+ Local Pages with Google+ Business Pages, which is something akin to the Facebook Business Page.
The implications are big. Google is effectively combining the most important local business listing on the web — theirs — with a social media platform — also theirs. Like most of the sweeping changes Google implements, the transformation has occurred in phases, and coverage has followed the developments as they are observed in the wild.
Leading the way to help us get a handle on the changes are contributions from local search experts Greg Sterling and Mike Blumenthal, who recently wrote about some of the changes not mentioned in Google’s announcement. As you might expect, here at Customer Lobby, we were especially interested in the changes to Google reviews.
Here’s what you need to know about reviews in Google+ Local:
Last September, Google purchased Zagat, a review company best known for its restaurant ratings. Rather than using stars to denote a rating, which has become the Internet standard, Zagat uses a 0-3 number system — 3 being the highest.
Google has opted to replace all of the star ratings on it’s reviews with the Zagat number system. The ratings are averaged into a total out of 30. So a good business might have a score of 25/30 instead of 5 stars.
Whereas before Google would not display a business’s star rating until they received 5 reviews, Google+ Local will not display a local business’s number rating until they have 10 reviews. Review ratings have been an important differentiator in Google Local searches. Now, establishing a rating has become twice as difficult.
The biggest change, with the most far-reaching implications, is Google’s new policy requiring users to be signed into a Google+ account to write reviews. Google reviews were already tough to get because reviewers had to have a Google account, and only a fraction of the population has a Google account. The new requirement has just drastically reduced the number of reviewers to an even smaller subset of the population with Google+ accounts.
It seems that Google is more interested in building its Google+ user base than its review content, and I guess that makes sense. But, they have effectively laid down a new hurdle for businesses seeking reviews on their Google listing.