Google’s New Local Ratings Costing Businesses Clicks?

    June 17, 2012
    Chris Crum
    Comments are off for this post.

It seems that Google’s decision to replace its star rating system with Zagat scores for local search results isn’t a huge hit with some businesses.

Do you like Google’s new approach to local business ratings? Let us know in the comments.

Last month, Google revealed what appears to be the primary reason it acquired Zagat, when it announced Google+ Local, effectively replacing Google Places with Google+ infused local results and Zagat scores.

“Each place you see in Google+ Local will now be scored using Zagat’s 30-point scale, which tells you all about the various aspects of a place so you can make the best decisions,” Google explained, when Google+ Local was announced. “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.”

Some businesses claim to be losing traffic because Google replaced its ratings system with Zagat’s scoring system. Barry Schwartz at Search Engine Roundtable points to an interesting thread in the Google Product Forums.

There, Dr. Rodney McKay writes, “I know for a fact that I am not the only one that feels this way as I have talked to others who have also experienced the same problem. Everything about Google+ seems to be fine if not better than Google Places except for the removal of the stars. Ever since they removed the star ratings, my actions or clicks went from 30 – 60 or more a day to 0 – 5. I am still on the first page of Google for relevant search terms and in most cases I am also the first listing, I am also receiving the same amount of impressions as before, but the absence of the stars has caused an obvious hit on my Google Business Listing effectiveness. Injunction with that, I have seen a drastic decline in business. Is there not a way to compromise and use the Zagat reviews as well as the stars?”

Some have suggested that Zagat scores are more suited to restaurants, and aren’t so great for other kinds of businesses. There’s no question that Zagat has historically been restaurant-focused. Even now, if you go to Zagat.com, it’s all about restaurants. The welcome message says:

ZAGAT.com, the world’s original provider of user-generated content, provides trusted and accurate restaurant ratings and curated restaurant reviews for thousands of top restaurants worldwide. Our robust restaurant search and rich free features help diners easily find the best restaurant for every occasion, every time – from New York to Los Angeles, London to Tokyo, Paris to Beijing and everywhere in between; from the most elegant restaurants for fine dining to casual, inexpensive spots for family meals, you’ll find it all on ZAGAT.com.

Yet Google has thrust the Zagat system across the much broader local business search space. I don’t see why the system couldn’t actually help some businesses, as Zagat is a pretty well known restaurant guide. However, it might be less helpful in other industries. Currently, you can search for shoe stores, for example, and still get the new scoring system, rather than the starred reviews:

John's run walk shop

It’s a somewhat confusing system, given the food element of Zagat. When you click to “learn more about our scores and reviews,” Google explains that you may see scores depicted in one of two ways: “Scores with multiple aspects” or “Overall scores”.

Multiple Aspects

overall scores

As we see in the case of the shoe store above, Google shows the overall. That way it doesn’t have to show the “food” element.

“When we don’t have enough user ratings on different aspects, we will just show an overall score,” Google explains. “An overall score is comparable to a score in the primary aspect for a location, like food for restaurants.”

Perhaps the system will get better in time for more than just restaurants, as it’s used more.

The new system is definitely much broader than the previous star system, given its larger scale. 17 out of 30 doesn’t sound incredibly great but if you look at the scale, 16-20 represents “good to very good”. 0- 30 is pretty wide range to cover the four individual ratings Google goes by:

3 Excellent
2 Very Good
1 Good
0 Poor to Fair

Google takes the average, and multiplies it by ten to come up with averaged scores.

One person comment on Schwartz’s article, “People understand star ratings. Any kind of visual rating (progress bars, stars, thumbs-ups) just works. They don’t understand numbers. And when higher ratings are in red… it’s even worse. Numbers in red usually mean danger. Anything in red means danger unless it’s properly used to grab attention and visibly labeled as a call to action. It’s freaking common sense.”

It would be interesting to know the local SEO effects of Googe’s move to the Zagat system. Survey results released this week indicate that many of the top ranking factors are directly related to reviews. Here are how a few of them ranked, according to that (out of the top 90):

7. Quantity of Native Google Places Reviews (w/text) (REVIEWS)
18. Product/Service Keywords in Reviews (REVIEWS)
24. Quantity of Third-Party Traditional Reviews (REVIEWS)
26. Location Keywords in Reviews (REVIEWS)
31. Velocity of Native Google Places Reviews (REVIEWS)
34. Quantity of Reviews by Authority Reviewers (e.g.Yelp Elite, Multiple Places Reviewers, etc) (REVIEWS)
46. High Numerical Ratings by Authority Reviewers (e.g.Yelp Elite, Multiple Places Reviewers, etc) (REVIEWS)
49. Overall Velocity of Reviews (Native + Third-Party) (REVIEWS)
50. Quantity of Third-Party Unstructured Reviews (REVIEWS)
52. Quantity of Native Google Places Ratings (no text) (REVIEWS)
53. High Numerical Ratings of Place by Google Users (e.g. 4-5) (REVIEWS)
62. Velocity of Third-Party Reviews (REVIEWS)
69. High Numerical Third-Party Ratings (e.g. 4-5) (REVIEWS)
74. Positive Sentiment in Reviews (REVIEWS)

Of course, these are all based on survey responses from before Google announced Google+ Local.

What do you think about Google’s new ratings system? Do you like it better or worse? Let us know in the comments.

  • Verdadera Truth

    Please note: While “YELP.com” started out reviewing restaurants & food-related businesses it has branched out through the years to encompass ratings & reviews of a vast range of businesses, all sorts of vendors, professional services & skilled trades, nonprofit organizations, parks & recreational facilities and even schools. However, when viewing Google “Local” sites categories & specific webpages (including for restaurants), there are either no reviews currently available at all or only a few reviews (which sometimes are old & outdated — also there is quite often inaccurate info. listed and sometimes sabotaged info., such as businesses erroneously marked “closed” by rivals or pranksters). Additionally, the Zagat rating format (which is historically well-known for providing ratings for upscale restaurants & dining establishments) will take a while to expand (somewhat awkwardly, in a rather absurd manner) to include businesses & entities,
    such as: hair salons, appliances, accountants/tax preparers, auto parts, community gardens, copy services, dentists, dermatologists, dollar stores, hardware stores, “head shops”, hot dog vendors, house cleaners, karate lessons, pet groomers, plumbers, shoe repair, local post offices/FedEx/UPS, kids playgrounds/neighborhood parks, skateboard vendors, swimming pools, hiking clubs, thrift shops, and pest control.

    • Roger M

      “there is quite often inaccurate info. listed and sometimes sabotaged info., such as businesses erroneously marked “closed” by rivals or pranksters).”

      We have observed this quite often earlier with google places, owner verified listings getting edited repeatedly by vandals or is it google india employees? then dropping off the SERP or getting displayed with wrong address, category, locality, directions etc and also real user reviews getting deleted, fake user reviews getting added etc.

      If they continue to do this google will get sued often and may end up paying damages to local business.

      • http://www.alda-architects.com Alan

        Rodger I agree this is a major problem. I have seen many reviews that bear no relationship to my own experience and have concluded that personal grudges, rivals etc are to blame. I have also seen unrelated businesses merged and the wrong information posted. It is an utter mess and sites should be held legally responsible for the inaccurate bilge that they allow to be posted.

        • the king

          thats why youre supposed to take the reviewers reputation into account and see how many reviews theyve done for other restaurants.

  • http://Www.chelseafirstnational.com.au Brad

    Have noticed that my actions and impressions on google are down, looks to busy he new page , , the previous templates where much better and easier for customers,

  • http://www.reynoldspest.com Brian Reynolds

    Although I feel the new scoring system may be confusing for some consumers, it clearly shows that Google wants a better way to measure consumer experience. What I find interesting is that the “star” system is still in place for paid search at this time.

  • Stephen

    Yes I do like the zaget rating but I have a 29 out of 30 I would imagine that businesses with lower scores would prefer say 4 1/2 stars but I had 5 stars along with many others I think this new system breaks it down more.
    I do however think google should include both the stars and the zaget rating system. As the stars grab your attention.

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  • http://www.localgoldmine.com Jeffrey Taylor

    The Five star rating system is still being used, you just have to pay for it now. There is no doubt that 5 Stars grabs more eyeballs than the boring number score Google is now using. Google knows this!

    If you want to go back to getting stars, just pull out your credit card and buy Google PPC. Google is clearly trying to ramp up revenue and this is a great way to do so. With a PPC click through of roughly 15% Google is looking for ways to decrease organic clicks and raise PPC clicks.

    When searchers see the star ratings they will naturally click the link and Google makes more money. Don’t like it? Tough, it is Google’s search engine and they can do what they want!!

    • Christian

      The moment you pay for a review or a rating, it loose its value.
      Yes, Google is on the top this moment as a search engine..but they way they go on, soon the average joe, will go to other engines. Sincere hope so, as I has become very anti-Google in the past months

  • http://www.javascriptsandmore.com Shawn Lippert

    I’m a heavy Google+ users and have set up many business pages for my Local Clients. The reviews are not effecting them because none of them are restaurants for one thing and the other is I optimize each post with SMO techniques like #Hash-tags, Bold Keywords, at least one picture with a description and such just to mention a few.
    What most people have to remember is to share and comment within your niche, add people to your circles that are in your niche that share your posts and you will see your Local rankings rise. One last thing is don’t forget to add the Google Authorship Tag, this give credibility and increases the click through rates in the Organic listings.
    Using the techniques above with a few ratings, my local clients in the non-restaurant industry are coming up first in each of their local niche markets. I feel with the right optimization plus the new rating system it will all work out fine if you are active on the Google+ Social Network.

    • http://www.belfast-architects.com Alan

      In my part of the world Google+ is a graveyard. No one uses it. Even Linkedin is livelier!!

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  • http://www.homespuntagorda.com Bill Hoyle

    Need better explanation as to what it is and how it works. I live and breath a computer everyday but this FaceBook is far to cumbersome and takes too much time to use. I guess it’s for somebody that doesn’t have any real business or anything else to do. How about a real, short, concise tutorial??? ummmmm

  • http://advancedsportvehicles.com joe

    i think that the approach that they are taking is wrong to my view, if they would first ask business owner what we think then it would be more appropriate (i am not sure if that is the right word to use) if the zagat is focused to restaurants, then it should be totally apart from all other business and keep the star system to rate all others, (I like that star system, is simple and effective) people in general don’t really have time to go trough a bunch of question to rate us ( I know I don’t-just enough time to do this now)

  • http://syihab-spinx.blogspot.com/ Sihab

    i don’t really know about this

  • Christian

    Every-thing Google touch lately, is turning into a negative.
    Soon the public will get fed-up with this play “God” attitude of Google. Zagat giving tips on Holidays? WTF do they know about tour companies or destinations? Just promoting the junk Google will feed us? If it is on Google, then it must be gospel.

  • http://xoteria.com Louis Ferriol

    So, Google, the World Wide Web Bully is at it again, this time with Zagat. What started off as the pinnacle of search engines became a “went to it’s head” internet dictatorship with overly stringent SEO restrictions, ridiculously punishing Adwords and Adsense rules and regulations, not to mention now unfair algorithm osystems. Ever notice how Google owned YouTube far outdistances search engine results from other video content providers such as DailyMotion, Veoh, Crackle, Vimeo and Xoteria.tv? Google is quick to allege, with no proof, copyright infringements from other video streamers, how many copyright violations can be found at any given moment on YouTube? So it is no wonder the Bully Of The Internet is being grossly unfair to small business again with this convoluted Zagat bright idea. Are you surprised?

    • the king

      thats funny because even with all their “stringent SEO restrictions” they still have done a terrible job stopping spam over the years and people still spam Google mercilessly while they do nothing about it.

      • http://www.LAokay.com Steve G

        It’s a double standard when it comes to Google and spam. Google is by far the worst offender of spamming the internet and yet they don’t feel they should have to punish themselves like they punish other sites. Why? Because they’re Google and they’re making an honest effort to improve things, and basically Google has always seemed to have this unwritten mantra “Do as we say, not as we do”. They’re quick to reprimand other sites, but slow to take action, if any at all against their own sites that are doing the same kinds of violations that others are doing. Google should be the standard not the exception to the rule. If they want us to trust them, they should follow their own rules they expect us to follow. So far there has been very little of Google reprimanding itself. I mean the Chrome SEO incident was a nice touch, but too little of an effort when you look at how many other websites and products Google owns and operates that are spam havens.

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  • http://www.HGPublishing.com Peter J. Francis

    Google Places, Zagat, and even Yelp are focused on location-based businesses. The great thing about the internet is that for service businesses location is irrelevant. However, all these ratings systems tie a business to its location. I serve clients around the world, 99% of whom I will never meet. I would like to be rated purely for my services, not tied to my location.

    • the king

      I would trust Yelp over Zagats, at least you get many third party verification about what is good or bad, not just an idiotic numerical rating guide.

  • http://www.TheMoldStore.com John Panagos

    I am about ready to stop my $1000+ a month Adwords campaigns as I feel that I am not getting the exposure that my ads should be getting. We sell our products about 85% in the USA, 10% world-wide… and very little (maybe 5%) locally. Why not have a “LOCAL” button that can be pressed that lists local companies… and then an “EVERYWHERE ELSE” button.

    When are we going to stop all of these so called “improvements” to everything??? Who’s asking for these? The rules, applications, and ways of doing things keep being changed so IT people can justify their jobs, I think. :-)

  • the king

    This is unacceptable. Zagats is an untrustworthy source and everyone in the restaurant business knows Zagat is a scam and if “Zagat likes you” you can get a good rating. No culinary experts takes it seriously and since it is a private review there is no one to verify its accuracy or challenge the ratings. Zagats hurts business even without Google and now it will just hurt them more.

  • http://www.top10googleresults.com Philip L. Franckel, Esq.

    I agree with the comment on Schwartz’s article, “People understand star ratings. Any kind of visual rating (progress bars, stars, thumbs-ups) just works. They don’t understand numbers. And when higher ratings are in red… it’s even worse. Numbers in red usually mean danger. Anything in red means danger unless it’s properly used to grab attention and visibly labeled as a call to action. It’s freaking common sense.”

    The scoring system is far too complicated for most people. It could seem like a really good idea to a developer to provide a much more sophisticated system to elicit more information which could be far more useful to consumers.

    However, the reality is that simple is better and it’s definitely better for first impressions in a search engine or yellow page site. I’m definitely not interested to see a score for the decor of a restaurant because I would much rather want to click on the link to see the restaurant’s website so I can see photos of the decor myself. Additionally, what does decor have to do with a service business like landscaping?

    The gold stars instantly convey a good first impression. I think the stars used to have the possibility of showing fractional stars which is a good feature. I buy a lot of items from Newegg which shows eggs. I find it extremely useful for first impressions and then read the reviews.

    Finally, I have not seen the scores in the search results but I have noticed that the stars are gone. I think the stars should be kept and the scoring system should be scrapped or at least show the stars to the left and the scoring system to the right of the stars.

  • http://www.captaincyberzone.com Cap’n Cyberzone

    Google is like all Liberal’s thinking: emotional. It lacks common sense, it appears to be knee-jerk thinking and execution.
    (Google reminds me of Mayor Bloomberg of NYC … “nannyism”).
    Google is always tweaking but never getting it right. Always having to tweak what they failed to get right to begin with or the last time that they tweaked.
    And in this insane go-round it creates anguish, frustration, ill-will and many other raw feelings in those that Google relies on for its success. All this being done by the Goo-Twins, who in their naivete emotionally proclaimed, “Do No Evil”.

  • http://www.24k.com.sg/ im24k

    Actually it’s good for consumers…don’t have to waste time going somewhere you don’t like at all.

  • http://booksandhealth.com kc

    Google is not helping small businesses with their so called new “improvements”…ever noticed that Amazon is listed a number of ways for the full first page? … and then maybe someone else…they “Google spokes people” say they have the “user” in mind and not websites. Aren’t websites users? Don’t website owners (who I think are users) get roped into paying for ad words and other gimmicks to just be found occasionally? Why don’t website owners, even if they are small businesses with small budgets, matter…why do we want amazon to be the Walmart of cyber space?

  • http://www.LAokay.com Steve G

    On our directory sites we allow people to rate any business on 3 factors. Service, Quality, & Value. You can sum up the rating of any business by using only those 3 rating criteria. I don’t care if it’s a mailbox rental place or a restaurant. Those 3 rating criteria will cover any business. And we do this on a 0-5 scale to keep things simple enough. We then average the ratings and come up with a average overall rating, which is anywhere from 0-5. I think what Google is doing is giving too broad of a scale and confusing people, especially the businesses themselves. I mean is there much difference between a 20 and a 22 when you’re using a 30 scale? I can tell you there is more difference between a 2 and a 4 on a 5 scale. The larger the scale the less important each notch up the scale is. The smaller the scale the more important the notches are. People who review businesses typically don’t want a long list of things they have to rate. I mean if you really want to ask 20 questions you can, and it would give greater insight into the business itself, but honestly 3 criteria will do, especially if you want people to review a business that is listed on a directory. Yelp still only has the 1 criteria, which is a 0-5 star system.

  • http://booksandhealth.com kc

    Oh yah…systems and programming and you name it are as good as the people who design…Google is a creation of humans… and humans design with unfortunately human short comings. But it does appear that the one short coming of complete greed must be kept in mind; decisions that only help #1, GOOGLE…forgetting who got them there in the first place, i.e. individuals and small businesses who just want to make a living.

  • http://www.gold-panning-california.com John Gurney

    I noticed I went from number 1 to number 6. I wish these companies would stop trying to beat each other out.
    We use google because we liked the way it was. If I wanted Bing, I would go there. For some reason these companies are trying to imitate each other at their peril. The so called relavance of a site is not working with these new dynamics. I find things that are not realy related to my search.

  • http://www.androidtaxis.com Martyn

    I am not a fan of this new system from Google, I expect we will start seeing articles written soon about how small to medium business has been devastated by negative SEO from their competition rating them unfairly. Is it just me or are Google becoming less and less transparent?

  • http://www.drfarah.com.pk/ Mazhar Shahzad

    i think google not need scoring

  • http://localsearchspecialist.co.uk local search specialist

    I think the zagat rating system is a big mistake, particularly after the recent onslought of updates such as penguin and panda. The only message I am getting from such drastic changes is that if you have a high ranking site, its not likely to be tomorrow. Bing here I come.

  • http://www.roystonhouse.ca Ross Munro

    I switched to urbanspoon rather than use + when I tried to make a comment on google places. If + is any good it should be able to stand on it’s own and not be used to substitute something else>

  • Pat

    Many people forget Google is a Business and they will make money. They know that there are thousands of businesses signing up daily on the local listings and they will capture the business owner’s money one way or another. We need to keep the internet free and find a better alternative other google…

  • http://www.xamthone.com/02010452 Hebib Habibullah Jodhy

    Good way to making money from home

  • http://www.spinnakermarcom.com Philippe

    It’s just another desperate move by Google to revive a social media platform that was botched from the beginning, a further botched integration of other platforms like Picasa resulting in low overall interest and little time spent on and engagement on the platform.
    Integrating Google places in the way they are doing it looks like a desperate and pathetic effort to coerce businesses into moving on Google + and create engagement (engagement weights heavily on Google + rankings). Basically Google is taking the “If they are not engaging and spending time on +, find ways to force them to” That approach usually backfires. Google + is a flawed social media platform, fix it and things might start to turn around. The Google approach will only allow them to boats higher “user” numbers but still not improve their anemic engagement numbers

  • http://digitale-info-produkte.com Armin Schmethuesen

    Hallo Chris,
    danke für den interessanten Artikel über neues Google System. Bei uns in Deutschland verwenden wir Google Map für das anzeigen des Standortes.

    Mit freundlichen Grüßen

    Armin Schmethüsen

  • kwall

    My online sales have dropped 20% since Google changed their search engines. They are making it easier for large companies like Amazon, and hurting small business.

  • http://www.keithjamesdesigns.com Keith James

    The new system is a real issue. It’s more difficult to review and the scale is not all that obvious. I wonder if Google did any testing. Typically Google will role the changes out to a subgroup and test the results. I have heard of no one that was part of a test group.
    I work with a lot of local businesses and most are restaurants. I think using Zagat as a single source is not a good model. Bing is now using Foursquare for there reviews and I think it is a much better system. Ask a typical 20 year old what Zagat is and I doubt if they would have any idea. Ask the same people about Foursquare and the results are dramatically different.

  • http://www.mabuzi.com Kevin

    Good idea but it still does not stop companies buying or faking ratings. When can we merge our +plages and place pages?

    I like the Bing map setup but even that is not availble in every country.
    What is not good is there large companies changing their products without customer consultation or not having cutomer service at all.

    You make Billions from us but we have to rely on good will of others on the help forums for fixes.

  • http://www.bentowing.com towing

    My online sales have r up 10% since Google changed

  • http://gasud.com Poetra

    I like the Bing map setup but even that is not availble in every country.
    What is not good is there large companies changing their products without customer consultation or not having cutomer service at all.

  • http://www.platypustours.com Chas

    Other than Zagat who uses a scale of zero to thirty?

    At a glance a score of 29 looks pathetic, because one would assume (presume?) the scoring range is 0-100. It’s like getting into a rental car in Omaha and finding your speedo is calibrated in kilometers. WTF?

    Once again, counter-intuitive ‘innovations’ from a company that instructs us to always make our SEO user-centric.

  • http://www.divinecomputersolutions.com Jason Skretkowicz

    This is not only affecting me negatively but makes no sense. The new system is confusing to me and for the average Joe, forget about it. I have had so much less traffic to my site its appalling. I was getting 2-3 calls a week from google places alone. Since the switch I have only received one call. I personally think it was very nice and clean looking before and now is ugly. From a clients point of view I see star reviews and instantly get drawn to it giving me more traffic. Now they see a 3/3 score, what is that? and a 30/30. No one knows what a 28 point score is. EVERYONE knows what a 4.5 star review is, and this is even before the internet exploded. Google do your self a favor and take yourself off your high horse and listen to the people and put google places back to the way it was. You should be the company taking us into the future not taking five steps back like i see every company doing now a days, just like MS.

  • http://youtu.be/2Td67htjxh0 Ed Brancheau for Google+ Local

    Wow, I actually desire to thank you for this splendid blog post pertaining to tips on how to establish Google + Local. I’m visiting take your guidance and set up my company on Google+ Local. Honestly, I have actually been striving to locate excellent guidance regarding this yet it’s difficult to come by.

  • http://www.conundrumadventures.com Lynn Ferguson-Pinet

    Great article, as a small business owner it is so hard to make sense of what is the right thing to spend your time on. Based on everything I read Google+ Local is very important to me so I have been focusing on asking customers to place reviews. To that end about half of the people I have asked to review and have reviewed in the past week are not showing up on the Google+ page. Do you know if google only posts some reviews or should all be posted. Its so hard to get a review written and the fact that they are not posted is very frustrating, any advice?


  • http://www.yurovskydental.com max

    My online sales have dropped 25 % since Google changed their search engines.