Google’s March to the Reviews Sea: What’s the Next Stop?

 

Google has handled “Plus” reviews very differently in 2013 from how it handled them in 2012.  The powers-that-be at Google now seem to want customers to leave reviews, and for business owners to ask customers for reviews.

Sounds reasonable enough.  But it wasn’t always that way.  As you may recall, in 2012 Google started requiring customers to have a Google+ page to post a review (arguably a smart move) and then cranked the “review filter” dial up to 11.

To me, the low point was when Google stated that it was OK to “ask” a customer for a review but not to “solicit” one – a meaningless distinction that even Google’s anti-spam filters couldn’t  draw, given how many legitimate reviews it filtered and how many bad ones it kept around.

Exactly what’s changed in 2013?  Let’s flip back through the calendar:

  • May:  Google provides a means of getting reviews transferred from one Google+ Local page to another.
  • August: Google launches its City Experts program, to encourage “power reviewers” like Yelp’s Elite Squad members.

We’ve determined Plus reviews have become Google’s golden children.  Not only in terms of the steps Google has taken to popularize them (see above), but also in terms of their footprints in the search results.  As Mike Blumenthal recently pointed out, the number of times reviews are mentioned or shown on a typical page of Google’s local results can range from 8 to 15.

Of course, Google will never stop messing with the Plus reviews “landscape.”  It will keep morphing, like the rest of local search and the online (and offline) world.

And of course we can be pretty sure why Google pushes reviews so hard: to get more people using Google Plus actively.  The more active Plus users / reviewers there are, the better Google can mine data, and the more money it can make from ads.

But if the powers-that-be at Google want Plus to replace Yelp as the place to write and read reviews, the pace of change has got to slow down at least a little.  That’s the only way customers and business owners will come to understand, enjoy, and mutually use Google Plus reviews – at least in the numbers Google wants them to.

So, if Google’s march on Plus reviews continues in the direction it’s been going in for the last year, where might its boots fall next?

Put another way: what hasn’t Google done yet?

1.  The issue of that pesky reviews pop-up isn’t resolved.  It’s a contradiction that Google played up reviews on Google+ Local pages but in the same month made it very hard for most customers to navigate to those pages.  Something’s gotta give.

2.  The “carousel” still only shows up for searches relevant to certain industries.  It doesn’t show universally.  If it did, that would mean – among other things – that users would be able to “filter” all the local business results from the main search results page.

3.  Google’s Helpouts offering hasn’t rolled out yet.  I wouldn’t be surprised if reviews somehow dovetail with it.

4.  Google hasn’t given business owners tools for the express purpose of asking customers for reviews.  They’d have to be cautious – but it wouldn’t be the first time Google has erred on the wrong side of caution in trying to pump up that review-count.  Still, a review-encouragement solution would make sense as a next step for the new “reviews dashboard.”

5.  It’s already the 3rd of December and Google hasn’t surprised us this month (!).  You never know what’s around the corner.  A couple more days and I’ll think they’re slipping.

My advice?  Simple: this is the best time I can remember to encourage some of your customers to review you on Google Plus.  It’s only going to get more important to have Google reviews, and it might get more complicated to get them.

Google+ Local Listings Get Two Columns

It appears that businesses’ Google+ Local listings have gotten yet another facelift.  Now they’re laid out in two columns.  Here’s what you see above the fold:

google-plus-local-double-column1

Lower down on the page, you’ll see double-barreled review action:

google-plus-local-double-column2

An early version of this new layout was spotted “in the wild” last week on Linda Buquet’s forum.  It looks like the two-column layout now has rolled out more broadly.

I like the new look.  Of course, the sleek new design would matter more if the “review pop-up” went away and more people actually ended up on businesses’ Google listings.

The main upshot of the new layout is that it highlights a business’s Google Plus reviews.  The “Reviews Summary” box is now up near the top-left corner of the page, where – as most eye-tracking studies will tell you – people tend to look the most.  Even more prominent is what’s right above the “Reviews Summary” box: a big “pencil” button that people can click on to write reviews.

Google is pushing reviews.  Hard.  This is just the latest in a series of moves by Google.  Some highlights:

Google seems to be sculpting much of its Places/Plus/Maps results around reviews.  I think they’re trying to tell us something.

Quick Thoughts on the Google+ Local Review Pop-up

You may have noticed the annoying pop-up (or lightbox) that appears when you click on a business’s “reviews” link in the Google+ Local search results.

google+reviews--link

Andrew Shotland discovered this review pop-up two days ago.  How about taking a couple minutes to go read his two posts on it (if you haven’t already), and then loop back here.

Here are my initial thoughts on Google’s latest half-baked concoction:

It is going to evolve.  Fast.  Why?  Because Google is pushing people to write reviews, but it’s not getting people onto businesses’ Google+ Local pages.  There’s not even a link on the pop-up that you can click on to visit the Google page.  Businesses won’t use Google+ if their business pages are cloaked from potential customers, and customers won’t write reviews on Google+ unless and until the pop-up does a better job of enticing and inviting them to write a review (think Yelp).

There is no mention of Google+ – neither in the pop-up nor in the steps you’d follow to post a review from within the pop-up screen.  That fact alone is very weird, and suggests to me that all we’re seeing at this stage is a bare foundation that Google will build on.

Assuming the pop-up sticks around, Google will stuff it like a Thanksgiving turkey with knick-knacks meant to boost engagement with Google+ (“Follow” buttons, “+1” buttons, check-in invitations, etc.).

This is a slight bonus for business owners who have upgraded their Google+ Local listings to include all the social features, because the “Google+ page” link still takes searchers to the Google+ page, rather than to the pop-up.

Now is the time to get Google reviews from customers.  Last year wasn’t, because of the draconian review filters.  The review filters are still here, of course, but this year Google has made it clear that they really want more Plus reviews: First they relaxed the filter, then they put reviews front-and-center in the “new” Google Maps and in the local carousel, then they started showing the review stars again, and now they’ve introduced the pop-up.  Google is making it (relatively) easy for you and for your customers.

What are your thoughts on the pop-up?