Well, what I mean to say is that it’s going to suck. What I suspect will be the short life of Google’s latest program has barely begun.
Google’s “City Experts” Google+ reviews program is essentially Google’s version of Yelp’s “Elite Squad.”
(For more detail, read this excellent piece in TechCrunch and this even-better write-up by Greg Sterling. And if you want the “official” line, see the G+ post.)
The program has only rolled out to a few cities. Normally I’d be miffed at Google for not including Boston in a rollout, but in this case I’m not too cracked-up.
Why? Because I think City Experts will be either a quiet little misfire or go up in a blaze of glory before being discontinued not too far in the future.
I see at least 12 problems:
Problem 1. The quotas. You have to write 50 Google+ reviews to become a City Expert, and 5 reviews every month subsequently in order to keep your standing. Not only does that tell me and everyone else that Google values quantity over quality, but it also creates an unnatural pressure to review X number of businesses within Y number of days. To paraphrase Google’s review guidelines, that’s a “conflict of interest.” At least Yelp’s criteria for becoming a member of the Elite Squad boil down to “we know it when we see it” (their words, not mine).
Problem 2. It will be abused by marketers. They’ll post reviews of their clients, and perhaps negative reviews of their clients’ competitors. What’s to prevent that from happening?
Problem 3. It will be abused by business owners. Too many of them already cut corners to get Google Plus (and other) reviews. What do you think happens when Google raises the stakes?
Problem 4. It will be abused by unethical reviewers. Pretty soon we’re going to catch City Experts offering reviews on Fiverr.com.
Also, will their reviews be subject to Google’s review filter? Elite Yelpers’ reviews aren’t filtered. But, then again, Elite Yelpers are vetted by other humans. It’s not clear to me whether that will be the case with Google.
Speaking of unclear parts of the program, it’s unclear to me whether “City Expert” = “Top Reviewer.” If so, then that means their reviews will pull a lot of weight in the “new Maps” rankings, when the searcher chooses to sort search results by reviews.
Problem 5. It will be abused even by generally well-meaning reviewers. Why? Because there’s no rule that says you need to be a real customer of a business in order to review it. There no such rule on Yelp, but Yelp doesn’t specify a 5-monthly-reviews quota. What we’re going to see is some City Experts running out of businesses where they’ve actually spent money, but needing to write reviews anyway. So they’ll reviews businesses where they’ve never been customers, just because it’s the 29th of the month and they have two reviews to write – or else they’ll lose their “title” and free swag.
Problem 6. Google will need more of a support or conflict-resolution system to deal with the possible problems I just mentioned. Without it, the waters will be muddied for everyone. Users/customers won’t see the City Experts’ reviews as credible, and reviewers won’t put in the time to earn a distinction that isn’t distinguished.
Problem 7. There’s going to be no sheriff. Nobody will really be in charge. It will be just like Google+ Local. At most Google will get some well-meaning but callow intern to try to oversee the program. Google’s all about algorithms…remember?
Problem 8. The reviewers themselves may get confronted by business owners, especially if there’s nobody at Google to take some of the heat. Their reviews are tied to Plus accounts, which generally have more and more-detailed personal information than the average Yelp Elites’ profiles do.
High-visibility reviews + potentially angry business owners + relatively low privacy for reviewers + no conflict-resolution mechanisms at Google = big mess.
Problem 9. The fact that photos are required creates a bias in favor of bricks-and-mortar businesses.
Speaking of photos, what will be done about ugly or inaccurate or promotional or fake photos? Will Google examine those in any way, or will this be another Wild West situation? What if Anthony Weiner wants to become New York’s City Expert?
Problem 10. Greg Sterling brought up an excellent point: what will happen to duplicate or near-duplicate reviews?
I suspect some of the Yelp Elites might join and duplicate their reviews on Google. Will Yelp penalize them if that does happen?
I’m wondering the same thing, and I also want to know what Google will do about duplicates. The review guidelines specify that Google “may…remove reviews that include plagiarism or are copied from other sites.”
Problem 11. How do we know Google won’t sunset the program in 6 months? Google has a track record of euthanizing its products, both good and bad. Anyone who pays attention to Google+ knows that, and must be at least a little concerned that his/her reviews eventually will lose their “Expert” stickers and become as inconspicuous as everyone else’s reviews.
Problem 12. Google won’t be able to make it “cool” enough to catch on. City Experts are Yelp Elite manqué. At the moment, the program is too much like Yelp’s program to be anything more than an also-ran. It needs to be different, or it will play second fiddle. My educated guess is that City Experts will be retired or rolled into another Google property, sooner or later (probably sooner).
I hope I’m wrong about the future of the City Experts reviews program. Not many people have been beating the “get Google reviews – ethically!” drum as hard as I have. Few things make me happier than when clients tell me that the Google reviews we worked to earn helped them attract new customers. So, suffice it to say, I like Google reviews. I rant because I care.
It would be cool if the program is problem-free enough to be around for long enough that it becomes rewarding to honest business owners and to searchers.
If you’re a business owner, my advice is: if you’re already getting reviews on Google+ and (ideally) on other reviews sites, don’t change your strategy because of the City Experts program. If it’s around for long enough to matter, then sooner or later you’ll get reviews from those chosen few just by doing what’s worked for you so far.
So you’re saying it’s going to be abused??
But its so neat to be elite…at least in our own eyes. Google’s strong-arming overbearance and Yelp’s Larry Flint proclamation is local market manipulation, it should all go away. The serial BS reviewers should be punished, not ethical SMBs trying to navigate the confusing landscape or local customers duped by digital chatter chaff.
Yes, I think it’s to be abused by people, because Google won’t be serious enough about the program to develop it.
I hate Yelp’s review filter as much as the next guy, but Yelp does do a lot of things right. They try. Reviews are their business, and their “Elite” members play a crucial role. Google’s “City Experts” program isn’t integral to anything Google is trying to do with Plus. Which is but one reason it’s going to neglected before it’s scrapped.
Thanks for the info and input on this. And I couldnt agree more. Good work, Phil.
Any time, Brian – and thanks for your feedback.
I agree with you 100%, this will definitely get abused. In a time when companies are charging small business thousands of dollars to post bogus reviews, I guarantee some of these frauds will get a “city expert” status. If someone already has a fake profile and posting reviews for their clients all over the country, what’s to stop them from getting preferential treatment in this new system? This will be unjust to those who are trying to play fair, and help companies who are already cheating the system. Hopefully Google puts some safeguards in place in the near future to prevent this from happening….
Well-said, Eric. Overall, my biggest concern is that Google isn’t willing to do what it takes to enforce the rule and preserve the “spirit” in which the City Experts program was created.
Quentin Moore says
Great article. I saw that my city was recently added and thought about becoming an expert. You are spot on with all of your concerns, especially the one about Google eventually dropping this program. I’m still thinking about leveraging this program, especially if I can report reviews on my own web site.
Thanks for that first-hand take, Quentin. Google’s put themselves in a tough spot. You and I would probably be more gung-ho about “City Experts” if Google didn’t have such a full graveyard of products and programs.
Well, turns out you are a clairvoyant. Your reasoning was spot on. City Experts did suck and it got repackaged into a new program called Local Guides.
Thanks, Melissa. I’ve kept an eye on Local Guides. Wouldn’t be surprised if it fails to do any better.