Google's new review threshold

What restaurants need to know about Google’s new review star threshold

Google recently lowered its threshold for displaying review stars, putting restaurants and Yelp officially on notice.

Google’s new system has reduced the review threshold for displaying stars in local search from five reviews down to one. Google has also stopped using a Bayesian average (a weighted average that adjusts for small sample sizes) to calculate overall ratings in favor of a straight-forward average.

Why did Google make the change?

The short answer: Google is looking to take on third-party review sites like Yelp.

By lowering Google’s review threshold, restaurants with only a few reviews will be much more aware of their ratings. After all, if you only have one review and it’s a bad one, it will be painfully and prominently displayed.

Since it’s easier for a single bad review to damage your image, this will force restaurants to start cultivating more Google reviews. This will cause a snowball effect. Each location will be forced to collect more reviews, which in turn will make Google’s star ratings a more trusted source, which in turn will make customers less reliant on third-party sites like Yelp.

Why does Google want to cut out third-party review sites?

Google wants you to stay on Google Search and Google Maps for as long as possible. Why? If your leave for another third-party review site, Google can’t make any money off you.

Google is first and foremost an advertising company. The longer they can keep you on their platform, the more likely it is you will click on an ad.

Reviews are also a ranking factor. Type in a local search for restaurants in any city that you’re not currently in (otherwise proximity will heavily influence results). I’m willing to bet that not a single one-star restaurant appears in any of your searches—assuming there’s more than one location. As such, increasing the number of reviews will help Google deliver better local search results by having more data for determining rankings.

Finally, I suspect there’s a small matter of pride involved. Google bills itself as the source when it comes to providing quality answers. If Google users need to go to another site to find an authority on a restaurant, I can’t imagine it sits well with Google.

The implications for local marketing

Local marketers should expect Google to continue strengthening reviews as a ranking signal as businesses collect more reviews.

Enterprise brands also need to be careful about monitoring the overall ratings of each location. Places with only a few stars are susceptible to a competitor sinking their ratings with negative reviews. Try using a platform that aggregates reviews like Ignite’s Placeable Workbench to help you keep on top of your problem locations.

You should also expect Google to keep trying to push Yelp to the side. Since Google dominates search, I wouldn’t be surprised if they become increasingly successful at this.

What should local marketers do?

Ask customers to leave Google reviews. Your best bet is to ask customers immediately after a sale, or the point at which customer satisfaction is highest. A simple follow-up email can do the trick. Or you can get more creative.

For example, a coffee shop near my house asks for reviews particularly well. After you order coffee from the friendly barista and sit down at your table to do work, accessing the Wi-Fi prompts you to check in on social media and to leave a review on Google.

Simple but effective techniques such as these can go a long way toward collecting more reviews and establishing your restaurant as an authority on Google.


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