The Google Local Guides program has been hovering around for a while now, with users able to earn points for their contributions to the program. But if anyone can contribute, what’s stopping people from being untruthful? Thus damaging a business’ reputation as well as being bad for local SEO.
What is the local guides program?
The Google Local Guides program has been designed to get users to update data in Google maps including uploading photos, adding/altering business hours, marking businesses as open or closed, as well as answering questions about a place to help Google Maps users. Every time a user undertakes one of these contribution tasks, they earn points. The more points they get the higher they go in levels, resulting in a higher trust score and a Local Guides badge.
What does the badge do?
As soon as you get to level 4, a badge appears on your profile picture which then appears in any reviews you have added. There are currently 7 different badge types depending on what level you are, with level 10 being the highest. As you go up the levels you also gain access to exclusive features before anyone else, as well as special perks.
Source: Google Local Guides https://maps.google.com/localguides/howto
Google seems to have preference for the local guides reviews, with at least one in the knowledge panel of a business; let’s look at Starbucks for example.
So what’s the problem you ask?
What is this? It’s not a review. It’s not helpful. Why is it in the top 3, and in second position…
Same with this one:
This review isn’t very descriptive and is directly referencing competitors! Surely this shouldn’t be in the top 3!
Annnnd this one:
How beneficial is that to someone? Maybe if it were a place other than Starbucks selling Starbucks coffee could it be useful. But surely you would assume they serve Starbucks coffee in Starbucks…
So why is Google letting this happen?
The review snippets appearing in the knowledge panel are actually being selected from a bigger review.
For example (the visible snippet and full review):
Surely Google should be picking out the first sentence rather than the second, especially as the first one describes the actual experience instead of a personal opinion. Also on a side note, irrelevant words are being put in bold. Surely ‘Average’ and ‘Stale’ should be in bold as they are pivotal words that could swing an outsider’s opinion?
But what are Google’s policies on this?
If you scour their policies you can see there isn’t a strict guideline on what you can and cannot post (apart from profanities and other offensive terms).
Here are the rules to become a qualified Local Guide:
- Users must have a valid Google account.
- Users must be at least 18 years old.
- Users must have signed up to participate in the programme. (Which can be done by just searching ‘google local guides’.
- Organisations and brands are not allowed to be a contributor.
They also mention about appropriate conduct and participation, and that users are not allowed to do the following:
- Defame, abuse, harass, stalk, threaten or otherwise violate the legal rights (including the rights of privacy and publicity) of others.
- Upload, post, email, transmit or otherwise make available any unlawful, inappropriate, defamatory or obscene content or message.
- Trespass, or in any manner attempt to gain access to any property location where you do not have a right or permission to be.
- Upload, post or otherwise make available commercial messages, or advertisements, pyramid schemes or other disruptive notices.
- Impersonate another person or entity.
- Promote or provide instructional information about illegal activities.
- Promote physical harm or injury against any group or individual.
- Transmit any viruses, worms, defects, trojan horses or any items of a destructive nature.
- *Submit fake falsified, misleading or inappropriate reviews, edits or removals.
How bored did you get reading that? *Notice the most obvious and most important SEO item is last on the list. Most people probably wouldn’t have even read it! And it’s probably the most abused rule.
Do Local Guides have all the power then?
Although it seems Google is favouring those with a Local Guides badge, they are allowing the odd ‘traditional’ review (one that is not left by a local guide of level 4 or higher). However the reviews on a business’ knowledge panel seem very random; it isn’t one bad, two good nor one bad, one good, one neutral. It seems the algorithm isn’t filtering the relevance of the reviews on the knowledge panel, meaning more descriptive and helpful reviews are being hidden. But it’s up to Google to fix the algorithm for this.
So what can businesses do to combat this?
Here’s what not to do:
Unfortunately you cannot take a bad review down (unless it is spam or offensive to readers). So the best way to deal with a review is to respond to it! Telling a customer that you’re taking the points on-board and apologising for their experience will leave a good impression to potential customers reading these reviews.
See this example from All Bar One:
Another way to try and reduce the visibility of bad reviews is to encourage happy customers to leave a review, which might have to have a reward if they don’t take the bait straight away.
To Sum Up…
Although there are some completely random reviews coming up on the knowledge panel, there usually is at least 1 review which is relevant. However this is still something Google will need to review, especially as it is Google that is deciding which reviews are in the top 3, what part of the review is pulling through and which words are to be bold.
It seems to me that Google, at the moment, is only concentrating on improving the user experience of the Local Guides program and expanding its features instead of looking at the repercussions the program has on businesses if it is abused.
Especially with the new Video Guides feature that was released only a few weeks ago, it will be interesting to see how that is regulated as well as reviews over the next couple of months.