Ep 45: Google rolls out new Local Packs; Yelp Survey: text reviews are best; Local Guides dominate Google reviews

Ep 45: Google rolls out new Local Packs; Yelp Survey: text reviews are best; Local Guides dominate Google reviews
Photo by Markus Winkler / Unsplash

Part 1 Video Starts 0:13 - Google Rolls out bigger, brighter Local Pack with more visuals

Part 2 Video- Starts 8:14 - Yelp Survey says consumers prefer text reviews

Part 3 Video- Starts 13:43 - SOCI Report: Local Guides dominate Google review landscape but leave shorter reviews

Reference Articles

  1. Google rolling out new map and local interface in search
  2. Survey finds what makes reviews trustworthy — consumers want more than ratings
  3. SOCi Study Finds 62% of Google Reviews Are Written by Local Guides


EP 45

Greg: Yeah. Hello. Again, everybody. Welcome to the Near Memo with David, Mike and Greg. And today, this is going to be our final Near Memo of the year as we take a two week break and then come back in the new year. And,  this is the do over version. We just spent a lot of time giving brilliant insights and then the whole thing crashed.

So we're going to try and do this in an accelerated fashion. So we are talking today about the new Google SERP, the local search local pack and reviews, a Yelp, a Yelp review survey. Another survey about Google local guides and their impact on Google local reviews. So with that Michael Blumenthal you're on.

Mike: So last week, Google rolled out a new local search for the desktop, not for mobile, which is more it's wider instead of longer. So the map has been moved to the right and it fills the whole screen of a 13 inch mobile screen, top to bottom left to right. It's about. 50%, 50% bigger than the previous pack.

If you measure the pixels are 40% bigger. The map itself is about 150% bigger, although it's square, not rectangle and the most visual and a lot more white space. And then there's bigger images on the left side of the pack rather than the right side of the pack. And those are also about 50% big, 55% bigger than the previous images.

So it's visually much more striking. These packs are available in slightly different variations. There's a transactional version for hotels that includes data visit and type hotel. There's a sort of consumer version for retail and restaurants that has the image on the left and then specific filters at the top.

There's a service package. No edges for example, for lawyers in HVAC, where it's just, but it includes links to the web and I clicked the call and then there's a fourth pack type that Claire Carlisle noted, which is sort of an adventure travel, which includes website link and click to calls or directions and images, sort of a combo pack.

And interestingly, this packs are not showing on longer tail queries. Like if you're searching. Not just a category, but a product. They show the old style pack, but they're showing the old snow pack often with visual ads to the right and ads above it. So whether the old style pack on these longer tail product driven queries will go away is unclear to me.

But as noted in some previous conversations, There aren't a lot of ads above these categorical packs at this point, whether that's going to change soon. We

David: don't know. I should've grabbed my tinfoil hat in between recordings.   but

Greg: I've got mine right here.

So elaborate David.

David: Uh, so yes, I'm a self anointed president of the tinfoil hat society when it comes to Google and monetizing local.   Mike you've noticed that there are ads that are embedded in the packs themselves.   but I was noting that I, I had yet to see a SERP with the new pack style with traditional Google ads.

Uh, which almost every SERP that you see in the old pack style contains a set of at least three and usually four ads above the pack. And, and I think one of the reasons that I think all of us find the new, the new pack, more visually appealing and, you know, easier to, to sort of grok at first glance and all of these things.

It's just that it's less cluttered there. Aren't the ads above it.   there aren't ads off to the right-hand side. There's no room for ads to. Uh, on the right-hand side with the new, more horizontal layout. So,   I'm very curious to see how, you know, how this impacts what ad units Google rolls out. I it's possible that there's going to be a new a new ad unit to live.

I won't say alongside, but likely above this new style pack. I'm sure that they're going to be testing and testing and testing to see, you know, what engagement looks like, what users are clicking.   they're not going to want to lose, you know, 30% of their ad revenue, which is probably coming from local queries today.

So,   I think it's an interesting rollout, Greg, you know, you, you highlighted probably I would guess episode 38 or so. Uh, we, we talked about the need for Google to radically overhaul the pack. So this is a pretty interesting release.   Mike, you, you made it a really important comment, I think, which is that the map now is screen.

And not horizontal. And that, that, that, that as the viewport for a relevant set of businesses could have dramatic impacts on which businesses rank,   that depending on how you know, which direction you were from the sort of categorical centroid,   you know, you, you may be now either inside or outside that the new viewport of the square map,

Mike: lot of chatter in the forums about ranking changes.

Okay. Uh, also that the map might be zoomed in one level further, which would have a dramatic impact obviously on who could show like a gel. And as a note on the ed units, I did see on a search for bikes near me, the new, the new local pack with a strip across the top carousel of the image ads across the top that was full with the screen.

So they did, I have seen some. Okay. In that context,

Greg: I saw the media this morning. I hadn't seen it. Go ahead. Well,

Mike: the question for me is given that they haven't pushed this new design all the way deep into the local results. In other words, longer tail local searches still showed the old design, but with more ads around them, then the Moore's there's three or four ads at the top and a visual on the right.

And then the. And the visual sort of butts up against the pack. The question for me is will that old style go away on those product driven longer tail searches or not? If so, when, if so, why? If so, is it, or will it stay that way? In other words, they may be putting more ads in some situations and less ads.

Go ahead.

Greg: Correct. So, so one of the things that I, I wonder about, because one of the things I wonder about is the, the impact on LSAs, right? So, so, you know, LSAs were always the most prominent part of that page and the local pack was sort of less visually prominent versus versus the LSAs. And now if you've got professional services, And then you've got LSAs on top, which we, you know, which I assume will, will happen.

How will, how will the click-throughs be, you know, will, will those LSAs lose some of their sparkle and engagement because of the new of the new local pack. It'll be interesting to see.

David: Yeah, I did note that the professional service packs don't contain images. Right. Uh, you wonder me, wonder if they, if they would distract from the LSA click-throughs that may be why counting on.

Yeah. And I just did

Mike: a search lawyer, Los Angeles. There's an LSA at the top. Then there are three texts. And then the new pack with out images. So you're actually absolutely right. I mean, this is what they are doing in that highly profitable, vertical they're emphasizing the LSA is, yeah, they're not going to the pack.

You're not going to risk

Greg: jeopardizing the ad right there below the fold. Right. So they're not. So the very self-consciously, they're not going to jeopardize their lucrative categories probably with, with this new sort of more visually prominent page. And I

Mike: would assume you'll see the same thing in high, high value services, blacksmiths and moving

Greg: and all that stuff.

Yep. So, okay. Let's, let's move to David's topic, which is a recent Yelp consumer survey about ads, or excuse me ads on the brain about reviews, rev, trust, and credibility. So David, tell us what what that survey said. Okay. All right. So this

David: was a sponsored survey from Yelp important to note that pretty much everything Yelp.

Touts is actually sponsored by them, including their focus on the user research, where they actually sponsored the Harvard researchers uh, to kind of do that. Consumer survey say same kind of deal here. They hired a firm, I think out of the UK to survey 1500 consumers about their preferences as they relate to reviews and they found you know, not necessarily a surprising takeaway 59% of consumers preferred medium length review.

Between 16 and 50 words 24% of consumers preferred short reviews, 15 words or less,   and only 14% of consumers preferred long reviews. Uh, 51 words or longer almost no one likes only star ratings. So I think the motivation here on Yelp's part was to say, Hey, look, our reviews are better. Uh, Google's Google showing weight way too many reviews that our star ratings.

Many of which come from local guides, which you'll talk about next drag, but,   that our reviews are better. It's a better user experience,   than, than what Google is providing. And I think the survey for me just brought up a bunch of unanswered questions, which are, what is the word distribution of Yelps reviews,   both unfiltered reviews.

So the reviews that show in my experience are actually tend to be longer than 50. The reviews that Yelp filters tend to actually be much closer to the under 15 or 16 to 30 words. So to my mind, Yelp is actually showing reviews that 86% of consumers don't want to read.   and they're filtering reviews that 86% of consumers do want to read.

and then there's this, you know, th they're trying to position Google as, as showing a whole bunch of things. With only star ratings. And in my experience using Google, that's not typically what shows up front and center on the business profile. In fact, Google goes to great lengths to show snippets from longer form reviews.

Typically users are not leaving tomes on Google, the way that they are on Yelp. I would, I would guess that, you know, the vast majority of Google reviews actually fit in that 59% bucket,   that the, the majority of consumers prefer. I'd like to see a follow-up to this study where Yelp actually reveals their own review word count information and how well it aligns with this.

Cause I think they're, they're trying to tell a story that isn't true of their own product and certainly doesn't seem to be true of Google's product.

Greg: Yeah. I mean, I do think that people want, I think what people ultimately want is sort of trustworthy reviews, which the text does provide. You know, does provide some validation that this is a real human being, as opposed to just the star ratings.

I mean, years ago, Google had lots and lots of star ratings and no tests, and that has changed dramatically over time, obviously. And so I think, you know, and, and, and in some of the research that, that I did at Uber, all, you know, 70 it's, you know, Google is number one, Yelp is number two, but it's a big gap.

70% of people, you know, rely on Google as their primary review source. And then Yelp is a much. The lower number. I mean, so I think Google has definitely lapped Yelp a couple of times and their, their review volume is something like 10 X, probably what Yelp has.

David: So, and the survey also doesn't take into account the major shift that Mike has noted in his,   now PDF available at near media on apple maps around how apple is collecting structured information that consumers are clearly going to find valuable, but not in a, you know, not in a traditional.

Uh, expositional review, right? So that doesn't even that the survey didn't even attempt to say, Hey, do you prefer this or this to consumers?

Greg: And how can, how can people get that PDF data? Well,

David: if you subscribe to near media at near media.co/subscribe, you'll receive a link in your inbox to the PDF of Mike's a really detailed, and I think,   very, the most detailed and the most Like informational review of actionable information or a review of the apple maps changes over the last.

Greg: Yes. And Mike, you wanted to say something before we got into self promotion mode?

Mike: Well, I want to say in Yelp's credit, even though it is a sponsored survey, they highlighted the fact that it was sponsored survey Google. On the other hand, often funds various groups never mentioned the funding and the press that comes out.

It's never annotated as funded by Google. So from a transparency point of view, I'd much rather know who's funding this than not. And in Google's case God, there's all sorts of stuff that goes on opposite of that. So, you know, we live in a capitalist society. So virtually everything we see is, has an ax to grind financially.

And it's nice to know who's grinding it.

Greg: So,   for my, my item today, which will be the final one is related piece of research from. Which looked at a million reviews, basically 1000001.1 million reviews on Google, Google exclusively. And they were trying to answer a number of questions about review, review, length response rates, who, what the distribution of ratings was and who was writing the reviews and, and the primary finding is that 60%, 62% of Google reviews across categories are written by Google local guides.

And that they tend to be between four and five stars. The average, according to the research was 4.1, four stars. And so there's slightly they write fewer five star reviews, but more four star reviews. So there's, there's not a big gap in terms of positive. Uh, ratings between the non Google local guides and Google local guides, but Google local guides.

And now there are something like in excess of 150 million globally are driving the review volume for for Google reviews.   the other thing that was a really interesting to me and maybe the most interesting finding of all is that. Google local guides are writing shorter reviews, significantly shorter is the way that the research characterized it.

I don't remember what the word count difference was, but significantly shorter. Reviews by non Google, local guides. And, and that was really interesting. And I chalk that up to the gamification, you know, the, the, the hierarchy of points and levels and rewards and incentives that Google is giving out that people are, you know, in Mike, you pointed this out in another piece that I linked to this week is a Google as emphasized review qual quantity.

Over quality. And I think that the whole system is set up to generate volume and people are responding to it with, with shorter reviews, which doesn't invalidate them or say that they're,   inaccurate, but it's, it's just an interesting thing to see that people are writing lots of reviews to get to the next level.

Probably. I

David: think that's great. The number, this isn't necessarily a review comment, but the number of. Answers to questions that are left. Uh, the answers posted by local guides are called a business, or I don't know, or something that is totally adds zero value. You're talking Google QA now Google Q and a exactly.

the number of answers by guides that don't actually provide value is astronomical. And I think that has to be chocked up to gamification of points for answering questions.

Mike: I go ahead. Just the thought is that the high level. Okay. Report says 62% and I would say, okay, big deal. If you breathe and can interact with a keyboard, you are a Google local guide.

The question is why is it only 62%? And basically if you leave a review or you show any interest in Google maps, Google then solicit you multiple times with offers. Being coming and guidance, a very low barrier to entry. It's a very simple form. It, you basically check a box that says you agree, and you're a guide.

Everybody is a guide. So the fact that the 62%, right, I mean, in some ways it may show that number actually shows map utilization. If we know there's 150 million regular map users,   In their local guides, then we can say, okay, there's 40% more users that don't use math quite as much. Right? So in some ways it's a meaningless number because Google makes it so easy.

And I think one, we have to assume there's some benefit to Google, to that the incentives that they are providing do generate more information that they find more valuable and three gives them a better outcome in aggregate. In some ways you have to reverse this analysis and look at it. How does Google benefit from making it so easy to become a local guide?

Greg: Well, one of the interesting things that the research doesn't answer, which would be good for them to follow up on is where's the distribution. Of of where's the concentration of reviews is at the lower, lower levels. 1, 2, 3, or is it in the middle or at the higher levels? You know, what is, what is the curve of, of review generation by Google local guide level?

That would be really interesting to see and be a response in some sense to the point that you're making Mike that, you know, everybody who walks in breeds and looked at Google ever is a Google local guide. I'm, I'm a level five and I do nothing. Basically. I bring a few reviews.

Mike: The level one requires you to agree to the terms of service, nothing else.

Level two requires one photo one review your level two, which suggests that the reason that non guides reviews are longer is because these people are motivated either by an intense grievance or an intense love and little ELLs. They, you know, those are going to be longer reviews. These are people that have been wrong.

They're going to come and leave a review or people that have really been righted and they're gonna leave her to do so. I don't think it's, I think it's just an artifact of those people don't really care about reviewing on an ongoing basis.


Greg: one quick final point before we have to go about the research. That was interesting.   you know, places scout did some research a couple of years ago where they looked at, I think it was 2.4 million. I may get it wrong, but it was an excess of 2 million Google, Google business profiles. And one of the, one of the things they were looking at, wasn't just about reviews.

One of the things they were looking at is review response rates and they found, I think across the board, there was only 19%. Of reviews that had responses to them, or I think I'm stating that correctly in this research, the associate research, they said that only about 14% of now Google business profile reviews had a business owner response, this, despite the relentless drumbeat of everybody in the industry, that you have to respond to reviews.

And it's kind of crazy that these response rates are so low. Really strikes

David: me also speaks to the atrocious adoption of GMB by SMBs, right? I mean, if, if, if, if you, if Google can't get an SMB to engage, to leave a review response, despite all of those notifications saying new review, new review, new review, leave a response,   that certainly provides ammo for the decision to shut down.

The SMB facing portion of exactly which should be PM. So that's what I was

Greg: just going to say that, and they're shifting everything to serve sort of the search, the search, right? I mean, they're trying to get more engagement among small businesses and by

Mike: to be determined, who knows something that you can't? No, I don't even know anything. I only know that I have a beer on this, so I've got a vested interest in them, not discontinuing the

David: dashboard, not as it relates to SMBs. Oh, the beer, the beer doesn't relate to SMB engagement though.

Mike: Oh, all right.

Greg: All right.

So, so, okay. So. Uh, happy holidays, everybody Merry Christmas belated, happy Hanukkah, Kwanzaa, whatever your holiday is. Yes.

David: I got a lot of problems with you. People

Greg: Festivus, um pagan celebrations, human sacrifices, whatever it is you're doing this holiday season. Have a great, a great holiday. We'll be back in the new year and subscribe to near media.

If you're listening for the first time,

Mike: what Greg has said.