Google Review Growth in Decline

Google was gaining reviews until 2017. Then everything slowed way down.

Google Review Growth in Decline
Photo by Towfiqu barbhuiya / Unsplash
  • This analysis is based on 800K Google reviews for 650 locations of major national-local chains.
  • Directionally, in parallel with Yelp, Google review growth peaked several years ago and declined through last year.
  • Clear explanations are elusive, but we will continue to look at the changing review landscape.

The local review space has seen lots of changes over the past 15 years. There are not many general, horizontal review players left. Google and Yelp are really it.

Previously I detailed how Yelp, while still standing, lost the battle of review preeminence to Google's onslaught and then domination in the review space.

In Yelp's Hidden Headwinds I showed that Yelp's review corpus growth had slowed dramatically over the past eight years. This motivated me to look at Google's annual rate of review growth as well.

Looking at 800K Google Reviews

With the help of GatherUp I looked at a data set of ~800,000 Google reviews for ~650 locations of major chains since 2014.

To control for the impact of Covid, I chose chains, such as HomeDepot, Walmart, Safeway, Allstate and Target, that remained open and busy during early Covid. I added one restaurant chain, Olive Garden, to get a sense of whether there was a similar trend in restaurants.

Y/Y % Growth of Reviews on Google

Google review growth per chain since 2014
Source: GatherUp-Near Media (Average annual Google review growth 2014-2021)

Peak in 2017

Regardless of the brand or industry, the trend was fairly consistent across the board at Google: strong annual growth in reviews from 2015 through 2017 and then a decline from 2018 through 2021. While Google's 2020 growth exceeded Yelp's by almost 20%, it was still down significantly compared to previous years. And 2021 saw a year over year decline of 18% from 2020.  

From a competitive viewpoint, a decline in review volumes would impact Yelp much more than it would Google. Yelp relies on the long form review and fresh content to drive their business model. Google, on the other hand, just treats reviews as another data point that could be useful to consumers. From Google's perspective it is not more important than the many other data points that they are collecting in the Knowledge Graph, from events to products. If reviews become less important, Google will be just fine.

Although, with such torrid growth from 2016-2018, even modest growth results in a massive number of new reviews.

Exactly why review growth has slowed at Yelp and Google is not clear. There are many possible and perhaps multiple reasons. Are the reviews happening elsewhere (i.e., OpenTable) or taking another form (i.e., TikTok)? Are fewer young people "joining up"? Is declining overall trust in reviews a factor? Are folks just hitting a point of review saturation from too many asks or too little time?  

I will be exploring this and other review questions in the coming weeks.