Google’s New Local Ratings Costing Businesses Clicks?

by / Sunday, 17 June 2012 / Published in News

It seems that Google’s decision to replace its star rating system with Zagat scores for local search results isn’t a huge hit with some businesses.

Do you like Google’s new approach to local business ratings? Let us know in the comments.

Last month, Google revealed what appears to be the primary reason it acquired Zagat, when it announced Google+ Local, effectively replacing Google Places with Google+ infused local results and Zagat scores.

“Each place you see in Google+ Local will now be scored using Zagat’s 30-point scale, which tells you all about the various aspects of a place so you can make the best decisions,” Google explained, when Google+ Local was announced. “For example, a restaurant that has great food but not great decor might be 4 stars, but with Zagat you’d see a 26 in Food and an 8 in Decor, and know that it might not be the best place for date night.”

Some businesses claim to be losing traffic because Google replaced its ratings system with Zagat’s scoring system. Barry Schwartz at Search Engine Roundtable points to an interesting thread in the Google Product Forums.

There, Dr. Rodney McKay writes, “I know for a fact that I am not the only one that feels this way as I have talked to others who have also experienced the same problem. Everything about Google+ seems to be fine if not better than Google Places except for the removal of the stars. Ever since they removed the star ratings, my actions or clicks went from 30 – 60 or more a day to 0 – 5. I am still on the first page of Google for relevant search terms and in most cases I am also the first listing, I am also receiving the same amount of impressions as before, but the absence of the stars has caused an obvious hit on my Google Business Listing effectiveness. Injunction with that, I have seen a drastic decline in business. Is there not a way to compromise and use the Zagat reviews as well as the stars?”

Some have suggested that Zagat scores are more suited to restaurants, and aren’t so great for other kinds of businesses. There’s no question that Zagat has historically been restaurant-focused. Even now, if you go to, it’s all about restaurants. The welcome message says:, the world’s original provider of user-generated content, provides trusted and accurate restaurant ratings and curated restaurant reviews for thousands of top restaurants worldwide. Our robust restaurant search and rich free features help diners easily find the best restaurant for every occasion, every time – from New York to Los Angeles, London to Tokyo, Paris to Beijing and everywhere in between; from the most elegant restaurants for fine dining to casual, inexpensive spots for family meals, you’ll find it all on

Yet Google has thrust the Zagat system across the much broader local business search space. I don’t see why the system couldn’t actually help some businesses, as Zagat is a pretty well known restaurant guide. However, it might be less helpful in other industries. Currently, you can search for shoe stores, for example, and still get the new scoring system, rather than the starred reviews:

As we see in the case of the shoe store above, Google shows the overall. That way it doesn’t have to show the “food” element.

“When we don’t have enough user ratings on different aspects, we will just show an overall score,” Google explains. “An overall score is comparable to a score in the primary aspect for a location, like food for restaurants.”

Perhaps the system will get better in time for more than just restaurants, as it’s used more.

The new system is definitely much broader than the previous star system, given its larger scale. 17 out of 30 doesn’t sound incredibly great but if you look at the scale, 16-20 represents “good to very good”. 0- 30 is pretty wide range to cover the four individual ratings Google goes by:

3 Excellent
2 Very Good
1 Good
0 Poor to Fair

Google takes the average, and multiplies it by ten to come up with averaged scores.

One person comment on Schwartz’s article, “People understand star ratings. Any kind of visual rating (progress bars, stars, thumbs-ups) just works. They don’t understand numbers. And when higher ratings are in red… it’s even worse. Numbers in red usually mean danger. Anything in red means danger unless it’s properly used to grab attention and visibly labeled as a call to action. It’s freaking common sense.”

It would be interesting to know the local SEO effects of Googe’s move to the Zagat system. Survey results released this week indicate that many of the top ranking factors are directly related to reviews. Here are how a few of them ranked, according to that (out of the top 90):

7. Quantity of Native Google Places Reviews (w/text) (REVIEWS)
18. Product/Service Keywords in Reviews (REVIEWS)
24. Quantity of Third-Party Traditional Reviews (REVIEWS)
26. Location Keywords in Reviews (REVIEWS)
31. Velocity of Native Google Places Reviews (REVIEWS)
34. Quantity of Reviews by Authority Reviewers (e.g.Yelp Elite, Multiple Places Reviewers, etc) (REVIEWS)
46. High Numerical Ratings by Authority Reviewers (e.g.Yelp Elite, Multiple Places Reviewers, etc) (REVIEWS)
49. Overall Velocity of Reviews (Native + Third-Party) (REVIEWS)
50. Quantity of Third-Party Unstructured Reviews (REVIEWS)
52. Quantity of Native Google Places Ratings (no text) (REVIEWS)
53. High Numerical Ratings of Place by Google Users (e.g. 4-5) (REVIEWS)
62. Velocity of Third-Party Reviews (REVIEWS)
69. High Numerical Third-Party Ratings (e.g. 4-5) (REVIEWS)
74. Positive Sentiment in Reviews (REVIEWS)

Of course, these are all based on survey responses from before Google announced Google+ Local.