Why Google’s ‘Local Guides’ Still Sucks, Despite Recent Relaunch



Google’s effort to remain relevant in the lucrative online review space continues, but their recent revival of their “City Experts” program still falls flat. The original idea was first released in 2013 in an effort to play ball with ratings giants like Yelp and Urbanspoon. The response was less-than-stellar, as users quickly found a laundry list of things they didn’t like about it (see here). Although Google’s new “Local Experts” answers some of the users’ concerns, it creates new ones while leaving others unanswered.

 

My Gripes With Google’s “Local Guides”

Although I can see the allure of Google offering a ratings program for local businesses; after all, they’re always trying to return the most accurate results that web surfers want to see (sometimes before the person even knows it). Still there are some major red flags here, from both a general user and marketing perspective. Below is my current list of concerning areas (click on the white boxes to read my reasoning).

How do you know whether a review is made by an authentic user qualified to be a “city guide” in whatever location they happen to live in? Google’s first stab at a review platform, ‘City Experts,’ was meant to be a more exclusive program requiring users to submit over 50 reviews before being accepted. This qualification requirement annoyed many users, right off the bat.

As an answer, the revamped ‘Local Guides’ doesn’t require a set amount of reviews to join and instead allows anyone with a unique GMail address to join. While it makes participation easier, authenticity becomes an enormous problem. How will users know a review (and the reviewer) are worth trusting?

Your move, Google.

How do you know whether a review is made by an authentic user qualified to be a “city guide” in whatever location they happen to live in? Google’s first stab at a review platform, ‘City Experts,’ was meant to be a more exclusive program requiring users to submit over 50 reviews before being accepted. This qualification requirement annoyed many users, right off the bat.

As an answer, the revamped ‘Local Guides’ doesn’t require a set amount of reviews to join and instead allows anyone with a unique GMail address to join. While it makes participation easier, authenticity becomes an enormous problem. How will users know a review (and the reviewer) are worth trusting?

Your move, Google.;”>Users also pointed out that ‘City Experts’ was loaded of opportunity for abuse by literally, everyone; unethical users, marketers, business owners just to name a few.

‘Local Guides’ not only disregarded this concern, but made it even easier to use and abuse with its looser, open access policy. (If you read complaint #1 above, you’ll understand why.)

Even IF the revamped platform could convince the most critical of its users’ authenticity, rest assured that Google will big brother you in the process.

Participation as a ‘Local Guide’ requires one to turn on their Location Services, which ultimately pinpoints exactly where you go with your devices. If you’re like most people in 2016 and sync your desktop and mobile devices, this means that Google will know your every move right down to the date, time, longitude and latitude.

Do you really want a search engine to have that much information on your comings and goings? Didn’t think so.

If ‘Local Guides’ is anything like Google’s other entities (think YouTube or Maps), one may initially think that participation would be good for SEO. After all, from a marketing perspective it is always ideal to have your company’s content, photos and links accompanied by reviews that are readily indexed by Google. (And typically, with sites like YouTube, it indexes faster and places higher.)

Not so fast, my friend.

‘Local Guides’ is beneficial for SEO, but not necessarily for every type of business. The program is based on the “expert opinions” of a single person, ultimately establishing digital authority for the individual rather than the business it represents. (And if one plugs their own company a million times, it is both spammy and adds more fuel to my authenticity and abuse argument.)

Making the aforementioned concerns worse is the fact that ‘Local Guides’ (like ‘City Experts’ before it) doesn’t really have a dedicated team to sheriff the platform. Increased opportunities for abuse make Google’s moderation support and involvement that much more important. Who’s going to police reviews? If history repeats itself (and it usually does) Google will determine prevalence on algorithm alone and it’ll be like the digital Wild West. It will also never gain acceptance amongst users and equal recognition with long-time players like Yelp or Urbanspoon.

As this author put it so eloquently here: “the waters will be muddied for everyone.  Users/customers won’t see the City Experts’ reviews as credible, and reviewers won’t put in the time to earn a distinction that isn’t distinguished.”

The title says it all here, really. Who wants to spend more time on Google than you already do?

At least Yelp’s archaic prominence at least results in some seriously entertaining dialogue between reviewers and business owners.

Since the premise of ‘Local Guides’ is that you pinpoint reviewed places on a Google Map, it really only benefits brick-and-mortar businesses.

Only time will tell whether Google will equalize the favoritism, allowing online shops to join the party as well.

Attempts to make Google Plus happen were laughable. Their registered user base may be large, but their tactics to grow it are lame and border-line shady. Most people don’t know that when they sign up for a GMail account, they are also automatically registered with a profile on Google Plus as well. And although people see immediately Google reviews alongside general contact info when searching for a business by name, many still don’t know how those ratings are generated. What makes one think the general public will even notice (more or less trust) the ‘Local Guides” if they completely ignored Google’s most social platform.

Long story short: when it comes to social media network building, don’t quit your day job Google. (But seriously, don’t. Then I’d have to quit mine.)