Most Internet news agencies originally praised Google’s decision to replace its local search business rating system with Zagat ratings. After all, the acquisition of Zagat data was a major business decision by the search engine giant who paid a hefty price for those scores, $125 million as originally reported by the Wall Street Journal (more recently reported by AP to be $151 million).
However, it seems that business owners and local webmasters who run sites previously doing well aren’t all that interested in the new Google+ Local technology. Google’s new Google+ Local has a couple of advantages that come with using the Zagat structure, but they also have some negatives as well. Zagat used a special 30-point scale, which told users about various metrics. This means that people wouldn’t have to reduce the total score of a restaurant merely because they didn’t care for one particular aspect of the place, say the décor.
A press release from Zagat sent out in the summer of 2011 goes in depth about the “Matrix” and features of their review system: “We are continually working on new ways to help our users find the right restaurant for any occasion,” said Nina Zagat, Co-Founder and Co-Chair of Zagat Survey. “These most recent additions represent our focus on making it easier for our members to make smart decisions and take action.”
These ratings work great for restaurants, which Zagat more or less originally geared the rating system towards. However, they’re not exactly the best option for other types of businesses. These changes have also brought on a change to the way the stars appear in search for other types of businesses – it removes most of them entirely from algorithmic natural results and leaving ratings only on Google+ Local pages or only highly authoritative and respected sites like Trip Advisor, CitySearch, Yep and others; a small select group of sites which still seem to have stars and ratings appear in search.
Some webmasters feel that they are losing lots of traffic due to the move away from the rating stars as well as the disappearance and changes to Google Maps, their local place markers and algorithmic results. Different methods are needed to judge the effectiveness of different businesses but the absence of stars does effect click-through rates significantly. But this may not be the only reason that Google eliminated stars in algorithmic search results. As ratings grew in popularity and the effectiveness, awareness of click through rate improvement grew – and so did the manipulation of that system.
Many webmasters had discovered that stars were appearing for search results which did not warrant those ratings as ratings didn’t in fact exist. This lead to web results having stars next to their listing in Google but there weren’t actually any ratings for the site or service at all. This was done through a manipulation embedding micro data of what Google calls Rich snippets – Reviews. I first noticed this back in late January of this year (2012) and it continued to work for several months but was finally addressed this ‘somewhere’ within the update code named “Snippets“, Search quality highlights: 39 changes for May. It doesn’t seem specifically mentioned in any of the updates, but between February and June, this issue was solved.
Google is currently backing computer science research into identifying patterns with fake reviews as it working towards creating and developing a new algorithm which will be called SpamRank.
For now, if you would like to get your review stars back on Google, Google Maps, and Google+, you’ll have to check out AdWords Express, Google’s new money maker for where stars and reviews will appear in your ad if your business has more than 2 genuine Google reviews and a rating higher than 4 stars.