Are Google Local Guides the New Food Critic?

Michael Magnus | @TheMagnusOpus

Since the early days of Xanga, one of my favorite things about the internet is the illusion that someone might be interested in my insights and opinions about my experiences.  As online communities continue to evolve, brands have begun to recognize the value of these affirmations and are trying to find new and exciting way to encourage online endorsements.  My vet starting offering free swag, my HVAC company gives a service discount, and restaurants may offer a free appetizer; all for the perceived validation provided by an online review.  

Recently Google has taken this concept a step further and introduced “Google Local Guides”, a point based credentialing system that lends more credibility to reviews from frequent reviewers than the occasional disgruntled customer.  Additionally, Google incentivizes participation with early access to new features, digital product testing opportunities, and the chance to be featured on their official online channels for the most active of Local Guides.  

As informed consumers, it doesn’t take much to understand the face value of these reviews.  According to a recent Pew Research study, 82% of U.S. adults say they at least sometimes read online customer ratings prior to purchase, with 40% saying they always or almost always look online first.  With this transition in trust to user generated reviews, are those with the online accreditation the new opinion leaders?  Have Google Local Guides replaced the traditional Food Critic?

“As chefs, we take pride in having a 5-star rating from an actual food critic, because that’s the way we’ve historically rated our culinary success,” said Stefon Rishel, General Manager and Executive Chef at Texas Bleu Steakhouse. “There’s so much going on online now, though, that those reviews are still important to us as a business.  We can only control what takes place inside our four walls, so we try to make sure that everyone leaves happy; a manager or chef stops by every single table, which generally allows us to take care of grievances before they hit the internet.”

One of the ancillary benefits that Rishel has identified from frequent positive reviews is the impact it has had on online search rankings.  These reviews help potential customers discover his restaurant when searching for a steakhouse or fine dining in their area.

“Online reviews can ultimately be one of the more impactful factors for Search Engine Optimization, second to quality location data”, says SEO Expert Joe Youngblood. “Google’s AI is automated to attempt to replicate how an individual user would make a decision.  Things like number of reviews, quality of reviews, and how recent the reviews were written can all impact the site’s ranking.”

But how do Google Local Guides play into this larger economy of online reviews?

“The Local Guide program is a multi-purpose weapon for Google,” continues Youngblood.  “It’s not just promoting consumer marketing on a larger scale, but it also makes Google Maps more involved and interactive, encouraging users to spend more time there that they would otherwise be spending on Facebook, Instagram, and other social media sites.”  

It seems that the value of online reviews is obvious to restaurateurs and digital marketing aficionados alike; it will be interesting to watch how other sites attempt to inspire interaction on their own unique platforms.  Although it’s unlikely that professional food critics are going to be usurped anytime soon, there is no denying the increasing value of the online review.  

Interested learning more about becoming a Google Local Guide?  Visit https://support.google.com/local-guides/