Google Maps is a useful tool to business owners and consumers alike. It not only helps users find businesses near them, but also offers greater visibility for business owners. Although Google Maps does feature ratings and reviews, traditionally most users would turn to Yelp for a better indication of the quality of a business. This is now beginning to change.

To compete with the power of Yelp, Google released Local Guides back in 2015. Since it was introduced, it has undergone several changes.  These changes have increased benefits for users and enabled the service to become a stronger competitor for Yelp.


How Does Google Local Guides Work?

Local Guides allows users to review, post pictures, and update information about businesses. It works using a points system, which also adds a sense of gamification. Users receive one point every time they:

  • Upload a photo
  • Share a review
  • Add a new place
  • Update information about a business (address or contact number, for instance)
  • Answer a question

When you sign up as a Local Guides user, you are immediately at Level 1, even if you have no points. At this level, you will receive a monthly newsletter, can join workshops and hangouts, and have the chance to enter exclusive competitions.

Once you have gained five points, you move up to Level 2. This gives you the additional benefits of early access to new Google products and features, and the ability to promote meet-ups on the Local Guides calendar. Google also provides event organizers with resources, including name badges, stickers, and bingo cards.

To reach Level 3, you need 50 points. You will receive an official Local Guides badge, which will appear on the Google Maps app, and you will be able to connect to other Local Guides in Google+. You also have the chance to moderate Local Guides community channels, and may receive invites to events hosted by Google (depending on your city).

With 200 points, you arrive at Level 4. This gives you 1 terabyte of free storage for your Google Drive, and eligibility to be featured on the Local Guides online channels, including Google+, Facebook, and Twitter.

The final level is Level 5, for which you need 500 points. This is a new level — it did not exist when Local Guides was released. Users at Level 5 have the chance to test Google products before they are released to the public and receive invites to exclusive events. Last year, Level 5 members could attend the Google summit.


Differences Between Local Guides and Yelp

Levels vs. Elite Squad

If you are already using Yelp, the above may sound very familiar. Yelp has Elite Squad to reward members who remain active in the community. This offers users many of the same benefits as Local Guides, including badges, invites, and gifs.

However, to become part of Yelp’s Elite Squad, you need to apply or be nominated. Then, after five years of being Elite, you will receive the Gold Elite Badge; and after 10 years, the Black Elite Badge. It is much easier to move up the ranks in Local Guides, as ranking is based on activity rather than time using the service. This means you can move through the levels in mere days, provided you put in the effort.


At low levels, Local Guides is less exclusive than Yelp Elite Squad. For instance, anyone can check out the calendar of local meet-ups.

Fake reviews

To spot fake reviews Google utilizes an algorithm which appears to work better than Yelp’s system. This is good news for local businesses (or at least those relying on real reviews!). Plus, users at Level 2 and above who make changes to listings see updates sooner on Google than on Yelp. One user, both Level 2 on Local Guides and a Yelp Elite, reported that it took just 12 hours to see a change on Google Maps compared to almost one week on Yelp.

Integration with other features

Local Guides has an advantage over Yelp in that it is linked with many other Google services. For instance, when a Local Guides user visits a business and takes a photo, Google will suggest publishing the photo to update the business.


How Small Businesses Can Benefit from Local Guides

Beyond the ability to review and publish photos for your own business, there are a number of reasons why you should sign up for Local Guides. First, you will be able to review businesses you benefit from in your area. Whatever your industry, you likely collaborate with several businesses to bring better services to your customers. Show your appreciation with a thoughtful review — the businesses may even return the favor.

Becoming a Local Guides member also gives you various opportunities to network. By giving a face to your business, you create a lasting impression on the people you meet. Building personal relationships with those in your community will increase the chances they choose your business when seeking products and services. Meet-ups with other Local Guides contributors are especially important as you will receive reviews and photos, as well as customers.

Finally, early access to Google tools and services can enhance your marketing efforts. Combine this with first-hand knowledge of what customers want from your business (which you can find out by asking at events) and you increase your chances of long-term success.