Google has recently updated not only the look of Google Places, but what information is and is not being included on business listings.
Avni Shah, Director of Product Management at Google recently commented on the update:
“Some of the changes you’ll notice today have been made so you can quickly get a sense for what other people are saying about a place, more easily upload photos of places you’ve been (by using a more obvious “Upload a photo” button), and see reviews in a single section on the page.”
The changes mentioned above are a reaffirmation that Google is going social. You can now take a photo with your android phone, have the image automatically synced to Picasa, Upload it to the Google Places Profile, and share it with your circles on Google+.
Avni Goes on to say:
“Based on careful thought about the future direction of Place pages, and feedback we’ve heard over the past few months, review snippets from other web sources have now been removed from Place pages. Rating and review counts reflect only those that’ve been written by fellow Google users, and as part of our continued commitment to helping you find what you want on the web, we’re continuing to provide links to other review sites so you can get a comprehensive view of locations across the globe.”
Of the updates, the most interesting and controversial is the lack of snippets of third party reviews being displayed. The “feedback” Avni references is assumed to be the large amount of complaints Google has received from Review Websites such as TripAdvisor, for the use of their Reviews on Google Places. The “future direction” referenced is most likely a nod to the fact that Google is trying to gain market share in the review business, and with the roll out of Google Hotpot in November, Google has already successfully increased their market share of reviews online from approximately 3-5% to over 20% market share.
In conjunction with removing the snippets of third party reviews, Google has increased the number of Google user Reviews from two to five, and are including only Google User reviews in their statistic on Star ranking and number of reviews. This means that Small businesses around the world have most likely seen a dramatic change in star ranking, or amount of reviews, for better or worse. One thing is definite though, Google User reviews are becoming more important than ever.