21 January, 2015

New Review Filters for Google Maps

Update: May 2017
When the review filters first came out, they were in whole numbers – 4.0, 3.0, etc.  In May 2017, Google introduced half-star increments.
note: Images in this article have not been updated to reflect the change.

local searchWouldn’t it be nice if you could cut down the options and filter businesses in the pack based on their review score?

Let’s say you’re looking for a good place to eat in the city and Italian is what takes your fancy. You “google it” and come up with a list something like the image to the right.

How do you know which one to pick?

The one with no stars might not be as good as the rest, but without any reviews it’s too hard to say. The other two aren’t hugely different. And with the difference in number of reviews (12 vs 38), how do you get a feel for what should be a better choice?

Google have devised an answer to that question. They have added a feature to Maps which now allows searchers to filter search results by review ratings.

If I click on the map, Google takes me to a full-screen map which gives me something new – an option to filter results. The most important of these is by rating. I can then apply a filter and dramatically change which results show in my list to choose from.

As near as I can tell, it’s filtering out places by the highest proportion of that particular star rating. And that’s perfectly in line with the philosophy of quality over quantity.

Or put another way: when it comes to reviews – more is not better, better is better.

What’s that I hear you say? Too many clicks for someone to really do?

You could be right – for a desktop user. They probably wouldn’t go thru the effort. If that’s the case, why should I take the time to write about this?

Because here’s where it gets wicked…

Remember where Google’s emphasis is right now?

Like most people, you’re looking for a restaurant so you pull out your mobile phone.  You type in what you’re looking for. And right there on the screen is the filter. No extra effort to know you have the chance to hone in. Tap to filter, select your rating, then bam – there you are. And look at the incredibly different results you can get!

mobile local search results

default local search results

review filter on mobile

pick your review filter

filtered review results mobile

filtered results

In going thru the process of selecting which screen shots would show the most dramatic shift, I tested a number of different industries. One thing became clear – if it’s a very competitive space, the one or two seemed to stick, regardless of the number of reviews. In one test, a listing with just 8 reviews outranked a business with 105 reviews. So while one is active with getting reviews, they’re not quite as active with their quality of food or service as the other restaurant – who isn’t as concerned about reviews as they are their customers.

In the less competitive niches, there was far more fluctuation with the results (as with the example above). My best guess is in the less competitive niches, less attention is paid to the online presence for their business. That would appear to be a decision for the short-term which will probably have costly longer term consequences.

h/t: Colan Nielsen