Google has quietly launched a new program called Google City Experts to encourage more high-quality local business ratings and reviews on Google+. The program is currently limited to select cities in the U.S., U.K., Australia, and Japan, and will reward users who have left at least 50 reviews to date, and who produce at least five new reviews each month.
Those who meet these guidelines will be provided with perks, like exclusive access to local events, “custom swag” (meaning free, Google-branded items), and “special online recognition.” Participants will also receive monthly newsletters including a variety of offers, plus be alerted to local contests and events they can get involved in, a company representative explains.
In addition, we’re told that Google City Experts will be invited to an exclusive Google+ Community, where they can meet other nearby Experts to discuss tips and tricks for using Google+ Local and Google Maps.
The 50 reviews required as a starting point to join this program can include those members have left in the past, or can be written after signing up. But in order to maintain an active membership, City Experts have to create at least five good reviews per month – meaning well-written posts with added photos.
These requirements are meant to guard against spammers, and others who may be encouraged to write a few reviews in return for free stuff. “Quality reviews” must be three or four sentences long as a minimum, while also being helpful and balanced reviews, explains Google, rather than the astro-turfing and fawning praise that’s often surreptitiously left by business owners, their friends and employees on review sites, or the attacking and negative reviews left by angry customers, or sometimes, even a business’s own competitors.
The program takes advantage of an old Internet rule which states that only a small group of so-called “creators” generate most of the content on the web, while the larger majority just consumes what others have produced. By asking that the Experts have at least 50 reviews under their belt to start, Google is limiting the program’s reach to target that smaller group of heavy, regular reviewers.
Announced to little fanfare on Google Local New York’s Google+ Page earlier this week, the program is currently offered in the United States (Austin, Chicago, New York, Phoenix, Portland, Raleigh-Durham, San Francisco), the United Kingdom (Bristol, Edinburgh, London, Manchester), Australia (Sydney), and Japan (Tokyo and Osaka). However, Google intends to expand City Experts over time to new areas.
Even if you’re not in one of the preferred cities, you can still sign up with your Google account by selecting “other” from the City Experts homepage here.
All Roads Lead To Google+
Google has been consolidating its efforts in bringing local business ratings and reviews under the Google+ branding and roof for some time now, having already transitioned businesses from Google Places to Google+, and later merging Google+ Business pages with Google+ Local pages. More recently, it upgraded business dashboards for Google+ page owners, letting them manage search, social, maps and AdWords from one interface. It also debuted an interactive carousel of business search results at the top of Google.com for relevant business searches. And it shuttered its Google+ Local iOS app, to keep users in Google Maps instead.
The only exception to the “everything Google+” push so far appears to be the relaunch of the now Google-owned Zagat apps which is notable mainly for the fact that Google is still holding onto the Zagat brand for now.
Combined, these efforts are clearly about competing with other reviewing services, like Yelp for example, which has been pushing forward with initiatives of its own, having recently launched Yelp Platform as a way to transact directly on Yelp itself, added partnerships with Eat24 and Delivery.com, not to mention the it acquired OpenTable competitor SeatMe. But despite solid earnings from Yelp lately, Google still holds a much larger portion of today’s local advertising pie. Pushing reviewers to beef up the quality of the ratings on its service, then rolling that program out at a worldwide scale will be another challenge for Yelp to overcome.