Why Did Google Create Google Local Guides?
One of the many things that enabled Yelp to stand out as a useful and extremely popular online review site is its Yelp Elite Squad, composed of review-writing Yelp users with meaningful tips, shiny profile badges, and access to exclusive Yelp parties.
Yelp Elite members are selected for their top-notch knowledge of local businesses, as well as for their authenticity and active contribution, and they are meant to serve as a local authority for the Yelp community.
In 2015, search engine giant Google introduced Google Local Guides, a program designed to improve the quantity and quality of local business reviews on Google.
What is a Google Local Guide?
Like Yelp Elite, Google Local Guides is a global community of the top reviewers on Google. The more reviews a user writes and posts on Google, the more benefits he or she enjoys. TechCrunch reports that the Local Guides feature has already been added in an update to Google Maps.
“For Google Maps end users, the new program could see Google’s reviews becoming more useful than they were in the past, as often the reviews section is something consumers only hit up when they have a problem or complaint with a business,” wrote TechCrunch’s Sarah Perez. “The motivation to log in to leave more positive or even neutral reviews can be low, which is something Google clearly hopes to change with Local Guides.”
Benefits of the Local Guides program include: special badges and levels, access to a monthly newsletter, invites to members-only contests, the ability to join Hangouts with worldwide tastemakers, connoisseurs, and Googlers, eligibility to test new Google products and services before public release, invites to exclusive events, parties, and meetups, and annual thank-you gifts for high-quality contributions to Google Maps. High-level Google Local Guides also get the chance to be featured on Google, Facebook, and Twitter.
Google Local Guides vs. Google City Experts
The program is not dissimilar to Google’s previous City Experts program; in fact, according to the company, City Experts are being transitioned automatically to Local Guides. To ensure review quality, Google describes high-quality reviews as being “usually 3 to 4 sentences long and contains specific, helpful, and balanced information about a particular business.”
Individual consumers can sign up for the Local Guides program by visiting: https://maps.google.com/localguides/signup.
If you’re a business owner, you can still become a Local Guide, provided that you do not solicit reviews for a particular business, and that you don’t take advantage of the program for self-promotion.
Google Local Guides: A Guide for Business Owners
If you are managing or marketing a local business, you’re probably already benefiting from Google My Business, a free tool with resources to help increase your business visibility and help you connect with your customers.
The fact is that the Google My Business suite is one of the most effective tools to support your SEO, online reputation management, and local search marketing efforts. Additionally, Google My Business allows you to connect with real customers and facilitates two-way conversations via Google Hangouts.
Even when Yelp remains dominant in terms of traffic and trustworthiness, the reality is that when customers conduct a search and find your site, they are likely to find it in association with one of the many features of Google My Business, whether it is Google Maps or by looking at the cumulative star ratings displaying via rich snippets under the main search result for your business.
Google Local Guides or Yelp Elite?
One of the most valuable differentiators between the Yelp Elite Squad and Google Local Guides relates to how Google has managed to integrate Google profiles in such a way that anonymity is not really an option. A person with a transparent identity and more of their real-life social network interacting with them online is less likely to engage in malicious rants and more likely to provide useful, positive, and authentic customer feedback to businesses and local shops.
Be an Early Adopter and Start Influencing Your Community and Supporting Satellite Businesses
If you have not yet joined Google Local Guides, do it now. Being an early adopter comes with a multitude of perks including awesome invites that will provide you radical amplification to your local social networks. The people you meet in these networks will remember you, and as a corollary will recall your venue or business as a viable option when seeking the products or services you offer.
In addition to engaging in face-to-face, sponsored events, take time to write honest, content-rich reviews for businesses and organizations that provide support services for your business. For example, if you are a local realtor and utilize the services of landscapers or contractors, then take time to review their services. Not only will they thank you for it, but you will also increase recall, and you will be the first in mind when it comes to making a personal recommendation.
Another creative way for realtors to leverage the tool is by providing reviews to local services and inviting their customers to check their Google Local Guides profile, using it as an introductory guide when they are new to the community and are looking for endorsed and trustworthy businesses to provide services and entertainment.
Join Meet-Ups, Connect, and Consider Hosting
Meet-ups, exclusive get-togethers, and parties for members of Google Local Guides give you access to individuals who stand a far greater chance of reviewing your business than the average customer. Take time to get to know the members of your local guides, and go the extra mile by hosting an event, especially if you run a venue such as a restaurant, bar, or other forms of hospitality or foodservice. In hosting an event, you will give other members of the community a direct opportunity to review your offering.
Become the Go-To Person to Test the Waters of Customer Feedback and Opinion
By learning to navigate Google Local Guides and engaging with other members of the community, you will be privy to opinions and trends that will better equip you to make marketing and product decisions that reflect the things your local community aspires to have. Study the reviews of the most prolific community members, and learn their likes and dislikes. Use the insights in shaping the way you do business and perfecting your product offering in order to become a local favorite.
Encourage Other Google Local Guides to Visit
Heading to a meet-up? Don’t go empty-handed. Make it a point to have business cards with creative marketing collateral such as an exclusive friends-and-family discount code, or a QR-based marketing campaign that leads the card recipient to your business and provides him or her randomized discounts or gifts.
Be sure to include other local guides members in your circles, and be intentional about sharing brand or business-related updates and promos from your Google business page into your personal profile. By connecting your social persona to your business, you add dimension and human connection that triggers credibility and a sense of community.
As an early adopter in the know you will place your business at a strategic advantage and have strong familiarity with the program to help you further advocate for your business. Step up to the plate and make this new tool part of your reputation strategy.