Have your customers been able to submit a review on your Google Places page in the last week of May? Chances are the answer is “no”.

In fact, for the last 30 days, Google Places functionality has been quite finicky. The forums have been exploding with comments and reports of the reviewing system not working as it should.

So what’s going on?

My insight

Speculation was correct. There was a change; a major change that happened.  Just take a look at your Google ratings today and you may notice your business has a score based out of a 30 rating rather than 5.  This is based off of the rating system of Zagat, a company Google bought for $151 million dollars, to enhance their reviewing system.

Zagat is known for restaurant ratings and identifying excellence. Many restaurants proudly proclaim to be one of the 35,000 businesses rated in Zagat, and many establishments gained business from this claim.  When Zagat was acquired, many people wondered how Google would integrate this acquisition . . . now, we have the answer.

However, this new reviewing system goes far beyond just reviews. It is about mobile.

The truth is that Google knows they have to focus on mobile. Mobile search is expected to grow to surpass computer-based searches by 2014.  Most searches on mobile are consumers looking for something local. If Google can become the “go-to” for the best answers on reviews and ratings, as opposed to Yelp, Facebook or other competitors, then they will be able to monetize local in a way they aren’t now.  Currently the race is on for mobile and the biggest companies in the world are strategizing to get some of their share.

This has been a very popular topic recently as Facebook shares have been declining since their IPO. Many investors are noting that Facebook’s mobile platform is weak at best and the future of monetizing mobile is bleak. It’s a hard pill to swallow given Facebook is valued 2X more than Walt Disney…What?  (great blog idea…stay tuned).

If you want to know what the problem is with mobile advertising, just take a glance at your phone. Not to much real estate right? No side ads? Google features about 6-10 paid ads on a computer-based search and many of them are on the side bar.  AND NOW. . . with the launch of the Zagat ratings, when someone searches for a brand name, ads haven’t been appearing. Less ads = less revenue.

What can you do?
While the local mobile war rages on, Google still remains vital to businesses. As more and more people look at ratings as a pre-qualification, businesses MUST retain a good reputation.  So, here are how the new ratings break down:

Google’s new Scoring Guide (based off Zagat) 
26-30  Extraordinary to Perfection
21-25  Very Good to Excellent
16-20  Good to Very Good
11-15  Fair to Good
0-10    Poor to Fair

Individual Scores (based on a 0 to 30 scale)
3  Excellent
2  Very Good
1  Good
0  Poor to Fair

Steps to get reviews:
1)Focus on Google Plus as now Google added “Google+ Local” which will house the reviews and be the home to which you will send customers to submit reviews.

2)Enhance your Google Plus page. Customers WILL be going there so you need to look good. Proper descriptions, great photos, video, etc. (We can help you with this)

3)Adopt Google Plus! Many people including my friends and family havent heard of Google Plus, though my colleagues and team use it all of the time for “Hangouts”.  It is a great system BUT you may be confused and not know its place in your business or life. I’ve heard it described as yet another place to post or share information as if it’s more of a chore than anything else.

Google is not backing down on making this a success. While some products such as Google Wave and now Website Optimizer have fallen by the wayside, Google+ won’t. So it’s time to start loving it.  Truth be told it’s pretty awesome once you start using it and realize how it simplifies many things you do online already with Google, like file sharing (Google Drive), office suite (Google docs), picture editing (Picnik), Rating (Zagat), Picture taking (Picassa), and of course email (G-mail).

Word of Caution
You may lose reviews. Once someone writes a review for another business for the first time on this new system, they have a choice to make their past reviews public or private and Google+ Local guides the user through these steps.  So, if you received a review a year ago but since then the user’s experience has turned negative in some way, the user can pull the review on the new system.

This is significant because the user is forced to approve their old reviews or make them private. Without a doubt you will lose some.

In Summary
Google+ local is big.  Nearly 85% or more of your search engine traffic comes from Google. You have to look good and that’s the bottom line. To do that now you must adopt Google+. To learn more about this change and the new rating system please read Google’s blog here.

Meet Joe Chura

Joe began his career on the Ford assembly line at age 20, reading his college textbooks seconds at a time in between building cars. Over the next decade Joe gained experience at many different levels in the automotive industry, including running Ford’s regional sales team and a stint as General Manager of two dealerships, where he increased internet sales by 300%. Combining his passion for computer programming and innovation, Joe co-founded Launch Digital Marketing (LDM) and Dealer Inspire (DI) to bring new retail technology and better online experiences to both car dealers and shoppers.