In the beginning there was the phone book.
New to town and need a plumber? Open up that big yellow book and pick a name.
Of course there was no way to tell who was best or most trustworthy. The only companies with a leg up were those that paid extra for an ad (and maybe ‘AAA Plumbing’ thanks to the miracle of alphabetical order).
There’s a reason you can’t remember the last time you used the phone book. The Internet as we've come to know it (Web 2.0) makes it much easier to find talented and trustworthy plumbers (and live entertainers).
According to Google, “97% of consumers search for local businesses online” and “20 percent of all searches in Google are for nearby information.” Sure, they aren’t exactly unbiased, but I’m inclined to believe Google's numbers. Everyone searches.
In its’ earliest days, the Internet wasn’t much more than a virtual phone book. Fast forward to today (skipping over early search engines like AltaVista, Lycos and, later, Google’s revolutionary algorithms) when two of the hottest buzz words among web folk are “social” and “local.” In many ways these ideas are poised to replace, or at least augment, SEO as the driving force behind search.
Enter Google+ Local.
This cumbersomely named service is Google’s latest attempt to marry social and local. The cornerstone of the new service: restaurant-ratings publisher Zagat, which Google purchased last year. While Zagat does offer reviews of much more than just places to eat (hotels, night life, shopping, golf courses, etc.), folding Zagat ratings into Google Plus Local is just the beginning and presumably the service will eventually incorporate user reviews on...just about everything.
Wondering what social media and local user reviews have to do with search? According to econsultancy.com, "90% of consumers online trust recommendations from people they know; 70% trust opinions of unknown users.”
Better yet, imagine that a new restaurant opens in your town. Before you rush in for dinner, you'll probably do a quick search to see what people are saying about it. If you find the restaurant has good reviews, that might be enough to convince you to go (that’s the “local” part of search). Let’s say that instead of just reviews from anonymous diners, you come across a glowing Google + review from your best friend (that’s the social part of search and you are calling up to get reservations ASAP).
Whether or not Google+ Local proves successful, it’s clear that user reviews are an important part of our online decision making process (not to mention a hot Internet commodity).
We’ve been talking client reviews (a.k.a ‘feedback’) all week here on Inside the Gig. Hopefully this rant has helped convince you of the importance of user reviews. If not, just ask Google.
Inside the Gig's 'Feedback' archive (GigMasters)