How Google’s Review Attributes Expansion Impacts Local Businesses

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Google’s recent decision to expand review attributes to new categories has been seen as one of the biggest changes to reviews in the past few years. The expansion gives Google even more data about the businesses using its platform, opening up future ranking possibilities and solving the problem of ratings-only reviews.

Attributes are traits of a business that reviewers can choose to foreground in their reviews. For example, if a customers leaves a five-star review, Google might prompt the reviewer to select a number of traits, or attributes, that describe what the reviewer most liked about the business. These might include such traits as professionalism, punctuality, and value.

While the decision to expand review attributes into categories beyond home services has largely been seen as a positive one within the local marketing community, it has also led to confusion among business owners who’ve been tasked with managing their local marketing strategies.

For example, while attributes have greatly expanded, they are still not in every category. Review attributes are now showing more broadly in industries usually classified as “other services” and “professional/technical services” in the NAICS coding system. Attributes are also not currently available in the Google My Business API.

Businesses that understand these changes and find ways to harness review attributes stand to see major gains in search. Google’s new feature could be a big improvement for small and mid-size businesses, in particular, since it provides marketers with both comparative structured feedback and sentiment. But whether businesses benefit from Google’s decision to expand review attributes into new categories depends largely on how they capitalize on the changes.

The customer experience and online review engine GatherUp is one of a number of local marketing vendors launching products and tools designed to help businesses make sense of Google’s updates. GatherUp’s latest tool makes it easier for its users to monitor Google attributes, as well as filter and search them for aggregate understanding.

“This is the first major change in how reviews are written and displayed in a very long time. It will affect how consumers write reviews and how they read reviews and that will affect everything a business ‘knows’ about reviews today,” says GatherUp Co-Founder Mike Blumenthal.

As many as one third of Google reviews currently are what’s called ratings-only. That means a consumer leaves a rating, but doesn’t enter any written comments in the review. That may be set to change. GatherUp’s own research is showing that users who had been just leaving ratings are now also leaving several additional review attributes. That’s data that businesses can parse and learn from with the right tools in place. It’s also information that consumers will find useful as they research local businesses online. For example, with more listed attributes, consumers can more easily narrow in on specific things they’re looking for in a business, like timeliness or professionalism.

“Reviews will contain and show more content and more sentiment. The result will be that consumers will be able to learn more about a business that they are thinking of doing business with,” Blumenthal says. “They will be offered a more granular, standardized way to distinguish between different businesses with the same rating, making their research and choice easier.”

In the short haul, Blumenthal says he sees users adopting Google’s new format very quickly. In just the past 60 days, GatherUp has seen as many as 50% of all reviews containing these new attributes. Longer term, the additional review attributes may help Google better understand businesses and help businesses understand what they can do to improve.

The expansion also turns Google’s simple five-star ratings into a system with upwards of 25 data points, and it provides Google with increasingly granular data that can be used in new and unusual ways. Blumenthal believes those updates may spark changes at competing review sites as well.

“Other review sites will have to consider something similar as it helps turn the growing morass of four-star reviews into a more understandable form,” he says. “We decided that the impact of these new attributes will be significant and we wanted to bring their value to businesses as soon as possible.”

Stephanie Miles is a senior editor at Street Fight.Rainbow over Montclair

Stephanie Miles is a journalist who covers personal finance, technology, and real estate. As Street Fight’s senior editor, she is particularly interested in how local merchants and national brands are utilizing hyperlocal technology to reach consumers. She has written for FHM, the Daily News, Working World, Gawker, Cityfile, and Recessionwire.