How Are Brands Preparing for Native Ratings in Apple Maps?

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A foundational element of local marketing strategy could be changing. Rumors began circulating last week that Apple would be giving users the ability to add ratings and photos to local business listings on Apple Maps when iOS 14 releases this fall. That could mean big changes are in store for brand marketers who’ve grown accustomed to monitoring reviews and ratings on a core group of third-party platforms.

Although Apple has historically relied on data from partners like Yelp, Foursquare, and TripAdvisor for reviews, the beta of iOS 14 offered the ability for users to leave their own ratings for businesses and points of interest.

Apple’s move into the ratings and review space isn’t totally unexpected, but it’s still causing the local marketing community to question how the update will impact local search and discovery.

Brandify Vice President of Product Strategy Damian Rollison says it’s unclear at this point whether Apple plans to remove third-party reviews and replace them with its own rating system, or whether the company will keep third-party reviews and publish them alongside native Apple ratings. It’s also unclear how Apple Maps ratings will be structured. If the ratings have no text, how will businesses be able to manage and respond to them? Rollison says businesses may not be able to do much, beyond simply observing how their locations are being rated.

“The same goes for photos. User photo content could offer a boost in engagement for Apple and remove a big part of its dependency on Yelp. But for businesses, photos uploaded by users are often a pain point, since they may be unflattering, they may become outdated, and they’re difficult to remove,” Rollison says. “Hopefully, Apple will make it possible for businesses to flag inappropriate photos.”

Apple’s move is clearly designed to reduce its dependence on partners like Foursquare and Yelp for reviews and user photos. In the current version of Apple Maps, users who tap on a placemarker see a photo grid and reviews featuring the logo of the third-party integration, such as Yelp or TripAdvisor. Users who tap on the review to read more are directed to the App Store to download the partner’s app. Apple clearly understands that this is a suboptimal experience. Updating Apple Maps to allow users to submit their own photos and ratings makes basic sense from this perspective. Brands that have grown accustomed to managing reviews in a certain way may feel differently, though.

Rollison says this update to Apple Maps may be a sign that things are changing at the company, and that updates to Apple Business Chat and other business-focused tools could be coming down the pipeline. To get businesses more involved, Apple will need to expand its feature set in Apple Maps Connect and open up methods for multi-location brands to engage as well.

“We’ve been waiting a long time for Apple to unveil an Apple Maps API, which would be the right solution for chains and franchises,” Rollison says.

Apple does have some advantages that may give it a leg up on competitors in the local ratings and reviews space. It’s been rumored that Apple will only accept ratings from people who’ve physically visited a venue based on location data, which would cut down on the fraudulent reviews that have plagued sites like TripAdvisor and Yelp. Rollison says this is the kind of improvement that’s easier for Apple to make because its user base is so heavily focused on smartphone users, as opposed to a mix of smartphone and desktop.

“I think that linking ratings to physical visits is a step in the right direction as far as authenticity is concerned, but it will also limit the volume of content somewhat. For instance, those who turn off location services presumably won’t be able to rate businesses,” Rollison says.

While businesses may appreciate the increased authenticity that comes with linking locations to ratings on Apple Maps, they may not get access to the types of granular data they’re hoping for.

“I would not advise businesses to hold their breath in that department,” Rollison says. “Apple sends traffic data to content partners but has never shared any analytics with businesses. They take a proprietary approach to the data and I’d guess that will not change soon, or at all — unless Apple decides they need to have analytics to reach feature parity with Google, Yelp, and Facebook.”

Rather than making immediate changes to their local review strategies, brands should sit back and wait for the update to roll out, Rollison said. This isn’t the first time Apple has made significant changes to its Maps product. The company launched an initiative a few years ago to rebuild Maps from the ground up, and in that case, months of work did result in better map accuracy and improved navigation.

“I would put this news alongside the rumor that Apple may be launching a search engine — it’s a possible sign of things to come, but not at all definitive at this point,” he says. “I don’t know if Apple will ever fully switch to its own POI data — it remains very reliant on partners, like Brandify, and data providers, like Foursquare — but the iOS14 news suggests that the company is at least making some tentative moves into expanded business functionality. If that’s a sign of more to come, and if businesses can eventually do more to manage Apple Maps presence directly, then Apple will quickly and easily get a bigger share of marketers’ attention.”

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.