The Influence of Local Guides on Google Reviews: Part 2

Street Fight recently covered findings from multi-location marketing platform SOCi’s State of Google Reviews 2021 study, which found that 62% of Google reviews are written by Local Guides — those volunteers (now 150 million strong globally) who earn points and badges for contributing content to Google’s local platform. The initial study left us with some unanswered questions, a few of which were raised by others providing feedback on the findings. 

In the first study, we looked at the overall volume of reviews written by Local Guides compared with other Google users as well as the distribution of reviews across star ratings, the average length of reviews, the proportion of reviews with no text, and so on. We found that, on the whole, Local Guides are not only responsible for writing more reviews but also that their reviews tend to be shorter with a higher overall proportion of 4 to 5-star reviews. 

Two aspects of the data that we didn’t examine closely but will turn to in this follow-up article are unique user counts and Local Guide levels. The overall proportion of reviews written by Guides compared to non-Guides did not tell us about the size of each of those populations or the typical number of contributions per user, nor whether the behavior or population size of high-level Guides was noticeably different from that of low-level Guides, who may have done little aside from signing up for the program. 

Figuring out what type of Local Guides are leaving reviews, and what kind of reviews they are leaving, matters for a few reasons. First, Local Guides are responsible for writing more reviews of local businesses than any other group on the internet. Second, Local Guides write reviews under circumstances that make them different from ordinary consumers: They are self-selected volunteers who get rewarded, albeit in a non-monetary fashion, for their contributions. Fairly or not, they are often thought of as biased and their contributions as less valuable, merely “written for points.” Third, the true characteristics of Local Guides are not well known, because they have not yet been subject to this type of study.

How Many Google Reviewers Are Local Guides?

We looked at the raw count of all reviewers in our dataset of 1.1 million Google Business Profiles containing approximately 169 million reviews. The table below represents the count of unique users in each user category, from non-Guides through Guide level 10. (We determined the local guide level by looking at the badges associated with user profile photos; badges start at level 4, which is why we’ve grouped levels 1-3 together. The difference between these early levels is minimal.) 

User Count by Local Guide Level

SOCi State of Google Reviews 2021

Local Guide LevelUnique User Count
Non-Guide34,082,705
Level 1-37,455,872
Level 42,941,208
Level 53,375,458
Level 61,343,206
Level 7254,248
Level 842,796
Level 93,585
Level 101,325

What’s immediately apparent in this finding is that, despite the massive growth of the Local Guides program in the six years since its inception, ordinary Google users still make up the majority of reviewers, with 34 million unique non-Guides in our dataset compared with only about 15 million Guides. As one might expect, the Guide population declines as the level increases (with the interesting exception of level 5), trailing off as depicted below. Apparently, hardly any Local Guides make it past level 7 – just 0.31% of all Guides occupy levels 8-10.

How Many Reviews Do Local Guides Write?

Local Guides, who make up about 31% of our overall population of reviewers, write 62% of reviews — so they must write significantly more reviews per person than non-Guides do. Within our dataset, in fact, we find that Guides wrote an average of 6.8 reviews per person, compared to non-Guides who wrote an average of 1.9 reviews. Note that we are only looking at a universe of 1.1 million businesses, so these numbers do not represent all the reviews written by each user type. Still, they convey the volume of reviews one group writes in comparison with another. We can conclude from our findings that Local Guides write approximately 3.6 times as many reviews as non-Guides.

Guide level appears to have an impact on the volume of reviews written by users. In particular, the level 5 group – which, as we noted above, is the only group with an uptick in membership numbers from the previous level – also writes more reviews than any other Local Guide group. Level 5 Guides write nearly 20% of all reviews, compared with about 13% for levels 1-3, 10% for level 4, and about 14% for level 6. Level 5 Guides wrote an average of 9.9 reviews for our set of businesses, compared to the average of 6.8 for Guides overall.

Does Guide Level Impact Review Length or Ratings?

For the final part of our analysis, we wanted to look for any correlations between Guide levels and review length or typical ratings. We were interested to discover a clear trend toward what might be termed increased objectivity or simply more measured evaluation as Guide level increases. Both five-star and one-star reviews decline steadily as level increases, while three- and four-star ratings go up in volume. (Two-star ratings are relatively flat.) Level 10 Guides, at the top end of the spectrum, write about 15% fewer five-star reviews and 10% fewer one-star reviews than non-Guides, whereas the proportion of two- to four-star reviews increases by 25%.

As for review length, our findings corroborate the idea that as Guide level increases, the characteristics of reviews change. In this case, review length increases as a function of Guide level from level 6 to 10. 

In other words, beyond level 6, the higher the Guide level, the longer the reviews. These are the same reviews that also grew more ‘objective’ or measured as guide level increased, weighting less heavily toward one and five star reviews and more heavily toward two- to four-star reviews. 

Of course, it should be reiterated that the volume of users in Guide levels 8 through 10 is quite small in comparison with other groups. A comparatively tiny group of power users at higher Guide levels do show a trend toward more balanced reviews of greater length, but the vast majority of Guides still write reviews that are shorter than those of non-Guides.

Conclusion

The findings in part two of our study help to fill out our understanding of the influence of Local Guides on Google reviews. We showed the overall dominance of Local Guides as a source of reviews in part one; in this follow-up, we demonstrate that by population Local Guides are a minority of Google users. Local Guides, incentivized by points, badges, and other perks, write far more reviews on than the average Google user, and some of them – the Guides who have achieved the highest levels in the program – also tend to write reviews that are longer and less biased toward negative or positive extremes. 

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Damian Rollison writes the Streets Ahead column for Street Fight. He is Director of Market Insights at SOCi and can be reached via Twitter at @damianrollison. SOCi is the publisher of Street Fight.
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