Google is now “segmenting” and separating local reviews from third parties such as Yelp from those of its own user-reviews. It has also added favicons next to the third party reviews to offer some “branding” on Places Pages. David Mihm noticed this yesterday.
Here’s what it looks like on a Places Page for popular San Francisco Vietnamese restaurant Slanted Door:
Mihm speculates that the favicons represent an “incentive” to third parties to start providing more data to Google (or perhaps a compromise/appeasement). Hey, you don’t get this kind of “branding” on conventional SERPs (but maybe one day, a la Yahoo SearchMonkey, etc). I think the branding is welcome all the way around and helps consumers, at a glance, evaluate the reviews.
Mihm also speculates, I think correctly, that Google is preparing for when it includes “testimonials” from business websites (and other sources) as reviews on Places Pages. The objective in that case would be to separate “qualified” reviews from more dubious and potentially fraudulent reviews that would be posted on business websites in the hope of influencing Google local results or improving an SMB’s appearance on Places.
And now for a bit of unsolicited advice. If I were Google or Marissa Mayer or John Hanke I would do the following to Places:
1. Take the “sentiment bars” and turn them into an score — sort of like what appears on Urbanspoon or Rotten Tomatoes (or Zagat originally):
Google could still make the sentiment “drill down” (open the plus box) available but make the top level display easier to read and understand at a glance. It could also be improved with other “semantic” attributes such as “open late,” “good for kids,” “good for groups,” “romantic,” and so on.
2. Condense the “Google user reviews” into an overall score, star rating or other easy-to-understand marker that users could further investigate (via plus box) if desired. Right now the page involves too much scrolling. I don’t need to see 20 reviews unless I want more detail: show me the top level and then let me explore further if I’m so inclined.
3. Where a transaction is possible, make that more obvious or directly “actionable” on the page. For example, enable Open Table reservations right on the Places Page (a la Yelp) or at least call out “reservations” with an icon.
I would also make Place Pages more visually engaging and simpler to look at simultaneously. With the exception of the photos, map and “sentiment bars” your eye washes over the page. There’s too much text coming at you. Bury some of that information “a click down.”
Finally Google is going to need to make Places Pages more “social,” but that’s the subject of another post later.
Postscript: Google formally announced the change on the LatLong blog earlier.