Google Starts To Downplay Zagat Scores; It Should Ditch Them Altogether

google-plus-localGoogle is changing the way it collects local business reviews and displays them in search results, making the Zagat score a less prominent piece of information.

That’s a good thing in my opinion, and many people — myself included — hope it’s the first step toward the complete removal of the Zagat system in Google’s local business ecosystem.

In a Google+ post yesterday, Megan Stevenson explains that review authors no longer have to use the Zagat scoring system and can instead just choose words/phrases like “Very Good,” “Excellent” or “Poor – Fair” to describe a business. Here’s Google’s new interface for writing a review:


That’s different from the Zagat system, which asks users to rate businesses on a non-standard 0-3 scale. While most review writers are used to “3″ being the same as “okay” or “good,” in the Zagat system it’s the highest score you can give a business. Google would then convert those 0-3 ratings into an even more confusing Zagat score that ranged from 0-30.

That’s not the only change Google has made, though.

As Mike Blumenthal reported, Google has also stopped showing the Zagat numerical scores that are associated with individual reviews — and has replaced those with the same sentiment-style words/phrases.


As you can see, the overall Zagat score still shows on this Google+ business listing, but the individual reviews no longer show numerical scores.

In its announcement, Google says “…we’ll convert your ratings into numbers and factor them into the business’ precise 30-point score that shows up in Google+, Search and Maps.”

And it’s true that the Zagat scores are still visible when you search on both and in Google Maps, as shown below.


But eliminating the numerical scoring from review writing and review displays may be — and should be — a step toward eliminating the Zagat scoring system altogether.

The Problem With Zagat Scores In Local Search

In short: No one understands them.

As I’ve written on my own blog, Google took a big risk when it converted its entire local search/review system to a largely unfamiliar 30-point rating scale. Consumers are familiar with five-point (or five-star) rating scales — we use them to rate movies, music, books, products and much more. Most importantly, Google review authors were comfortable with seeing five-point/star ratings on Google, not to mention on popular local sites like Yelp, Bing and Yahoo Local.

I ask about this topic pretty regularly at search/local events, and I’ve yet to find anyone who prefers the Zagat scoring system. We’ve been trained to understand the five-star scale and seeing something like “This restaurant has a 21 overall score” doesn’t resonate as well with consumers nor with business owners.

My guess (and hope) is that we’ll see Google downplay the Zagat scores even further and eventually return to the more familiar five-star ratings. That seems like the smart thing to do.

Postscript, October 15: Google has notified us that Megan Stevenson has added a comment to her original post on Google+, which states that “this is not a departure from Zagat.” Here’s the full comment:

I’ve read a variety of reactions to my post last week about our update to the ratings scale in Google+ Local. Just wanted to be clear…this is not a departure from Zagat. We’ve simply built on what we’re learning from our Zagat colleagues and changed from numbers to labels to make it easier for people to enter their reviews. The time-tested, 30-point Zagat scale remains the same as it was before. More on how this 30-point rating is calculated here:

Related Topics: Channel: Social | Features: Analysis | Google: Google+ | Google: Maps & Local | Top News


About The Author: is Editor-In-Chief of Search Engine Land. His news career includes time spent in TV, radio, and print journalism. His web career continues to include a small number of SEO and social media consulting clients, as well as regular speaking engagements at marketing events around the U.S. He recently launched a site dedicated to Google Glass called Glass Almanac and also blogs at Small Business Search Marketing. Matt can be found on Twitter at @MattMcGee and/or on Google Plus. You can read Matt's disclosures on his personal blog.

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  • Kate Tolley

    Thank goodness! I’m sick of explaining Zagat. My clients now understand it, but don’t like it. As one of them pointed out to me, “My customers don’t know it’s out of 30. It could be out of 100 for all they know.” Everyone understands the star ratings and they have a nice visual impact, too. I hope for their swift return!

  • Matt Coffy

    While Google is taking “lead” in most stuff and in trying to put a standard on things, the 5-star rating system should be upheld. I believe that Zagat’s more complex ratings should be dealt with and by the experts and not add more issue to complicate how normal users interpret the reviews on the pages.

  • Nathaniel Bailey

    I don’t see why google can’t just convert the current 0-30 scores to 1-5 start ratings? Surly it would be quite straight forward? All they would have to do is divide 30 by 5 and round up the rubbish non understandable zagat scores to the well know (and used by everyone else) 5 star ratings!

  • Travis Van Slooten

    Matt…I’ve been supporting your cause to get rid of the Zagat system since day one. I despise the new system and so do my clients. I’m still scratching my head why Google thought that integrating Zagat into the local ecosystem was a good idea in the first place.

    Travis Van Slooten

  • Scott Boyd

    I doubt anyone in the UK had even heard of Zagat before Google introduced the scoring – their usage over here is almost zero outside of London, and even there it’s pretty low.

    And it doesn’t look like the Google deal has done anything to help the situation – Zagat still doesn’t have major cities listed: Edinburgh, Glasgow, Liverpool, Manchester, Leeds, Birmingham, Cardiff, Belfast, Newcastle all missing (in fact, only 10 UK towns are listed at all). Given the homepage lists less countries across the world than US states, I don’t know how they expected to roll out the scoring system internationally (other than expecting Google traffic to prompt a wider audience to take up the system).

    Zagat score is about as useful for customers as toolbar PR is for SEOs.

  • Robert Butler

    I don’t get it. You’re complaining because they changed the score from a numeric value to a numeric value with a label? You do realize that 0-3 and (poor, good, very good, excellent) is the same thing right?

    2=very good

    What’s the difference?

  • daveintheuk

    Perhaps Google Execs have finally realised… Zagat was only ever used by umm silly execs. Nobody in the UK cares about it. Everyone else uses TripAdvisor or one of the better UK centric sites.

  • Chad Williams

    I can throw in the feedback from our firm and clients (mostly local business owners) that this is a step in the right direction as the “Zagat Update” was a disaster for the local business community. I can’t wait for Google to realize their mistake on this one…which happens pretty much never if my memory serves correct.

  • Peter Kasting

    I thought the Zagat scoring system was a huge improvement for Google Local, easy to use, and with far better granularity than the horribly-abused “5 star” scale that basically leads to everything in the world being rated 4 stars.

    But apparently the problem is that I can actually read a scale that tells me the score is out of 30, and the rest of the world can’t.

  • Michael Price

    I’ve not seen much of it but from what I have I didn’t like it. rating on a scale of 3 is very shortsighted and leaves a marginal difference between good and bad. what next thumbs up, thumbs down?

    5 stars is common sense, more universal and allows for a more accurate rating when averaged out.

    To me, its like those adverts that say 80% of people liked our product over our competitor but we only asked if 5 people

  • Mark @ Make Them Click

    The whole integration of Google Places, Reviews and Local has been a total screw up from the start.

    There are still a huge number of local businesses who’ve had their listings removed without explanation and with no way of getting them back.

    I really think the media should be taking the blow torch to Google over this ongoing mess

  • Richard Hennessy

    I am with you! I hope the Zagat system gets removed asap. The 5 star system is so familiar that it is unlikely to be bettered. There is a reason why so many places use it…it works! Plus I miss those pretty gold stars on the SERPs for my business!

  • Business Advertising NYC

    This article is promising. It
    has enlightened me a lot. I’m waiting for another good article from you.

  • Nudo

    He’s saying a “5 star” rating is better because it requires no explanation.

  • Marcus Forlan

    Seriously dude ? Did Google pay you to write this article? Even someone in elementary school can understand that a higher number is better once the concept is set out for them. Regardless of it is is a 5pt scale or a 30pt scale.

    I respect your right to express your opinion, but it only leads me to
    conclude that you are either an imbecile or jackass or both!

    On a separate note – Google+ Local which is the new Zagat on the iphone 5 totally ruined the Zagat app.

  • Austin Louden

    God forbid a restaurant score be more descriptive than 0-5 star rating.

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