Google’s Big Risk with Reviews: Using a 30-Point Scale

Filed in Google, Local Search, MY BEST POSTS by Matt McGee on July 13, 2012 11 Comments

I recently downloaded the new Google+ Local app, and this was the first screen I saw when I launched it:


This should tell you one thing loud and clear:

Google is well aware of the risk that it’s taking with its new approach to reviews.

By getting rid of the traditional five-star scale and implementing a 30-point scoring system, Google now has to explain to all users — business owners, their customers, everyone — how the new rating system works.

For folks who live and breathe local search and reviews, it may not seem like a big deal. But I’d argue that, to the Average Jane, it’s going to be a huge point of friction.

Five Stars = Simple

A five-star rating scale is simple. Everyone knows it. Everyone uses it.

We use it to rate businesses.


We use it to rate products on Amazon (and elsewhere).


We use it to rate movies and music.


We even use it to rate Generals in the U.S. Army.


30 Points = Not Simple

This is not simple:


I’m sure that many hotel and restaurant proprietors are very familiar with this system, but I’m just as sure that a lot of consumers aren’t.

I don’t know anyone who would understand it if I said to them, “Hey, that restaurant has a 21 for decor.”

Do you?

The Question…

The question is … will users adapt and learn Google’s system, or will the unfamiliar ratings drive them to Yelp, Bing, TripAdvisor, Foursquare and numerous other places that don’t have a learning curve like Google+ Local does?

Comments (11)

Trackback URL | Comments RSS Feed

  1. Anthony Pensabene says:

    awesome observation, layout, and posed question, Matt. Immediately, I think this is an example of more being less..helpful. In theory, I see how more specified ratings would be helpful, and I celebrate diversity and trying different approaches; but as you showcase in your article, the five-star process is simple; and in this specific case, perhaps better the way it is, but would love to hear pros of other side..

  2. Ted Paff says:

    I think the new rating system is a case of more data without providing more information.

    The question of choosing Yelp, Bing, etc over Google+ implies that users understand and fully utilize the choices they have and I don’t think they do.

    The bigger issue is likely to be the lack of anonymity (reviewers now have to disclose their full name and the review links back to your profile) that Google+Local now forces on reviewers. Although only anecdotal, I am already hearing that this is stopping some would-be-reviewers from completing the form.

  3. Nice article and presentation, Matt. (BTW is the Carmine’s you chose the NY Italian restaurant with “family sized portions”?? If so I’d give the portion sizes and drinks a 5!! 😉

    Yes…by incorporating what they purchased in Zagat across the board Google is confusing the review world somewhat!! no doubt.

    Will it stick?? who knows? will the user world adapt to google or will google turn off the user world? I don’t think this is going to turn off users, personally, but we’ll see.

    On a different note about the reviews: I’ve noticed how some SMB’s are saying the switch on local from eye catching 5 stars to the 30 pt Zagat rating is hurting them. It hasn’t hurt our different SMB’s to this point. But in most cases we sit on the top of 7 pacs…either way.

    So I’m wondering if before the change an SMB in the 7 PAC at any position from 2-7 BUT with 5 stars was getting additional traffic…..and now with the ZAGAT 30 point rating that is not the case anymore. I don’t know…but it would be interesting to find out.

  4. Al Hanazl says:

    Matt, I cannot agree more about making the review system more complex. Google bought Zagat, a paid membership site with its 30 point system, mostly used for dining and hotels. If you are member of a paid system, you will take the time to master it and use if the way the company wants. Google has now made this a free system, its clientele are very different from paid members. Whether people move to Yelp and others is unclear. I think what is clear is that making this more complex is not going to make reviews any easier or cleaner.

  5. Don Campbell says:

    Hi Matt,
    I had a similar feeling when I first installed the app. I just don’t think people are interested in that much nuance, and even though I’ve read it a few times I still can’t describe to you the difference between a 21-point review and a 30-point review. I guess 30 is better but that’s it.

    As you pointed out, we’re so used to a 5-star rating system that it seems strange for them to try to change it. I think this will drive more people to use other services when looking for ratings and reviews.

    • Matt McGee says:

      I would assume there are some people and some use cases where the extra nuance is welcome. I’m not very familiar with Zagat, but my impression is that it appeals to upper-end individuals. Is that the case? If so, that’s where I think Google is going wrong — this may continue to appeal to those people who care about the minor differences, but I don’t think that applies to the vast majority of the Google Maps audience. (And I think Google knows this, and that’s why they have to try to educate them so blatantly about how the new system works.)

      I think the majority of consumers use reviews as a sort-of “smell test.” I’m looking for a hotel … okay, here’s a Marriott in the right location. As long as the reviews are a 3.5 or better, I can probably stay there. That’s as much as they need to know.

      Dave — no, the Carmine’s in my screenshot is a local place out here. 🙂

  6. Keith West says:

    It’s not only novel, it’s weird. When has anyone ever ranked anything on a 30 point scale? Five is easy, I get a 10 point scale. If you really want to blow it out even a 100 point scale makes sense. 30 points, a solution only an engineer could love.

  7. Matt:

    Thanks for posting this. This has been driving me crazy since day one. For as smart as Google is, I think they make some of the dumbest decisions. If you have to explain how the review system works, you’ve already lost the battle. The average Google user does not want or need a complex review system. Like you said, they want a quick barometer. If they see a 1 or 2 star rating, they’ll likely move on. If they see a 3 star or better, they’ll likely do more research into the business.

    From a reviewers perspective, I think Google’s requirement of using a real name and having such a complex review system to navigate is going to scare a lot of people away. I RARELY leave reviews online because I think having to pick a simple star rating and leaving some comments is a lot work…lol. I would never go through the effort of navigating through some kind of complex scoring system.

    My prediction…Google’s new review policy (must use a real name) and system will be a total failure and within a year they’ll change everything up again.

    Travis Van Slooten

  8. Joy Hawkins says:

    I couldn’t agree more. A 5-point scale, 10-point scale or 100-point scale is easy to look at. Even if they try and explain the 30-point system, I don’t think it’s going to stick in people’s heads.

  9. Where is the value add? The change did not bring about any improvement. In fact, it is a step back. My clients are simply confused by this or consider it dubious. Stars are deeply ingrained into our psyche. Imagine a grade school teacher saying you get 27 points on the Zagat scale for your handwriting to some little kid!
    Okay, Google is trying to differentiate itself from other similar sites and services. This is one selling point gone bad and they are trying to ‘educate’ the people. It’s not going to work. And, to answer your question, it will boost other rating services.
    This rating system and other recent changes at Google are staining it’s reputation. Ironically, it is less trusted than it used to be. Oh, and why can’t we go somewhere and rate Google? Maybe they should add a Facebook Like button on their home page 🙂

  10. marrk goldberg says:

    I totally agree with all comments and it is all the more stupid for not having a link to the scoring scale or reflecting a score of X out of 30. I researched it because I’m a naturally curious fellow however I believe most people will just scratch their heads and move on.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *