Google Replacing City Experts with Local Guides Program

Screen Shot 2015-01-15 at 1.29.44 PMGoogle announced today that as of February 16, the City Experts program that encouraged G+ users to become active reviewers will be upgraded and now called Local Guides.

The new Local Guides program implements a multi level approach with benefits accruing based on the total number of reviews written. There is even a code of conduct and a more formalized benefits structure.

The new benefits structure attempts to reward users that are outside the cities where City Experts has been active and to create some level of incentives around writing more reviews. In that regard it is similar to how Google handles contributors in the forum and the progression from entry level to top contributor.

Here is the email announcing the updated program and my standing in the new program:

Welcome to Local Guides

Today we’re happy to introduce an exciting update for our community of reviewers. City Experts is now Local Guides, available to people everywhere.

Local Guides is a community of explorers who write reviews of places on Google. When you write local reviews, you help others feel at home in the world, anywhere they go.

Be sure to read the Local Guides Program Rules that go into effect on February 16, 2015. If you decide they are not for you, you can opt-out at any time.

Starting now, because you’ve written between 50 and 199 reviews, you’ll begin as a Level 3 Local Guide. You can access all the benefits available at Levels 1-2, including applying to become a Trusted Tester of Google products and features before public release. Plus, you’ve unlocked additional benefits available to Level 3 Local Guides:

  • Get highlighted in the Google Maps app with a Local Guides badge
  • Join our private Google+ community
  • In select cities, get invites to exclusive events
  • Apply to moderate Local Guides Google+ Communities

Write reviews to become a Level 4 Local Guide and unlock even more benefits.

Thanks for being a part of our community.

Please consider leaving a comment as your input will help me (& everyone else) better understand and learn about local.
Google Replacing City Experts with Local Guides Program by

27 thoughts on “Google Replacing City Experts with Local Guides Program”

  1. Nice coverage, Mike.

    As I wrote back in 2013, I knew “City Experts” wouldn’t last in its current form. Local Guides actually sounds like an improvement: With its different “levels” at least it seems a little less like a Yelp Elite knockoff.

  2. Since this is about reviews it seems to me to be more akin to an elite yelper than to being part of another google community.

    Now I’m aware of some seo types who have become elite yelpers but I don’t know “citizens” . I wonder what it entails and what benefits of what sorts acrrue??

    On the restaurant side: and since restaurants generate so so many reviews in all venues:

    In my market, local restaurant and food bloggers and elite yelpers get invited to restaurant industry events by various PR people. Great!! You get to try out a restaurant, you get free food, your write up “may” or “may not” reference if you attended a FREE industry event. The whole thing has become somewhat murky, dirty, and it skews write-ups.

    I’m writing this from the DC area, but frankly those same trends occur in other big cities with active restaurant markets and which generate enormous volumes of reviews in all the likely sources; yelp, google, FB, and other sources. Some of that has been flushed out in various local media, wherein one has to question the veracity, trust and worthiness of reviewers of note. Additionally the food and restaurant writing environment in each big city is actually reasonably active and trafficked.

    In any case it appears Google is jumping into the fray. It wants more reviews and what lead to lots more restaurant reviews. Its become a surprisingly monetized little world, if not one with huge payoffs in cash, but probably bigger payoffs for ego and notoriety and free or very low cost restaurant meals.

  3. Thanks for this info. @Mike I’d be interested to hear your opinion on those of use involved in local being a part of these and the yelp program. Does Google sees this as a conflict of interest?

    1. @David
      I don’t see it as a conflict of interest. I can’t think of any reason that you wouldn’t be able to write objective and interesting reviews for Google if you are already a Yelp Elite. Yelp may not like it but it doesn’t seem to violate any ethics that I can think of.

      As far as I can see, as long as you comply with Google’s rules and code of conduct there should be no issue.

  4. I’m a “Level 2 Local Guide” now! Congrats to me 😉

    Will Andrew Shotland finally get worthy enough competition for Local SEO Guide? Nah…

    I’m more into Yelp now, to be honest. Besides straightforward way to leave a review that Dan mentioned, it’s much more enjoyable to me, especially when it gives you small messages on writing more for your review (“shorter than most” or “you’re rolling now”). Many other small things.

    But this level system in Google DID encourage me to write more reviews with Google. Easier when you’re Level 2. I’m now hypothetically thinking about Level 3 😉

    I still think it was a fail for Google to get rid of check-ins. Check-ins for me (with Yelp) is a way to 1) remember where I went and 2) guilt behind my back reminding that I must leave a review.

    You check-in, answer a few simple questions, take photos, you enjoy the experience, you give feedback. Very natural flow.

    No matter how important or not important check-ins are, Google broke that natural flow. Who will remember to leave review on Google and why?

  5. Hey, Mike: I bet there is a monetization element behind this also. It follows along the following lines:

    When Google moved eliminated the carousel, it clearly impacted 2 huge areas of vertical search: hotels and restaurants. Hotels are already incredibly monetized. Restaurants dramatically less so. In fact google has a direct piece of that monetization, as it promotes a box with the OTA’s. If somebody uses that box and makes a reservation, google makes money. The OTA realm is huge $$ in the billions.

    But the restaurant world, from my observations has few ads in adwords. I find it stunningly thin in many markets. Meanwhile restaurant searches are voluminous; I suspect the largest single vertical among local search.

    As you acknowledged the change from the carousel to a limited 3 pac also included horrific user results: On the restaurant side, 3 local choices with no links, no addresses, no phone numbers. Simply arrogant and purposefully miserable results. Google knows those results are miserable, skimpy and deliberately lousy. Why did they do that?

    When I search for restaurants using and I search in any UK city plus US cities I get rich responses: restaurants w/ a map, links, addresses, phone #’s. If I use and search for US restaurants I get the same rich data.

    But when I use searching for US info….the local oriented data I get is skimpy and miserable.

    Okay: Next point. I did a study on restaurant reviews comparing total reviews in some US cities. I did a large study on volumes of reviews in the DC area, looking at 30 random restaurants comparing G+, Yelp and FB volumes of reviews. The restaurants included a broad range including city and both close in and far out suburbs. It spanned all around the city covering the breadth of the region. Restaurant types ranged from old to new, hot to not hot, fancy to pizza and sub type places.

    Yelp and FB had lots more reviews than did G+. The differences were substantial.
    But as you have mentioned Yelp is popular in some regions and metro areas and not important in other areas. DC is one of those regions where yelp is focused and popular.

    I repeated the analysis in 15 very mid sized metro areas and very focused on parts of the nation where Yelp is not popular or focused. The smallest area was Erie, Pa and included cities in the South the center of the nation, etc. Those are not Yelp “regions”.

    Still more yelp reviews than G+ reviews. FB, which is a totally different animal in a number of ways had more reviews than yelp or G+…but it merits different commentary for a variety of reasons.

    So I saw less restaurant reviews in G+ than Yelp, and I see what I consider to be remarkably low monetization in restaurant ads in adwords. I test the DC market across communities, across different restaurant phrases and I test other regions. I just don’t see a lot of spending on Adwords.

    Cripes; restaurants are an enormous market. Possibly up to 1 million of them in the US (per the National Restaurant Association). Some hundreds of billions in annual spending in the US, and probably or certainly the MOST searched on vertical within local.

    And yet relatively little spending.

    Somehow I bet there are still a very significant volume of searches in google and elsewhere that are of this type:

    Italian restaurants Olean, Pizza Chicago, Mexican restaurants Denver, Seafood, Providence, etc etc. Of course none of us would know that, but google would know this data.

    Finally reviews ARE SO important to restaurant operators. Sometimes they live and die by it. It makes them NUTS or very very happy. I speak with a good number of restaurant operators. Without my bringing it up they reference that all the time!!!!!!

    So I think if google dramatically ups the volume of reviews on all sorts of local smb’s and restaurants as the most reviewed element….and coincidentally continues to create worse local results such as its switch from the carousel to that really lousy 3 pac…with no map, no link, no phone # or address…..all the restaurants and other smb’s will resort to more advertising.

    At least that is my take.

    I listened to you, Mike Ramsey and Adam on the search webinar yesterday. You all suggested MORE monetization down the line.

    I think this move to create a world of Google reviewers plays into that move toward monetization.

    …and that is my $0.02 ….:D

  6. @Mike, I miswrote my question. I just reread it and I totally see how you took it that way.

    What I meant to ask was, what is your opinion on those of us involved in helping businesses locally with local presence, review management, etc, taking places in programs like this new revamp by Google and Yelp. Yelp seems to forbid it (at least with regards to the elite) but Google seems to be okay with a business owner reviewing other businesses.


    1. David
      Google is fine with a business owner joining the program under their personal log in. Obviously there are legal and ethicsl constraints on you writing reviews for a business that you are promoting.

  7. Never knew before about city experts or local guides. But it seems to be a cool strategy of Google to involve as many people, get reviews from them about a place and reward them, some thing followed by lots of high earning internet marketers. Only difference is that here it is being on a bigger level.

  8. Hi Mike,
    This is a unique way to compel people to interact more with Google+. I wonder if there is/will be an effort to place different weights on the levels of reviewers. IE: Will a level 4 review be more “powerful” than a level 1 review? How will a user’s level influence results and will there be a designation within the SERP. I’m guessing that would be a terrible idea and open the door to spam, but what isn’t these days.

  9. Mike:

    I counted reviews in 44 restaurants in 5 cities. I believe you would acknowledge the cities as NON-Yelp cities. They are generally smaller and non West Coast or East Coast. The cities are Tulsa, Spokane, Little Rock, Birmingham, and the largest but certainly not coastal, San Antonio.

    I looked at aggregate restaurant reviews as of the last week. 2885 yelp reviews and 1464 Google + reviews. (I didn’t include yelp filtered reviews).

    Almost twice as many yelp restaurant reviews as google +. Large difference. I did a similar test of this ilk last summer in 15 different (non Yelp markets) and found a similar difference.

    On the restaurant side, I suspect Yelp is crushing google or clearly outpacing them when it comes to reviews.

    Restaurants are clearly the #1 review subject.

    The above program looks very much like existing yelp programs, with community managers, and elite levels of reviewers.

    Some years ago I emailed with a person at Google local noting that customers of our smb’s could identify yelp reviews by source-> Yelp. they were referencing google reviews also…but couldn’t reference them by name. He didn’t seem to care…but that isn’t necessarily an opinion from the top or decision makers…just a reaction on his part. But interesting nonetheless.

    Google reviews have poor branding relative to yelp IMHO.

    I look at how miserable restaurant data in particular is in google search:

    A miserly 3 PAC;
    No map
    No address
    No phone #
    No link.

    Seriously is there anything else of importance to a user that google would deliberately withhold???? LOL.

    It surprises me, in retrospect they actually name 3 restaurants in view of the deliberately bad data the current 3 PAC shows.

    Why would a search engine choose to give such DELIBERATELY bad data????

    I personally think its all an effort to get adwords money out of restaurants and to “starve the sites from google traffic”.

    That is my opinion…but seriously when one looks at the deliberately horrendous data…what is one to think??? Its a virtual insult to users.

    If Google + reviews become more important and more visual in the eyes of consumers and restaurateurs….they may begin to spend more on adwords. Restaurateurs certainly go nutty with concern about yelp reviews. I never see or hear the same reaction from google reviews.

    Will this LOCAL GUIDES program take off???? I don’t know. But I suspect if they want wider participation than just the current universe of google fanatics they’ll have to do some actual marketing out into the world to get participants.

    I suppose we’ll see over time. Clearly what they started a year ago with an effort to promote review volumes isn’t showing in the restaurant world versus yelp…at least I can’t see it…and I’ve studied these results several times.

  10. I’m currently a level 3 guide (I was opted in from the old programme). What concerns me about level 4 is the number of reviews required – you have to talk about 200 places?? How many of us go to 200 different venues each year?

    To fulfill this requirement you could never visit the same café/pub/restaurant/venue twice. They’ve just opened this programme up to abuse – well done Google…

    1. @Pete
      The requirement is for a total of 200 reviews NOT 200 per year. I entered the program at Level 3 with 55 and I now have about 100. At this rate, I should hit Level 4 later this year.

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