Google Drops Review Star Threshold to 1 or 2 Reviews AND Stops Using Bayesian Average

Last week we reported the fact that Google had lowered the threshold for showing review stars in the search results from 5 to 3 total reviews. Over the weekend, numerous reports came in from Europe, Australia and the US of the threshold to showing stars having dropped to 2. That appears to be the case world wide. There are also reports of even one review showing the stars on a business listing but it does not yet appear to be the case universally.

Review Averages Change As Well

Equally interesting to me is that Google is now using the arithmetic average that we all learned in grade school and is no longer using the Bayesian average to calculate the review score. A Bayesian average looks at the larger data set for all businesses to calculate the likelihood of the particular average for a given business being lower when they have few reviews.

The upshot of this change is that a business with a perfect 5 on their ratings with 2 to 10 reviews will now get a 5 star rating. Previously if a business had less than 10 reviews and a 5 Star arithmetic average Google would show a 4.8 or 4.9 rating for that business.

Using the Bayesian average may have been a more accurate statistical picture, but users and small business never liked it and complaints come up repeatedly in the forums. Consumers thought that businesses were cooking the books and the businesses thought that someone was messing with them.

Google’s use of a simple average that both consumers and businesses understand is a welcome change.

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About the Author

Mike Blumenthal
With unmatched industry expertise and knowledge, Mike is a co-founder and serves as GetFiveStar’s Chief Review Officer helping our customers get the most of the platform. Mike is widely cited as the foremost Local Search expert in North America and affectionately known among his colleagues as ‘Professor Maps’.

26 thoughts on “Google Drops Review Star Threshold to 1 or 2 Reviews AND Stops Using Bayesian Average

    • Mike Blumenthal - February 6, 2017 at 5:41 pm

      @vincent
      I can’t see that it would affect rank but it will likely impact click throughs by searchers… 2 reviews with a 2.5 rating or a 1.5 rating is unlikely to even get a second glance where as 2 reviews with no associated rating might.

      Reply
  1. Ryan Scollon - February 6, 2017 at 5:01 pm

    I wonder what Googles thinking was behind lowering the threshold. It’s great that business will now be able to get the review stars shown much quicker as it requires less reviews, but I also wonder if it will make people lazy as they will now only need to get 2 for it to show.

    Reply
    • Mike Blumenthal - February 6, 2017 at 5:43 pm

      @Ryan
      We can only speculate as to Google’s motivations.

      My thought is that Google wanted to make those with fewer reviews more visible to both the searcher and the business owner. I think of it as a call to action… for the consumer to either click on the listing or no and for the business owner to start paying attention to their reputation.

      Why? My speculation is that with the increase display of rich snippets from 3rd party sites over the past 6 months, Google reviews with fewer than 5 stars were losing visibility.

      But who really knows.

      Reply
  2. Sara Dunn - February 7, 2017 at 11:27 am

    Super interesting. I’m seeing stars displayed consistently down to 2 ratings, but inconsistently for pages with 1 rating. In a chiropractor search I just did, one doc with 1 rating had stars showing, another doc in the same search with 1 rating didn’t have stars showing. Wonder how this is decided…

    Reply
    • Mike Blumenthal - February 7, 2017 at 11:33 am

      @sara I was asking the same question. Likely either that 1 review stars are either rolling out OR are a test. But there may be some other logic. Feel free to send me your examples with and without to mike at GetFiveStars.com

      Reply
  3. Greg Beddor - February 8, 2017 at 7:43 pm

    Too easy in my opinion, now a lazy business owner with 1 good review stands out with a 5 star rating just like their hard working competitor that worked their tail off to earn more than 5 reviews.

    Reply
    • Mike Blumenthal - February 8, 2017 at 8:31 pm

      @greg that’s from the pov of someone how gotten 5 reviews. Not from Google’s pov.

      Over the past 6 months google has elevated minor review sites to the KP and bumped all of the directory sites with reviews in the organic results.

      And gave them review stars even if they had only 1 review.

      One presumes that from Google’s perspective there is a logic to it.

      Reply
    • Mike Blumenthal - February 9, 2017 at 11:27 am

      @Matt
      Not sure what exactly is happening there… it could be that the index has not caught up with the actual ratings, it could be that the many ratings don’t carry as much weight as the reviews or it could be as you point out bayesian… but it would odd to use bayesian on negatives but not on positives.

      I think, given the amount of flux and the fact that reviews don’t always keep pace with themselves, we need to revisit your listing in a week or so.

      Reply
  4. Peter - February 20, 2017 at 6:06 pm

    Hi Mike…I’m a very satisfied GetFiveStars subscriber and have seen my Google review numbers grow but when my company is displayed it in the #1 position with images and stuff..it shows “21 Google Reviews” We do have a 4.5 rating so I wonder why isn’t this being displayed and my mention of google reviews on the in line organic results don’t appear at all

    Reply
    • Mike Blumenthal - February 22, 2017 at 10:30 am

      @Peter
      Thanks for your comment!

      Perhaps you could help me understand what you mean when you say: I wonder why isn’t this being displayed and my mention of google reviews on the in line organic results don’t appear at all

      Reply
  5. Keith Hearn - February 22, 2017 at 11:22 pm

    Hi Mike, You are right google won’t show star rating on 1 or 5 reviews. On my local business listing I have 3 reviews but google don’t showing average rating. Do you have any idea how many reviews google consider to showing average rating.

    Reply
    • Mike Blumenthal - February 23, 2017 at 11:52 am

      My sense is that “ratings only” do not count towards the average

      Reply
  6. Joy Hawkins - March 2, 2017 at 10:18 am

    It appears there was a bit of a delay updating everyone’s averages when this rolled out. For every example posted here and elsewhere where the average seemed to be wrong, I’m now seeing it correct.

    Reply
  7. Rob - March 2, 2017 at 2:58 pm

    @Mike

    Sorry if this is covered somewhere, but just wondered what the latest advice is with regard to linking to a google business listing to allow a review to be left on it. Currently there seems no way for a customer to leave a review by just visiting the normal listing url?

    Reply
  8. Steve Bell - March 30, 2017 at 5:45 pm

    I have a criminal defense attorney AdWords client, who has a “stalker”. The stalker never even did business with the attorney but he posted a scathing 1 star review on Google. It is hurting the Attorney’s business because it is the only review.

    The attorney has dozens of real clients who would love to post a review, but are unwilling to do so using their real name, for obvious reasons. So this change by Google has opened up a lot of verticals for getting damaged by a single scathing review.

    I have spoken to Google about it but there is nothing they can do – just said to fill out the complaint form. I would think this is going to happen to a lot of businesses in confidential markets. Probably the same verticals where Google AdWords does not allow remarketing.

    Reply
    • Mike Blumenthal - March 31, 2017 at 9:29 am

      @Steve
      It is an unfortunate but not unsurmountable issue.

      Even though the attorney has clients that are worried about their privacy there are a number of ways to move forward with a review plan. The plan would consist of two parts; a short term reputation management plan and longer term feedback and review plan.

      The short term plan:
      In this particular situation I would set a goal of getting 4 reviews immediately from happy customers and others who have dealt with your attorney.

      Google allows for multiple gmail accounts per person and they allow for the use of an alias in leaving reviews. I would see if you could coach a few of the more willing clients to create an alternative account and write that review.

      I would also explore the idea of other professionals that your attorney has done business with writing reviews. I would assume that he has referred and been referred work from other attorneys, private investigators and perhaps even law enforcement officials. He should ask those folks to consider reviewing him.

      The longer plan
      Just because he is in a business in which most of the clients are resistant to public reviews doesn’t mean that they all are or that they wouldn’t be willing to do so anonymously.

      I firmly believe that he still should start asking every client if they would consider leaving a review with or without their name. And not just at Google but at his own website and other public review sites as well.

      With GetFiveStars you could easily protect the clients anonymity and there are a number of other review sites that still allow for anonymous postings. Here is an article by Phil Rozek 17 Sites That Allow Private or Anonymous Reviews of Local Businesses.

      Certainly reputation management is harder in your client’s environment. But it is not impossible. And a little goes a long way. For example if he had just 7 reviews at Google that were 5 Star reviews, this 1 Star review would still leave him with a 4.5 rating.

      I believe that there is no time like the present to proactively position your client for these sorts of events.

      Reply
  9. Steve Bell - March 31, 2017 at 2:28 pm

    Hey Mike thanks for your proactive response and all those great ideas.

    In particular, i did not know that Google allowed people to post reviews using an alias. Can you point me towards how to instruct people to do that? e.g. would they create an alternate Gmail account under an alias, or are they prompted when leaving the review?

    And terrific idea for other attorneys, law enforcement people, and investigators to leave reviews. He has many great references from those types of people.

    I am going to process and act upon all the other points and ideas you presented, once again thanks much!

    Steve Bell
    BlastoffLabs.com

    Reply
    • Mike Blumenthal - March 31, 2017 at 6:49 pm

      @Steve
      Google stopped requiring Real Names when they finally separated the identity function of Google Reviews from Google Plus. This occurred in April, 2016.

      I don’t know of anyone that has written specifically about this but it is just a matter of registering for a different gmail account and using that when logging into Google to write a review.

      Glad you found the advice useful. Good luck.

      Reply
  10. Steve Bell - April 1, 2017 at 12:24 am

    Thanks Mike. This is not going to be an insurmountable issue at all, thanks to your expertise and assistance. We are already on our way and should have 12+ reviews within a week, since there are a lot of former clients willing to post reviews as long as they can use an alias. And as you predicted, some of them don’t mind doing so with their real names; plus we’re approaching law enforcement, judges, etc as you advised.

    I just Tweeted from @BlastoffLabs what a terrific resource @GetFiveStars is!

    Reply
  11. Scott Duncan - April 12, 2017 at 11:45 am

    Hi Mike,

    I was researching why my local Google business rating is one of the last ones listed. I have 6qty 5 star ratings but yet another business with only 3qty 5 star ratings is listed first. Is there any reason why my business doesn’t rank higher? Just curious.

    Reply
    • Mike Blumenthal - April 15, 2017 at 4:01 pm

      @Scott
      Reviews are but one of an array of signals that affect ranking; website authority, proximity, authority at important local sites, user behaviors etc etc etc. So to answer your question yes there is a reason but it could be one of a number of things.

      Reply
  12. Roddy L - April 23, 2017 at 11:20 am

    Too easy in my opinion, now a lazy business owner with 1 good review stands out with a 5 star rating just like their hard working competitor that worked their tail off to earn more than 5 reviews.

    Reply

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