Will Google Succeed or Fail with City Experts Review Program?

Google appears to be putting in an enormous amount of effort into its City Experts review program. My hunch is that it’s only having modest success (if that) and may not justify the costs involved. It’s a global program.

Google City Experts program

Years ago (now many years ago) then Yahoo GM of Local Paul Levine and I spoke at some length about how to generate and sustain local reviews. The conclusion was you needed to create a feeling that reviewers were part of a community, that there was an audience and a kind of organic dialogue or discussion going on.

TripAdvisor, Yelp and a few others have managed to create that. Google has so far not been able to. (Amazon is a site with a lot of reviews but arguably without that sense of “community.”) The Yelp Elite-Squad like City Experts program is an attempt to build a community and transcend the anonymity of Google reviews.

However Yelp in the early days had a much “friendlier” brand than Google does today. Yelp’s slogan is “real people, real reviews.”

Google is a big, “cold” brand. It’s the world’s largest media company. And it may be past the time when Google can develop a warm, fuzzy community feeling among its members.

In many ways Google would have been better off simply investing in Zagat and building that community out further across more local service categories.

But what do you think? Do you think Google’s City Experts will fail — or succeed? Do you think Google can successfully build a review community like the Yelp’s or TripAdvisor’s?

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6 Responses to “Will Google Succeed or Fail with City Experts Review Program?”

  1. Ted Paff says at

    Online business models using a “me too” strategy, which City Experts feels like, are typically much less effective than the original.  Google has lots of strengths it could play to in review generation but they seem content to fumble along.  To borrow from Bill Gurley’s metaphor,  reviews are a moat not the castle and seem to be invested in as such.

  2. Greg Sterling says at

    As I say above I think that Google would have done better to use the Zagat brand and leverage that for review generation.

  3. Phil Rozek says at

    Great write-up, Greg, as always.

    One trouble with Google’s City Experts program is that Google hasn’t differentiated it in any way from Yelp’s program.  Unless and until they do, it will remain a poor man’s Elite Squad – an also-ran.  One reason for that might be that, as you say, Google is a “cold” giant, and isn’t as able to make an original, almost quirky program.

    Wrote about this back in August:


  4. Greg Sterling says at

    Thanks Phil . . . good points. I suspect the program won’t survive over time.

  5. Marketing Day: December 18, 2013 says at

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  7. Kendra says at

    I agree with your assessment of Google as too “cold” to pull this off, Greg. Yelp has the benefit of years of local community building, but Google– basically the 21st century version of a large-scale utility company– does not have that advantage.

    As various “hyperlocal” tech ventures go under, it’s worth looking at the role the level or lack of “boots on the ground” played in their decline. Far too much capital has been wasted by those who underestimate the deep and peculiar structures that underpin local systems of commerce.

    It seems to me that companies like Google would do better to continue to integrate third-party content where existing communities are thriving, rather than invest resources into some kind of geolocal carpetbagging scheme.

  8. Greg Sterling says at


    I think your advice is the inevitable conclusion of years of local effort on Google’s part with mixed results limited payoff except in maps (which yields a range of benefits). 

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