UPDATE OCTOBER 2021: The iOS 15 update has improved the Apple Maps experience, with noteworthy developments for local marketers. Read all about the iOS 15 improvements.
UPDATE AUGUST 2021: The update has now fully rolled out in the USA.
UPDATE APRIL 2021: The Apple Maps Ratings update was launched in the USA as part of iOS 14.5 on April 26th, 2021 (some territories had access to it earlier). The update functions exactly as described below, back in October 2020. Sometimes it’s nice when there are no surprises, huh?
Originally Published October, 2020
At the end of August 2020, Apple revealed it would be launching its very own ratings solutions within Apple Maps. Talk of “Apple reviews” flew around the Twitterverse and, as usual, there was a lot of conjecture about what this new feature might mean.
Apple Maps ratings (yep, that’s right—ratings not reviews, though they may be on the way) has been in beta testing in iOS 14 and will soon roll out globally. The update was first spotted by Twitter user, Beau Giles.
Currently, Apple Maps relies on review data from third-party solutions such as Yelp, Foursquare, and Tripadvisor.
The news of Apple ratings comes after Apple Maps introduced a host of new features back in February, including favorite locations and indoor maps.
With so much noise surrounding the announcement, we wanted to clear up what’s new, pose some potential questions and outcomes, and explore what this new feature might mean for local SEOs.
Instead of relying on the likes of third-party review sites, Apple Maps will soon house its own native ratings.
Removing the use of third-party review sites should give both Apple and searchers more control. As it stands, if users want to explore more business reviews through Apple Maps, they’ll be directed to download the Yelp, Foursquare, or Tripadvisor app, which doesn’t make for the best user experience.
From what we can see, Apple Maps’ new ratings system will operate much like Facebook recommendations, with users being allowed to leave a thumbs up or a thumbs down for the business. This differs from Google Maps, where users are able, and encouraged, to leave detailed reviews.
So, although both Apple and its users will benefit from more autonomy, it could be argued that searchers will be left with less data to make an informed decision—they’ll be missing out on all the great content reviews provide, such as “huge beer garden!” or “make sure to order the vegetable dumplings”.
That said, Apple Maps will be making use of different ratings categories. So instead of giving a business one thumbs up or thumbs down for all its offerings, users can rate products and services separately.
In addition to the introduction of Apple Maps ratings, Apple will also be giving users the opportunity to upload their own photos. Similarly to with reviews, photos on the app are currently pulled from Yelp and other third-party review sites. According to Apple, all photos uploaded will be checked manually by a team (more on this later).
The news of Apple ratings has definitely left me with some questions, such as “What could Apple ratings mean for the future of the review economy?” and “Could this help tackle map spam?”
Read on to indulge in a little self-Q&A and get our thoughts on what Apple Maps ratings could mean for the future of local SEO!
What do Apple Maps ratings mean for Yelp and other review sites?
Previously, Yelp held relevance in the local SEO sphere in no small part thanks to its relationship with Apple Maps. After all, without Yelp reviews, you’d be limiting how much information potential customers could get from you through Apple Maps.
In fact, local SEO experts such as Cori Graft would remind people of the relevance of Yelp because of its integration with Apple Maps. (And yes, although Apple Maps may still be less popular than Google Maps, it’s worth remembering that Apple has made countless improvements to the software over the years, and that many iPhone users will never switch from their default phone app, which, naturally, is Apple).
Don’t ignore Yelp!! Yelp reviews power the star ratings on Apple Maps. #MozCon
— Cori Graft ?? (@corigraft) February 28, 2017
Plus, according to Statista, Apple Maps receives 23.3 million unique users per month. So, if Yelp were to disappear from the app, that’s a huge amount of reach it’s missing out on.
So does this mean we will see fewer local SEOs focusing on Yelp when it becomes irrelevant to Apple Maps users?
Certainly, some people were pleased to see the back of it…
Great. Yelp is terrible
— Genaro Garcia (@GGarcia411) August 26, 2020
When will Apple Maps say goodbye to Yelp for good?
Although it’s likely that Apple Maps ratings system will replace Yelp’s position in the app, we don’t yet know when the transition will occur.
It’s unlikely that Yelp reviews will disappear from the app overnight, given that Apple Maps currently relies on the review site to provide content to its users. So, Apple Maps ratings will need time to populate before it says goodbye to Yelp for good.
Here’s what a local business search currently looks like on Apple Maps. You can see that there’s plenty of data being pulled from Yelp, including photos:
To avoid sacrificing the amount of data that Maps currently relies on, I’d expect to see the gradual fade-out of Yelp from Apple Maps over the coming year, but your guess may be as good as mine. (And if you have got a guess, feel free to share it with us in the comments of this blog!)
How will Apple Maps encourage ratings?
The topic of when we’ll see the back of Yelp for good in Apple Maps also begs the question, will Apple incentivize its Maps users to leave ratings? If Apple needs to populate its ratings content before saying “see ya later” to Yelp, then they may well need to encourage users to leave ratings of their own accord.
Although we wouldn’t expect any form of monetary or prize-like incentive, it could be the case that Apple Maps launches something akin to Google’s Local Guides program, which sees loyal users rewarded with badges and native perks.
Will Apple ratings become Apple reviews?
It’s still early doors, but this announcement got me wondering, is Apple ratings just the beginning? Will Apple Maps venture into fully-fledged reviews like Google Maps?
In this iteration of Apple ratings, it seems that users will be able to leave a thumbs up or thumbs down across multiple categories, such as product and customer service.
But surely searchers want to see more detail than a mere thumbs up or thumbs down reaction—especially in light of recent Covid-19 restrictions. Searchers want to know how well restaurants, bars, and shops, etc., are adhering to guidelines, and reviews provide a great platform to discuss those more nuanced topics.
Again, we’re still pre-launch right now, but it may be the case that Apple Maps launches its ratings system with just a handful of select categories, with plans to expand on them to provide searchers with more detailed answers in the future.
Is a picture really worth a thousand words?
Although users won’t be able to leave written feedback along with their ratings, Apple Maps has introduced the option to upload photos. So, this begs the question, is a picture really worth a thousand words?
It could be argued that written reviews aren’t actually necessary if you can share a photo of the location, products, and safety measures being taken.
Really, only time will tell if users find the combo of thumbs up/thumbs down and photos to be sufficient to make purchasing decisions.
It’s also worth noting that Apple has said it will be checking any photo uploads manually. This differs greatly from Google Maps, which auto-approves all photos (photos can then be flagged for removal, but if left alone they’ll stay put as intended, much to the chagrin of many business owners). Although this approach may help to reduce map spam and irrelevant images, it’s hard to see how scaleable it may be.
Could Apple ratings reduce fake reviews?
One thing that has stood out as a key differentiator between Apple Maps’ and Google Maps’ approach to reviews is who is eligible to leave a review or rating.
While Google Maps allows anyone to leave a review, Apple Maps will only allow ratings to be left by users that Apple can verify have visited the establishment in question.
In the next version of iOS, Apple Maps is introducing its own rating system while dropping TripAdvisor/Yelp. Ratings are linked to your individual device so it will be very difficult to game unlike Google Maps reviews. pic.twitter.com/Z214H9zPP3
— A n d r e w (@andrewwhiteau) September 6, 2020
This could certainly go some way to reduce map spam in Apple Maps, specifically fake reviews, as users wouldn’t be able to recommend businesses they hadn’t actually visited.
As of yet, however, it’s not clear what “checks” Apple will perform to ensure the ratings left are authentic.
As always, when something like this hits the local SEO community, we take to Twitter to explore how local search marketers have responded.
Some seemed to think the change came late in the game…
Seems like Apple is slowly discovering that you can actually leverage 1 billion iPhone users to improve your services. Better late than never, but boy is it late.
— Daan Odinot (@daanodinot) August 26, 2020
…while others were simply grateful for the improved user experienced provided by this solution:
Finally no need to Download yelp to look at photos or reviews
— Andrew Manh Nguyen (@memeroll2005) August 26, 2020
And although Apple Maps has generally been considered to be trailing behind Google, the introduction of ratings has some people considering trading allegiances:
Ooh. I like the sound of that. Might be enough to get me to use Apple Maps as default again.
— Jason – BLM – acab (@tassiedad) August 26, 2020
Until Apple Maps ratings officially launch, there isn’t a huge amount to do. That said, you’ll need to be prepared for when they do arrive.
It goes without saying, but when Apple Maps ratings do launch, you’re going to want to make sure you use them. That means getting access to an iPhone, updating to the latest iOS, and simply having a play around with the new Maps features. Ask yourself: How quick is the process? How easy is it? What kinds of questions are being asked of users?
As ever with reviews, it’s vital to ensure you understand what the searcher will be going through. That way, when the time comes to ask your customers to leave a rating on Maps, you’ll know exactly what you’re asking of them.
With that in mind, you’ll also want to prepare any signage (online or offline) to also encourage customers to leave a rating on Apple Maps. Simply adding a line like “Leave us a thumbs up on Apple Maps!” should do the trick.
We’ve obviously discussed that Apple Maps ratings won’t allow for written feedback at this time, so make sure any signage or copy you do adapt doesn’t ask customers to mention specific services or products, as you would with Google reviews.
What do Apple Maps ratings mean for BrightLocal customers?
Currently, we’re looking into if and how we can incorporate Apple Maps ratings into our existing Reputation Manager offering. As of yet, there’s no information as to whether this feature will be accessible to non-Apple users or via API.
With Google Reviews, business owners can share a Google My Business review link with customers to direct them to leave feedback. However, no such thing has been announced for Apple Maps yet.
As always, we’ll be keeping a keen eye on the situation and will update our customers when we can.
Though this change to Apple Maps is largely unlikely to threaten Google, which boasts the most users in the navigation apps space, it is certainly worthwhile for businesses to consider how this change may affect them, and to prepare to adapt accordingly.
Shifting focus from the likes of Yelp to Apple Maps, at least while we see how ratings play out, would be the sensible course of action here.
What do you think of the introduction of photos and ratings to Apple Maps? Will it change how you approach online reviews? Share your thoughts in the comments below!