by Mary Bowling
Most businesses have a love/hate relationship with online reviews and the sites that publish them.
They LOVE it when they garner praise and plenty of stars and HATE it when the reviews show low ratings and voice complaints about products or service. They LOVE it when bad reviews are filtered out by Google and Yelp algorithms, but scream conspiracy when the good ones are not publicly visible. Love ‘em or hate ‘em, online reviews are here to stay and they can make or break your business in the same way word-of-mouth recommendations or condemnations can offline.
The Importance of Reviews to Your Business
Word of mouth marketing, which has always been a prime driver of new customers to local businesses, is now magnified across the Internet to include everyone with access to a PC, tablet or smart phone. Your customers are talking to each other and those that aren’t talking are still listening!
We local SEOs care about reviews because they’re a prime tool customers use to make buying decisions. Google knows that so they put a lot of importance on reviews when presenting business to searchers. Some of the things Google considers when it comes to reviews are:
- Relative Volume of Reviews
- Sentiment of Reviews
- Location of the Reviewers
- Authority of Reviewers
- Content within Reviews
Even small business owners who aren’t actively marketing on the Internet are impacted by online reviews and ratings whether they want to be or not because of powerful sites like Yelp, TripAdvisor, Avvo, etc.
It’s no longer possible for businesses to stick their heads in the sand and ignore them. Every business needs to create and maintain a system of monitoring and managing its online reputation.
Google Loves Reviews
All businesses and those who market them must get used to the fact that reviews are not going away – not ever. How do we know Google loves reviews? It’s because they put them everywhere they can. Here is a screenshot of a restaurant search on a PC.
What the results look like when you click into the More Results and get the condensed Google My Business listings. The results are organized by the proximity to the searcher (or their specific search query) and then by reviews.
You can see how Google prominently highlights reviews with bright orange rating stars and users are encouraged to sort the businesses they see by star ratings.
Now that Google+ has lost its authority the only place to leave reviews for a business on Google is on their Google My Business listing.
Once a searcher clicks through to the company’s Google My Business page listing, its review summary is featured front and center with a large rating number – again in orange – and snippets taken from reviews. In some instances you can see that the reviews are organized by the authority of the reviewer, which results in reviews from local guides being featured first like in the example below.
The easiest way to direct your customers to leave you a review on Google is to give them a direct link. The way to do that is…
- Search for your business on your computer.
- 2Find your listing and click Write a review.
- 3Copy the link from your address bar and share it with customers.
- That link will automatically take them to a pop-up window to leave a review.
How Your Reviews Affect Rankings
According to the most recent (2017) Local Search Ranking Factors Survey, reviews may account for about 13% of Google’s local pack ranking algorithms and 7% of the Localized Organic results. Read the survey and the participants’ comments to learn more about specific factors (source, quantity, review velocity, review diversity, etc.) within the 13% that may affect rankings.
Volume of Reviews: Your goal should be to get at least 10 reviews on Google. However, it’s important to know that different types of businesses tend to get more reviews than others and Google realizes that. For example, a restaurant or hotel can expect to get quite a few reviews on a regular basis, but an addiction counselor or DUI attorney should NOT expect his customers to be quite so enthusiastic about publicly associating themselves with those particular services.
It’s safe to say that a business is probably in the best position when it has at least as many reviews on Google – and maybe a few more – as the businesses ranking in the Local Packs for the terms it would like to rank for. So you need to stand with – or above – your competition.
Diversity of Your Reviews: Google is mostly concerned with its own reviews, but does pay attention to reviews at other places across the Web. It’s very likely that it trusts different directories for reviews of different types of businesses.
Review diversity is a local search ranking factor. Therefore, you should NOT try to concentrate all of your customer reviews on Google or on any other single website. Instead, encourage happy customers to review your company wherever they feel most comfortable online. This is the best way to gain a diverse review profile and a larger quantity of reviews.
You want to be sure that you have reviews on sites that are authoritative for your industry. For example, a restaurant is expected to have reviews on Yelp and a doctor is expected to have reviews on Healthgrades.
Review Sentiment: The overall sentiment of reviews also affects rankings, but perhaps not in the way you might imagine. Customer opinion affects rankings because it influences the click-through rates and bounce rates for your website and your local business listings. The Search Engines want to return the most relevant results for each query, and user behavior is a prime indicator of relevance. If a search result doesn’t get clicked on very often, it must not be very relevant.
Bounce rates affect rankings in a similar way. If a searcher clicks through to a page and immediately clicks back, it must not be what she or he was seeking. Good reviews and high ratings can result in high click-through rates and low bounce rates. Bad reviews and poor ratings usually have the opposite effect. In this ’round about way, having good reviews and ratings can influence the rankings of your pages at the Search Engines.
When people choose to see the businesses with the worst ratings, it’s very likely they’re only interested in weeding out the ones they should avoid or looking for a laugh. For the most part, potential customers are much more likely to read reviews to find the best places to go rather than the worst places. If yours isn’t one of them, shoppers may never even consider it because it won’t appear in the results they see. So, those businesses with the highest ratings are much more likely to be seen on many of the review sites and because past customers have had good experiences, they are also the most likely to attract new clients.
Understand The Rules!
You’ll find Google’s official stance on online reviews here and we’ve included a screen shot below.
The important take away is this section…
Reviews are only valuable when they are honest and unbiased. (For example, business owners shouldn’t offer incentives to customers in exchange for reviews.)
As you click deeper into Google’s guidelines you’ll see specific details on prohibited and restricted content in regards to reviews…
You can read Google’s specific guidelines when it comes to text reviews here.
These guidelines are not an empty threat. There are countless examples of businesses that have lost all of their Google reviews after they were reported by competitors for and found guilty of things like creating review contests on social media with prizes or giving open incentives to customers who left reviews. Every site that customers can leave reviews on has its own rules so be sure to read each site’s guidelines and stick to them. For example, Yelp’s review guidelines are clear that they don’t want you to ask customers for reviews at all.
One of the ways around this is to ask customers to ‘check in’ on Yelp when they visit your business. When they check in, Yelp will send them a note asking if they want to review the business.
The FTC sees fake reviews as false advertising and there are regular news reports of businesses fined millions of dollars because of shady review practices. A recent example is a car dealer who was fined 3.6 Million dollars. If you have a client who insists on breaking the review guidelines, we suggest that you share stories like that with them and then if that doesn’t work you should consider parting ways.
It’s All About Getting More Happy Customers
Despite all the effects reviews may have on your online presence, don’t overlook the fact that reviews are really all about getting more buyers into your business and having good reviews is a very powerful way to do so.
Businesses must realize the tough fact that sometimes what they really need to focus on is fixing the things customers are complaining about. As Matt Siltala said several years ago:
“If your business is broken, and this is why you are worried about getting on sites like Yelp, then FIX THE PROBLEMS NOW. Even if you do get some negative feedback, take it as a learning tool, grow from it, and do everything you can to overcome and grow as a business.”
The absolute best way to get good reviews is by providing truly outstanding products and customer service, so make good use of customer feedback to help you improve your business. This is how I like to approach every single review when it comes to my clients:
By making each customer complaint a priority to fix you cannot only provide better service to your customers, you’ll also boost your online reputation as well. More happy customers will bring your business more positive reviews, which in turn will bring even more customers to your door!
Part of your healthy review policy is to answer each and every Google review! Google now gives you the opportunity to reply to each customer review. They even email you an alert as soon as a customer leaves you a review. That’s the perfect way to say ‘thank you’ for good reviews and openly respond to negative reviews or feedback. The best way to stop customers from wrecking your business due to a bad Google review is seeing you respond quickly thanking them for taking the time to share their feedback and including specific details on how you’re fixing the issue immediately.
Writer, Local Search Marketing Expert