How Reviews Positively Impact SEO
Authenticity is essential to the success of any business. This applies not only to providing a great product or service and sincere, reliable customer service but to the marketing of your business as well.
Unfortunately, search engine optimization can come off horribly fake when it is done poorly. You can’t just stuff keywords and expect to land on page 1 of Google. For your business to dominate in search, you need to prove that you are the genuine article.
Reviews are a critical part of establishing the legitimacy and value of your business to customers. In addition, reviews are a key part of SEO success.
According to a 2021 survey of local SEO ranking factors by BrightLocal, reviews are the second most important factor to ranking in the Google Local Pack (behind claiming and optimizing your Google Business Profile). Reviews are also an important component for boosting your rankings in local organic search.
Successful SEO strategies are multifaceted. Many of the tactics used to improve SEO are technical in nature and difficult for businesses to implement on their own. However, with a little thought and some extra effort, you can easily up your game when it comes to both reputation management and search engine optimization.
How Do Google Reviews Impact SEO?
Although there are a number of different search engines where you might want your business to stand out to customers, we’re going to focus on the granddaddy of them all: Google. In addition to being the top search engine in North America, Google is unmatched in its ability to serve relevant local search results and business information to consumers.
Google Business Profile is the most important asset for ranking in local search. We’ve written about how to claim and optimize a Google Business Profile before. Reviews are among the most critical parts of optimizing your Google Business Profile listing.
To start standing out in local search, you need reviews on your Google Business Profile. Google places a premium on reviews and ratings in its search algorithm.
Semrush published a comprehensive study last year examining how, exactly, reviews and ratings factor into local search results. The 2021 Local SEO Rankings Study focused on the following dimensions:
Average star rating: On average, businesses featured in the Google Local Pack had a rating of 4.29 out of 5. Although a preponderance of 4- and 5-star ratings isn’t the only thing Google looks at in local rankings, being rated highly by customers is key.
Average number of reviews: The number of reviews it takes to rank in the Local Pack can vary widely by geographic area and industry. Semrush found that the top results had 773 reviews on average. Bottom line: The more reviews you have, the better (provided they are positive, of course).
Distance: Proximity to the user’s location is another major ranking factor in local SEO. On average, 73% of businesses included in Google Maps search results are within 2 miles.
It is important to note that driving distance may be more or less of a factor in local results depending on industry. For example, Google Maps results include automotive businesses as far as 3 miles away from the user, whereas businesses in the fitness and beauty category are generally within 0.3 miles of the searcher.
Tone of voice: Now we get to assess just how good Google’s much-vaunted machine learning really is. On desktop computer and on mobile, Semrush found that 60% of reviews on the top-ranked local search results were neutral in tone, approximately 38% were positive, and 1-2% were negative.
This signals hedging on Google’s part – perhaps a reluctance to prioritize overly positive reviews due to the potential for pay-to-play. The most valuable reviews, then, describe the customer experience rather than overdosing on superlatives.
As you can see, Google reviews have a major impact on search results, especially those in the Local Pack. However, simply having reviews (even a lot of really positive ones) is not enough to maximize your rankings.
SEO and reputation management need to be combined to get your business in front of customers. Not only will this help you achieve better visibility in online search, but a robust reputation can push customers to choose you over the competition.
How to Maximize the SEO Value of Online Reviews
Reviews are the online equivalent of social proof. When people see positive reviews for a business they haven’t used before, they are more likely to trust that business.
Although there are a number of technical reasons why reviews are such an integral part of SEO (see above), a significant number of positive reviews helps your business meet the overarching criteria that Google uses to refine its search algorithms. Specifically:
- Reviews help to establish that your business is legitimate
- The content in customer reviews will tell Google what queries are most relevant to your business
- Reviews identify the products and/or services in which you are considered an authority (by virtue of what customers have to say)
- The geographical location of users who write reviews (in combination with the NAP data (name, address, and phone number) you provide) help to reinforce the proximity so important in local search
- Reviews serve as recommendations; Google can only do so much to verify a business, so the bots will rely on signals from users to assess which businesses are considered the best
Effective online reputation management doesn’t happen by accident. It is important to make a plan and stick with it so you can not only generate more customer reviews but ensure they complement your SEO efforts.
1. Start Pushing Customers to Leave Reviews
It is common knowledge that people won’t hesitate to leave a negative review after a bad experience with a business, while positive experiences often go undocumented. The most important step you can take to drive more customer reviews is to start asking for reviews.
Don’t be afraid to be a little pushy while still being polite. Make requesting reviews central to your marketing and communications with customers, including:
- Pages on your website
- Email communications
- Followup phone calls and text messages
- Posts on social media
- “Swag” you send to customers (e.g., including a postcard or flier in packages containing free stuff with your logo and other branding)
- In-person interactions with customers (if applicable)
2. Create a Review Template with Keywords
Another way to improve the likelihood that customers will write reviews is to make it easy for them. Provide template language to aid them in what you want them to say. You can also use the sample language to guide your customers into incorporating keywords in their reviews.
Keywords are the lifeblood of SEO. When people are searching for products and services, the results they see are going to be heavily influenced by how well businesses optimize their digital content – including online reviews. If you train customers to integrate keywords into their reviews, you increase the likelihood that your website and business profile will stand out in the search results.
The best way to get customers to include keywords in their reviews is to provide sample wording they can use with the keywords for which you want to rank. Your review template should include fill-in-the-blank language and specific sentiments that you feel make you stand out in your market.
3. Emphasize Experience
Neutral reviews send the strongest ranking signal to Google. Although it’s natural to want your customers to rave about how great you are, it is important to guide their enthusiasm into reviews that will help your business stand out in search.
Semrush found that the majority of reviews for businesses in the Google Local Pack are straightforward and matter of fact. In addition, we have seen that reviews that explicitly highlight the business and the customer’s experience with the company tend to appear at the top of the reviews for businesses that are featured in Local Pack results.
With this in mind, you should direct satisfied customers to focus on the overall experience with your product or service, as well as your team. The more descriptive and detailed the reviewer is, the more favorable the review will be for your SEO.
4. Respond to Reviews, Even (and Especially) the Negative Ones
No one likes to get a bad review. Although there are steps you can take to try to get bad reviews taken off Google, the better bet is to control your emotions and try to manage the situation.
Google itself says that managing and responding to reviews is an effective way to improve your local search rankings. You should follow this advice whether the review is negative, positive, or neutral in tone; the more you engage with your Google Business Profile and the people who leave reviews, the better your performance in search tends to be.
5. Optimize Your Operations
If you want good reviews, you need to make sure every customer touchpoint is solid. Your in-store and/or in-office employees need to be courteous, professional, and trained to effectively handle customer inquiries by phone and in person (if applicable). Similarly, the people who handle your online leads and sales (whether they are employees or vendors you partner with) need to be responsive and capable of navigating customer questions and concerns in today’s “always-on” digital environment.
This all goes beyond marketing and advertising. Your intake, customer support, and digital operations teams rely on strong leadership and direction to do their jobs effectively. A marketing agency can help you build your brand, reach more customers, and grow leads and sales, but only the people within your organization can ensure that the customer experience is consistent, satisfactory, and worthy of positive reviews.
Start Boosting Your SEO with Reviews and Reputation Management Today
Nothing about search engine optimization is a “quick fix,” and the people who advertise it as such are lying to you. It is a long-term process that requires consistent effort – just like building a name for your business and cultivating a positive reputation online.
Completing and optimizing your Google Business Profile has benefits beyond organic SEO. An active, accurate, and robust profile can also help you maximize results through Google Local Services Ads. Local Services Ads are the paid equivalent of the Map Pack, and positive ratings and reviews are essential for driving leads and sales through this unique advertising platform.
Partnering with a marketing agency can help you make your SEO all it can be. However, there are a number of steps you can take on your own to start optimizing your search marketing. The first step is to encourage your satisfied customers to start writing reviews.