The answer is reviews are very important for local SEO.
There is no doubt that reviews can be extremely beneficial to businesses of all kinds. Most consumers look for reviews when researching a product or service provider in their local area. Over 90% of consumers read online reviews and almost as many refer to them when making a purchasing decision.
You may have heard about a link between reviews and a local businesses search engine ranking. But do reviews really make a difference? Just how beneficial are they?
Do reviews make a difference to SEO?
Google looks for things that indicate trust towards a business. The biggest trust indicator is a link from one website to yours. It’s a vote of confidence that your business provides some sort of value and is trusted in some way.
You can’t get much more of a vote of confidence than a positive review from a customer. Of course it needs to be verified in some way. Anyone can make up reviews for themselves, (and they do).
In the case of local SEO, reviews have been found to make a difference, both for organic listings and those in Google maps. They are not quite as valuable as backlinks but they still play an important role, and the added benefits of an improved reputation make getting reviews a worthwhile exercise.
How important are reviews to Local Businesses?
There are numerous studies that have looked at the value of reviews in relation to local SEO. One of the biggest and most reputable studies from Moz estimates that reviews make up between 7%-13% of all ranking factors (in 2017):
- 7% for organic listings
- 13% for local pack listings
It’s important to note that these figures go up and down. Google could put more weight on reviews. However, trends have shown that the importance of reviews have decreased slightly. This is mainly for the fact that Google is favoring businesses with a varied online marketing footprint.
The general trend is that reviews do make a difference, but they aren’t going to get you to the top spot alone. In fact there are many businesses with more reviews than their competitors, but they don’t rank in the top 3.
Depending on how competitive your market is, a few reviews could push your listing several places, if not to the top 3. Equally there are cases where a business with 10, 20 or more reviews doesn’t appear at the top. Probably because they haven’t focused on the other key areas of Local SEO. It’s important to remember that reviews make up a small proportion of all the factors that affect a website ranking. Still, this doesn’t mean reviews can’t make a difference.
Given a choice almost all consumers would choose a business with 5 stars over one with none. If nothing else having a 5* rating will make your business appear more favorable over your competitors with less positive ratings.
Reviews aren’t always positive
Some of the time people are more likely to write a review about a negative experience than a positive one. They want to make themselves heard and have more incentive to do so.
While positive reviews can make a favorable difference to rankings, negative reviews can do the opposite. Just like positive reviews, the incidence of negative reviews is not the most important factor in local SEO, but it is one of many. Factors that can negatively affect ranking include:
- Low ratings in Google/third party websites
- Negative comments in Google/third party reviews
- Receiving too many reviews too fast
If you have any negative reviews, you should take action, not just for SEO but for your reputations sake.
Not only are Google reviews one of the first things people see when searching your business or service keywords, third party sites appear too. If you have a 1 or 2 star rating on Yelp for example, it could appear in your Google listing when searching your name.
We can’t always stop negative reviews in the first place, but we can attempt to remedy them once the comments have been left. If you can’t fix things with the customer who left the review, you can at least reply yourself to give your side of the story.
If you can’t get them to change their rating, the best thing to do is to try and bury it with higher ratings. If you do not have a review strategy in place, now is a good time to start thinking about one.
Increase chances of an SEO boost from reviews
Since anyone can make up reviews, Google tends to prefer larger, more established review sites. Though this doesn’t mean fake reviews can’t make their way through though.
If you are going to request reviews from your customers as part of your SEO strategy, it is best to focus on larger review sites such as Yelp, Facebook, TripAdvisor etc.
It’s good to put reviews on your website, but having a review form on your website won’t be as credible as a review from an external website, at least not in Google’s eyes.
As a local business, the best place to ask customers to leave a review is on Google. To do this you must have a Google my Business Listing. It’s beneficial to having reviews on other platforms too.
Some of the best include:
- Yellow Pages
- Yahoo Local
- Opentable (restaurants)
What to do to get more reviews
If asked, most consumers will leave a review for a local business. It’s all about being proactive. Here are some things that can be done to make it easier and increase the likelihood of getting a review.
- Giving customers a review card with instructions for how to leave a review
- Give them a review handout for Googlewith very clear instructions
- Give them a review handout for Facebook & Yelp
- Sending an email with a direct link to the review platform you are using
- Send an SMS message with a link to the review form
- Train staff and offer incentives for getting more reviews
- Put handouts/cards in with customer invoices or after completing a job/sale
These strategies will work, or they won’t, depending on the effort businesses put forth to encourage a review from a happy customer. Business owners have no problem asking for a sale. Asking for a review is just as easy.
There is more and more chatter in the SEO industry about the importance of reviews, when you weigh up the time it takes to ask for reviews, and the efforts to put a review strategy in place, it’s a no-brainer.
Reviews should be part of every local businesses’ SEO strategy. Increasingly Google is relying on a variety of factors to rank local businesses. Google wants to see evidence of a well-rounded brand online. To achieve this you must focus not just on one area, but on a whole host of factors, reviews included.