Approximately 87% of consumers use online reviews to evaluate local businesses and 84% of them trust these reviews as much as a personal recommendation. It seems obvious, then, that Google values these reviews and use them as ranking factors for a business’ local SEO. In this post, we’ll explain just how Google uses reviews and ratings to determine your rankings in the search results.
How Google uses reviews to rank businesses
Unfortunately, only those closest to the Google algorithm can tell us anything definitive here. However, SEOs have theorized that Google uses a number of factors to evaluate local reviews. We’ve listed these in order of importance for local search.
- Volume. Google believes that more online reviews equals popularity. The more reviews you have, the higher you will rank in relevant local search results. This is why it’s important to encourage customers to review your business online – otherwise Google can’t “see” that.
- Content. Google also looks at what people say about your business in their reviews. Words like “great”, “terrific”, and “best” in your reviews result in higher rankings than words like “awful” or “mediocre”. Moreover, if your customers frequently mention a particular service you provide in their reviews, you are more likely to rank higher for searches for those products and services.
It’s hard to control what your customers decide to put in their reviews. Therefore, we suggest asking them specific questions, like “What service did we perform for you?” or “How was your experience with us?” This can help make sure the right words end up in their review to help you with your rankings.
- Diversity. Google likes third-party reviews, and uses them frequently to rank local businesses. In fact, they may even have more influence on your rankings than Google reviews! Encourage your customers to leave reviews on Yelp, TripAdvisor, Facebook, or Foursquare, not just on your Google My Business page.
- Star Rating. With 76% of ratings being 3 stars or higher, actual star ratings are not as influential as many people assume. Most businesses are really close in star ratings (4.1 versus 4.3, for example). Instead of splitting hairs, Google looks at the volume of reviews and their content more than the actual star rating. Consumers, however, do use star ratings to influence their buying decisions. So this factor still has an indirect effect on your SEO.
- The Reviewer. While there is no conclusive proof of this yet, many SEOs suspect that the account leaving the review can influence your rankings. For instance, reviews from a user in the Local Guides Program may carry more weight than reviews from regular Google user accounts.
- Review Expiration Date. Depending on your industry, the lifespan of reviews and their relevance to Google differs. For instance, if you run a restaurant, your reviews will need to be relatively frequent and timely to maintain your rankings. But for a law firm or B2B company, several months going by between reviews won’t kill your spot in the search results. Regardless, steady reviews over time are better than 3-year-old profiles with nothing new to show.
Most customers will leave a review if you ask them to!
Because their review is their voice, more than half of the customers you ask to leave a review will actually leave one for you. And while you still might experience some review spam, most customers will be honest and forthright about their experience with you – good or bad. So, ask them! Particularly if they’ve been a customer for quite some time! The worst they can tell you is no.
Reviews influence your local SEO
Authentic customer reviews are a more accurate reflection of your business and the services you provide than ranking factors like inbound links or NAP citations. Ultimately, reviews account for only about 6% of local ranking influence. But local businesses with great reviews on Google, Facebook, and Yelp tend to be rewarded with higher rankings. And those higher rankings give them greater visibility in the search results, which brings in more customers. Those new customers then leave reviews, and the cycle continues. Aside from creating lead generators, encouraging your customers to leave reviews for your business is arguably one of the most effective and sustainable marketing efforts to grow your business.
To sum up this article, here are the main takeaways:
- The number of reviews and the content of those reviews are two of the most important ranking factors Google takes into account
- Reviews on Google are important, but local businesses should get reviews on third-party sites like Facebook, Yelp, and TripAdvisor as well. For more ideas on where to get reviews, check out our post: Where And How To Get Reviews For Your Business
- All other things being equal between you and your competition, the one with better reviews is the one Google will reward.
Keep Reading: How To Optimize Your Google My Business Profile »