If you’re a business owner, you know the importance of reviews—for brand recognition, customer retention and new business, and overall trust. You might have even taken steps to optimize your reputation online as review sites spring up seemingly every day.
But as the web and its users become increasingly local, online reviews are gaining another cachet—they can help increase your ranking in the Google SERPs.
90% of Customers Say Buying Decisions Are Influenced By Online Reviews
A survey conducted by Dimensional Research revealed that 90 percent of customers claimed that positive online reviews influenced buying decisions, while 86 percent said buying decisions were influenced by negative online reviews.
For the retail industry, that means negative (or worse, zero!) reviews could turn away 86% of potential customers. That should be reason enough to start focusing heavily on reviews and reputation management, but there are other important factors to consider.
Just as a negative review could result in a loss of potential business, positive reviews could bring in new customers. But not having any reviews on Google, Yelp, or any other reliable review site could be detrimental to how trustworthy your business is perceived.
The business owner won’t place a negative review on their website, but reviews on other sites are created by customers, making them more credible to other consumers.
As more review sites become populated, the more opportunities business owners have to increase brand awareness with profiles and reviews. These directories allow two things: the chance to saturate the web with your business profile, and another home for customers to leave feedback. The farther you expand your reach, the better chance you have for someone to associate your brand with those (hopefully glowing) reviews!
A yearly study by Moz in 2013 shows that reviews have a significant effect on local search rankings. The signals that contribute to this effect include:
- Review Quantity
- Review Velocity
- Review Diversity
- Review Freshness
When reviews are formatted correctly to be read by search engines, whether positive or negative, they identify and evaluate them with more significance. Once they are established as legitimate reviews, they will be returned in the search results more frequently.
Google and other search engines aim to give users the best possible results. When a search for “Philadelphia Car Dealer” is processed, the engine will pull data from review sites to give users a more informed range of choices. The quality of the review site is also factored into ranking—reviews on Google+ and Yelp receive higher preference as trusted sources of consumer information, and the practices with the best reviews get first priority in the search results.
It goes back to credibility—you might flood your website with positive testimonials, but the search engines recognize that as skewed information. Customer-generated reviews demonstrate that your business is both legitimate and admired.
The engines are constantly improving their algorithms to determine the legitimacy of reviews, so “black-hat” review practices are getting hit in the rankings when deemed dishonest. If your reviews are positive, local, and relevant, Google will reward your business listing with a higher search ranking.
The factors that contribute to the algorithms’ determination of your reviews as legitimate are vast, but it’s good practice to focus on the most important:
The number of real, credible reviews can contribute to a higher rank in the SERPs. A 2013 study by Local Visibility System found a high correlation between the number of reviews on a business’ Google+ Local page and its rank. The business with the highest number of reviews on Google+ Local is in the top three results about 60% of the time. The business in the number one spot had the most reviews 25% of the time, while positions two and three each had the highest number of reviews 17% of the time.
The speed at which reviews are posted online, whether they are on Google+, Yelp, or any other site, can determine their legitimacy. If you receive no reviews for 3 months, then have an influx of reviews for 2 weeks, this will alert a search engine to possible trickery, whether the reviews are real or not. Try to have your customers space out their posts if they are willing to contribute.
The diversity of reviews—both their content and their tone—is a factor in proving legitimacy. The search engines can detect the outdated practice of keyword stuffing, even in reviews. Having 100% positive feedback can send up a red flag, too.
Search engines also determine the freshness of review content. Older content depreciates as a ranking factor for both your website and directories. Adding new, relevant content on a steady basis will send signals to the engines to index these sites.
So how do reviews help your business to rank? It’s about customer engagement--the more you engage with customers online, the more Google and other search engines will value your business.
All the best,
Kelly Ayres is the SEO Director at Stream Companies, a full-service Philadelphia area advertising agency.