Nobody needs to tell you how important customer reviews are. If you have a local business, the odds are high you’re keenly aware of their influence. While one bad review can’t necessarily kill a business, it can definitely hurt it. A series of bad reviews can contribute to a business failure. On the plus side, a couple of great reviews will do more for you than thousands of dollars worth of advertising.
There have been a slew of studies done about consumers and online reviews. One of my favorites is from BrightLocal, which has been surveying customers’ opinions about local online reviews for four years running. This chart from their Local Consumer Review Survey 2014 shows that 88% of the consumers they surveyed check online reviews at least occasionally:
At 88%, you don’t have to be catering just to millennials to care about online reviews. A statistic like that suggests pretty much everybody is doing at least some research online.
Are those online reviews really influencing their decisions? The answer is yes. And it’s a BIG yes.
Only one in ten people said they don’t take notice of online reviews. That means we’ve got a channel that is potentially more influential than advertising and can rival offline word of mouth.
Customer reviews and search rankings
If you’ve been in business for a while, neither of those charts is probably much of a surprise. There’s another factor that makes online reviews even more powerful: They affect search engine rankings.
Want proof? No problem. Let’s check one of the SEO industry’s most respected reports: The Moz. “The 2014 Local Search Ranking Factors,”
Every year, Moz surveys some of the smartest local SEO masters across the country, asking them which “factors” (like title tags, inbound links, etc.) contribute to rankings. In the overall view from the latest 2014 report, reviews came in as the fifth most influential signal.
Overall Ranking Factors
Moz has also shown the ranking signals for localized organic results versus Google’s Pack/Carousel results. For localized organic results, reviews signals contributed 7.2% of influence. For the pack/carousel results, they were 12.3%.
Interesting, right? But what does it really mean?
You’ve probably guessed the basic objective of this article already: Reviews matter for SEO rankings. That’s just the beginning. The Moz charts include many different kinds of review signals. Here’s a list of what signals are, and what they mean. Each of these items reveals a lot about best practices for how you will get reviews.
- Review quantity- This chart is pretty self-explanatory: More reviews are better. BrightLocal specifically asked people this question. They wanted to know how many reviews a business needs to be convincing to their customers.
- Review velocity- How quickly a business gets reviews is known as, ‘review velocity.’ Getting too many reviews too quickly can actually hurt you. In your campaigns, avoid the mentality of, “Let’s go get more reviews, NOW!” It can really backfire. What you want is a steady trickle of reviews over time. Does this sound a bit like a recommendation for link building, too? Well, yes, it is.
- Review diversity- You want reviews on more than one site. If customers are leaving reviews on Yelp, some on Google, another on Angie’s List, again on YellowPages.com, and a dozen other sites, don’t worry. That’s actually good.
- Quantity of Third-Party Traditional Reviews- This just means Google is counting the reviews you are getting on other review sites (besides Google properties.) Once again, more reviews are better.
- Authority of third-party sites on which reviews are present- Google doesn’t think all review sites are equal. To them, some review sites are more important than others (i.e., some sites are considered, by Google, to have more authority.)
- Overall Velocity of Reviews (Native + Third-Party)- Google is measuring how quickly you get reviews on other sites.
- Volume of Testimonials in Review / Schema.org- Schema.org is a website that sets the standards for a kind of markup called, “microdata” or “rich snippets.” The following is an example of microdata/rich snippets, with customer reviews and Google maps data:
- Quantity of Native Google Maps Reviews (w/text)- This is less influential than it was in earlier years. As Google continues to change how it handles local listings (and then changes the rules yet again, and then again), they phase out old signals. Any of you who were around in 2012/2013 and saw most of your Google reviews disappear will be painfully aware of how awkward some of their transitions have been.
- Diversity of third-party sites on which reviews are present- Google wants to see reviews for your business on a different review sites. Once again, don’t insist your customer leave reviews for you on only one site. It’s good to spread the reviews around.
- Product/Service Keywords in Reviews- This is most influential in the Google Pack/Carousel results. Having the right keywords in reviews does help, but it’s a relatively minor signal.
Businesses sometimes ask customers to include certain keywords in their reviews. It almost always confuses the customers, and as you know, confused people often decide to not take any action. If you’ve got enough time and a good enough relationship with a potential reviewer to mention and explain that including keywords may help you, great. These types of explanations often come off as you telling them what to say, like they don’t know how to talk or write a sentence. With this in mind it might be worth considering leaving out any instruction on what to say when asking for reviews from people.
- Quantity of Reviews by Authority Reviewers (e.g.,Yelp Elite, Multiple Maps Reviewers, etc.)- Would it surprise you to find out that Google is also measuring how influential different reviewers are (not just different review sites?) You’ll see this illustrated in review management. The most notable example is Yelp, where reviewers have to have written five reviews before any of their reviews are shown on the site.
It’s not uncommon for a business to ask for Yelp reviews (which Yelp aggressively discourages) only to see a meager handful of reviews appear. The most common reason for a business to get so few reviews from their efforts is because they asked people to review their business who aren’t regular Yelp reviewers. The reviews were indeed left by their customers, but Yelp filtered them out. Google has this annoying practice, too, sometimes.
Beyond the ranking signals: What business you’re in also makes a big difference.
Ranking signals don’t flag clearly enough that Google weighs a business’s reviews on third party sites based on which industry the business is in. In other words, they expect you to have reviews on sites that are relevant to your industry.
Fortunately, there is a fairly easy way to tell which review sites Google values most for your industry.
- Do a search for (your industry or keyword) reviews.
- Take a look at the results- By glancing at the listings you’ve already got a good idea of where you want reviews. Yelp is big on this list (no surprise.) SureCritic and Angie’s List also show big results. Lower down on the page are YellowPages.com and ConsumerReports.org. You will also note ads for Wow.com and Local.com.
- You can also take this a step further and find even more review sites- See the line of green text below the big blue link? There’s a little gray arrow at the end of that line of text. If you click the gray arrow, you’ll get a little pop-up like this:
Click “Similar” and you’ll be brought to another page of search results. Usually there are a couple more related review sites in those results.
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You can also find more related review sites by looking near the bottom of the Google results below the map on the right side of the page.
Don’t get too crazy trying to find every single review site your business could have a review on. If it were my business, I’d focus on three major sites, but keep a list of maybe 15 review sites to check now and then.
How important reviews are also depends on what business you’re in
Lumping all “small” local businesses in together never works very well. It doesn’t work too well for reviews, either. The BrightLocal survey asked people which kinds of businesses they do Internet searches for. Here’s what their respondents said:
As you can see, some businesses, like restaurants, get their reviews looked at constantly. Other businesses get checked less often. If you’re an accountant or an attorney, online reviews still matter (a lot), but if you’re a restaurant or a dentist, expect to be in the reviews spotlight far more often.
The major review sites for local businesses
I’ve borrowed this list from Moz’s site. The links here go to the review protocols for each of these major review sites.
This list is nice, but it’s critical for you to read and understand the terms each site has for asking for reviews from your customers. Yelp and Google have deleted thousands of reviews because they felt some businesses had abused their terms of service. So be careful. Read the instructions first. Never, ever buy reviews.
How to ask for reviews
Once you understand how each review site works and you know which sites you want reviews on, then you can go out and ask for reviews. In the case of Yelp, don’t directly ask for reviews, though Yelp says you can tell people, “check us out on Yelp.”
Asking for reviews may work best if you can give customers an instruction sheet on how to leave reviews. Darren Shaw of Whitespark and Phil Rozek of Local Visibility System have created a terrific free tool that lets you create a customized instruction sheet.
The review sites you don’t want a review on
In addition to your industry-related review sites, there are a couple of other sites you want to stay on top of. These are the ones you don’t want a review on. They’re exclusively for complaints.
Search for your company name on these sites every so often. Hopefully, nothing will show up.
Dealing with negative reviews
No matter how hard you try and how great your business is, a negative review can show up. Actually, a complaint will, show up. It’s just a matter of time.
Negative reviews sting. You put your heart and soul into your business. You bust your tuckus six, maybe seven days a week for too many hours each day. When someone leaves a bad review, you may put that into question. And yet a lousy review is almost certain to happen.
Responding to any review
It’s hard to respond to negative reviews, but you should also respond to the good ones. Thank people for their feedback. This is actually some of the most important social media work you can do. Make time for review replies, even putting them ahead of getting other social media updates done.
Now that you know customer reviews are also influencing your search engine rankings, are you more likely to create a review program?