The short answer is yes, Google Reviews do help improve search rankings and overall SEO efforts. While there are a lot of factors involved in search rankings, online customer reviews can be a strong signal to search engines that communicates trustworthiness and authority. In an era in which competition has gotten tougher for small businesses on the web, managing online reviews is a way to differentiate your business and raise your visibility in the search results.
How Do We Know Reviews Matter?
When you think about SEO, reviews from customers aren’t often the first thing that comes to mind. With all the other major SEO focus areas to sort through, such as content creation and link building, reviews just don’t get much attention. But they should – especially if your business is a local one.
According to the 2017 Local SEO Ranking Factors study performed by Local SEO Guide, Google My Business reviews that included the searched-for keyword were the second-most influential factor when examining a local business’ performance in the “Local Pack”, the box of local search and map results that appears at the top of relevant searches in Google.
You can see this in action for the query in the screenshot above. When I searched for “cat shelter”, one of the factors Google used to determine which businesses to display in the Local Pack was reviews. Specifically, notice the snippets of reviews at the bottom of each business’ space – my search terms (and sometimes similar or semantically-related ones, such as “adoption”) are bolded, indicating Google’s determination of relevance.
In fact, the only search ranking factor that was found to be more important than reviews is the total amount of additional organic rankings – in other words, if the site is SEO-friendly and already has great organic rankings for lots of terms, the site is more likely to show up in the Local Pack.
What if you aren’t a local business? Do reviews still matter? If your business operates in a strictly ecommerce realm or has no true physical location, there’s still research that backs up the importance of reviews for SEO. Review management platform Yotpo studied the impact of adding customer reviews onto a sample of online businesses’ websites. Over the 9 month study, Google organic pageviews increased from somewhere around 5.5k a month to a staggering 8k a month. Not bad!
Why Do Reviews Matter for SEO?
Research is cool and everyone likes to see charts of businesses getting more traffic, but you’re probably still unsure how online reviews affect businesses’ rankings in this way. There are actually a few relatively straightforward explanations for why Google reviews do help rankings.
- Google trusts your customers more than it trusts you.
Okay, that’s a little bit of an exaggeration, but the fact is that Google depends on signals to determine whether a site is worth good rankings or not. We’ve seen this since the very first days of Google with the importance of links. When your site receives a link from another relevant site, Google sees that as a kind of endorsement of trust, and rewards you with better visibility. Similarly, when a customer reviews your business (good or bad), it tells Google that not only is your business a real, legit operation, but that other people have interacted with it and can help future potential customers make decisions. In short, Google loves this kind of stuff.
- Google likes to read.
Like the bookworm in your life, Google “reads” your site to understand the world (or in this case, the Internet). The more content that it has available to read, the more it will know about your business. When you leverage customer reviews on your site for SEO, or generate them on Google My Business, Google has lots of fresh content to read and lots of keywords to add to its understanding of your business.
Remember how I searched “cat shelter” and Google pulled my query out as a keyword from the businesses’ reviews? Customers will unintentionally describe your products and services to Google, and those reviews add SEO value to your business without the customers even knowing that they’re helping you. Reviews can even help fill in the content gaps that may exist on your website, and increase your rankings and overall visibility that way.
- Great reviews = More stars = More clicks.
Like it or not, people trust reviews. Think about it this way – if you’re faced with a Local Pack and two of the businesses have 2-star ratings while the third has 5-star ones, which one are you more likely to click on?
SEO rankings have long been known to be influenced by click through rates. If a high percentage of searches choose your site from the search results, Google assumes you’re doing something right and will reward your site with better rankings. Reviews can play a big part with click through rates, especially if you’re generating glowing reviews regularly. By enticing clicks with high ratings, you’ll likely see a boost in rankings, too.
How Can Businesses Manage Online Reviews for Higher Rankings?
Luckily, if your business is doing good work, online review management shouldn’t be TOO taxing on your resources. There are lots of ways to get the most out of your reviews, but one of the most important ones is to incorporate reviews across your website. Depending on your type of website and your business, there are lots of tools for doing this, and implementation can vary, but take a look at tools like Yotpo or Kudobuzz, which can be used to tie your site in to existing reviews, generate new ones, and drive trust among potential customers.
In the end, though, you should include reviews in your SEO strategy. Hiring an SEO agency is a great choice for small to medium businesses looking to build but not looking to pay for an internal team.
At Leverage Marketing, review management is just one tactic we use when crafting the holistic SEO strategies we tailor to our clients. If you’re ready to see what reviews can do for your SEO and your business, get in touch with us today.