The topic of reviews as a ranking factor is one that has generated much debate, owing mostly to the ambiguity and secrecy around search engine ranking factors, and partly to the fact that experiments around this topic present wildly different data about reviews as a ranking factor.
This column aims to provide local business owners a clear picture of how reviews affect local SEO and local pack rankings, based on the data that we already have.
There’s no better place to start than Moz’s Local Search Ranking Factors Survey. Experts believe that review signals (review quantity, review velocity, review diversity, etc.) contribute to 13% of local pack rankings and 7% of local SEO.
The quantity of local reviews and presence of product/service names in reviews are both considered ranking factors on local packs and local SEO.
Reviews on third-party sites can count as citations as well, and Moz’s survey assesses citation signals as contributing to up to 8% of the ranking factors. Moz’s survey also combines local link building and reviews as yet another ranking factor (even if it is minor), and says that the authority of third-party sites on which reviews are present is a ranking factor as well.
Another study by Search Engine Journal examines how reviews seem to correlate with rankings the most, making them possibly “the most prominent ranking factor” for local packs and local SEO. In this study, the quality and quantity of reviews positively correlate with local search rankings on search engines. Local SEO expert Matt Southern says that, “The prominence of reviews isn’t particularly shocking, as it’s a way for Google to crowdsource ranking factors, it’s hard to spam, and the most problematic type of abuse is illegal.”
Beyond all this, reviews would help local business owners get more visits to their business listings and websites, even if it weren’t a local ranking factor. A survey covered by Shopify frames reviews as a corollary—in the sense that, even if reviews might not directly impact rankings, consumers still look at them as a top factor for choosing a business over another.
It bears noting that while reviews can greatly contribute as a positive ranking factor for local business, fake and negative reviews can push a business down from its top spot on local packs. There are a few best practices when it comes to monitoring and managing your business’ reputation that you can follow as well. Keep in mind that consumers now have the option to add a filter on their results after they run a “near me” search on Google. Even if you have optimized for ranking on search engines for a certain local search keyword, your business will get pushed down if a customer chooses to sort the results by ranking.
You can use a review generation tool or a review monitoring software to avoid this. Having a bad star rating will also hurt your rankings when customers search for “best gyms near me” or some other such local search term that emphasizes a business’ star rating.
So, in a nutshell, you need to pay attention to the reviews that you are getting to make sure that you have an optimized online presence. Reviews definitely play a part in your business’ local SEO, and they also help improve customer interaction and CTR. Google, in this support article, even talks about how adding images, having a verified listing, and managing and responding to reviews can help you improve your business’ rankings. This is, for the most part, how your business’ reviews contribute to local SEO.
These are some of the things that you can do to make sure to improve your local SEO using reviews:
- Make sure that your business is listed on all major websites, directories, and social media sites for increasing your chances of getting more review signals for your business.
- Actively monitor the reviews that you get online using a review monitoring software, and respond to them quickly and efficiently. This helps customers realize that you care about them, and it can also give them a second chance to change their opinion of your business, in the case of a bad review. You can take a look at these review response templates if you feel like you don’t want to type out responses to every single review that you receive.
- Flag spammy/fake reviews that you receive on your business listings. This will help you maintain a healthy star rating and won’t affect the purchase decisions of your customers.
- Use Google stickers or Yelp stickers that will prompt customers to leave more reviews for your business online.
Local SEO requires you to focus on several things other than reviews alone to improve your local organic rankings. You can take the help of a local SEO checklist to track your local SEO optimization progress, and to become better at it in general.
Harsha Annadurai is an Inbound Marketer at Synup. His excessive love for music and football has led many to believe that he was a jukebox in a football stadium in his past life. You can follow him on Twitter @harshaannadurai.