A Dozen Takeaways and Follow-Ups from the Bright Local Review Study

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I’m without my usual partner in crime, Mike Blumenthal, who’s in the middle of a well-deserved vacation to Vietnam. His Twitter volubility remains unaffected by his spotty wifi, but we agreed that, given the time difference and logistical challenges, I’d contribute a solo piece this week.

Being the customer feedback advocate he is, if Mike were here, I’m sure he’d be pretty intrigued by BrightLocal’s recent vertically focused study of Google reviews.

The study is one of the best-executed content pieces I can remember in our industry—it’s interactive, digestible by the average small business, and useful for agencies and resellers, too.

Below are the items from the survey that caught my eye the most.

Do as we say, not as we do?

Only 53% of marketing firms’ Google My Business profiles have been reviewed. That’s insane!

“Your Mileage May Vary.”

Across the board, higher review counts are well-correlated with higher rankings. The industries where this is particularly true, as measured by BrightLocal, are Photographers, Local Stores (Retail?), and Storage & Removal, where businesses in the top three had 62%, 55%, and 32% more reviews than their peers further down the list.

There are some industries, though, where more reviews did not actually correlate with better rankings! Car dealerships and catering businesses with lower review counts actually showed up more frequently in the 3-pack than those with higher review counts.

Maybe Google has figured out the companies that are trying TOO hard in these industries?

Reviews don’t tell the whole story.

There’s still a striking number of businesses (20%) ranking in the three-pack without a single review. So while many of us feel that reviews are on their way to becoming the dominant ranking factor, they’re clearly not the only thing Google is evaluating.

Ratings don’t seem to matter for rankings.

This always seems like a counter-intuitive finding of the annual Local Search Ranking Factors survey. But BrightLocal found that once you exclude businesses without reviews, the average rating across the board was 4.5 stars, regardless of where a business was ranking.

Ratings DO matter if you want to actually get business from those rankings, though, as BrightLocal has found many times in other studies.

Some of the least-reviewed categories are also some of the highest-dollar categories.

Accountants, senior living, construction, and—yes—marketing are all in the bottom-five categories of review volume. As a consumer looking for a business in any of these channels, I may not expect the 34 reviews that BrightLocal reports are a prerequisite on average, but I’d surely want to see more than the handful they report the average business in these categories has.

The lowest-rated review categories seem like prime client prospects for those of you reselling GatherUp, Grade.Us, or BrightLocal’s own solution.

People actually like lawyers just fine.

I kid. There are of course plenty of great lawyers out there, including the ones at the firm Tidings uses.

But it does surprise me that the legal profession was smack in the middle of the curve, whereas car dealerships were (as expected) near the bottom. Overall, the average rating across all industries was four out of five, which is probably one of the main reasons it’s so hard for Google to weigh ratings significantly in its ranking algorithm—everyone’s bunched together.

Areas I’d love Bright Local to explore in more detail in their inevitable follow-up studies 🙂

How these correlations vary by country

As I asked on Twitter, I’d love to be able to filter results by country; in my experience, review volume is close to 50% higher here than even other developed markets like the UK or Continental Europe—though that gap may be closing—which is why I’m eager to see the data!

How these correlations vary by market size

Similar to the above, it stands to reason that businesses in less-populated areas would have fewer reviews than those in more populated areas. It’d be fascinating to see how the size of a market affects review count across the board.

Median review count
I’m curious—as is ThriveHive president and friend Perry Evans—how a few very successful businesses may skew review averages in certain industries. Comparing an average to a mean might be a useful view into this possible phenomenon.

Percentage of reviews containing keywords

Local SEO Guide found that the number of reviews containing keywords was the overall #2 local ranking factor in their survey last year. It would be great to see BrightLocal validate (or modify) that conclusion!

Brand vs SMB

How do review volumes (and ratings) differ between companies with one or a handful of locations vs. regional or national chains?  Have national chains been able to operationalize customer feedback better or worse than their independent counterparts?

Influence of other review sites

The current study only looks at Google reviews, and I’d love to see BrightLocal expand its data set to rich vertical sites like TripAdvisor, Avvo, HomeAdvisor, etc.  Mike (with help from me and others) already found compelling evidence for Yelp reviews’ impact on Google rankings. It’d be great to see the correlation (or lack of it) for other review sites as well.

After more than a decade in local search, David Mihm now runs Tidings, an email newsletter platform for small businesses that leverages their everyday social media activity, and his own weekly newsletter, Minutive. In 2012, he sold his former company GetListed.org to Moz, helping over 3 million businesses get better visibility in Google and other search engines. Along with Mike, he’s a co-founder of Local University. 

After more than a decade in local search, David Mihm now serves as VP of Product Strategy at ThriveHive, leading the direction of the company’s search-related product offerings. He’s also the Founder & CEO of Tidings, an email newsletter platform for small businesses that leverages their everyday social media activity, and his own weekly newsletters, Minutive and the Agency Insider. He’s the former founder of GetListed.org, Director of Local Strategy at Moz, and along with Mike, he’s a co-founder of Local University.