There is no doubt that earning and encouraging customers to leave keyword-rich reviews has local SEO and general business benefits. Customers will often leave reviews whether or not you ask them to.
Even negative reviews can have a positive impact if they are addressed quickly and in a positive manner. The worst thing a company can do is fail to respond to a review in order to demonstrate to the customer that they are being heard.
In addition to their impact on conversion, reviews are a local ranking factor that can help or hurt your rankings depending on a variety of factors.
Let’s take a closer look at how local reviews affect your Map Pack and organic search rankings in your area.
The Advantages of Customer Reviews
Customer reviews are a powerful indicator of a local business’s standing in the community. After all, who better to advise Google on a company’s worth than its customers?
The events of the last two years have pushed an increasing number of consumers online. They will undoubtedly continue to look to their peers for guidance on which companies to buy from or work with in the future.
In fact, according to a BrightLocal local consumer review study released in December 2020, 87 percent of consumers read online reviews for local businesses in 2020, up from 81 percent in 2019.
Another BIA/Kelsey and ConStat local consumer study found that, unsurprisingly, 97 percent of consumers now use online media when researching products or services in their local area.
The study also claims that “90% use search engines, 48% use Internet Yellow Pages, 24% use vertical sites, and 42% use comparison shopping sites.”
Google and other search engines appear to reward businesses with more positive reviews by putting them in the coveted Map Pack at the top of organic local search results.
It appears in search results more than 30% of the time, and its links receive up to 70% of organic search traffic.
The Map Pack (or Local Pack) includes three Google Business Profiles, along with their star rating, customer reviews, and business details, that were deemed most worthy of this top billing.
A recent SEMrush study of the Local Pack for 5,624 businesses discovered that the average star rating was 4.1 and, more importantly, the business in the top spot received more positive reviews than those in positions 2 and 3.
In other words, receiving more positive reviews on a consistent basis will improve a company’s ability to rank, be seen, and gain targeted local traffic.
Going one step further, Whitespark’s 2021 report on local ranking factors, which was based on a survey of 42 SEO experts, breaks down the importance of review-specific characteristics to Map Pack ranking as follows:
- High Star Ratings (i.e. 4-5).
- Keywords in Google Reviews.
- Quantity of Google Reviews.
According to Whitespark’s polled SEO experts, reviews are also important for Google Business Profile conversions, which represent customers taking action (i.e. clicking, calling, etc.).
The following review characteristics were deemed most important in this case, with the top two being the overall top factors in GBP conversion:
- High Star Ratings.
- Positive Sentiment in Review Text.
- Quantity of Google Reviews.
- Recency of Reviews.
- Presence of Owner Responses to Reviews.
- Quantity of Positive Review Attributes.
Another advantage of customer reviews is that they generate keyword-rich content related to the local business as customers comment on the business (brand), products, or services they’ve used.
This is content that the company’s owners/managers do not have to create.
There is, however, an obligation on the business to respond to reviews, which we will discuss shortly.
Based on this information, if you own or manage a local business, you should take advantage of the potential benefits of customer reviews.
How Do Reviews Affect Map Pack vs. Local Ranking?
There are some differences in how Google interprets reviews in terms of where a business appears in the Map Pack and how high it ranks in local search engine results pages.
According to Whitespark’s report, reviews account for a 17% share of rank in the Map Pack but only a 5% share of local organic ranking.
Local organic rankings are tied to a broader set of on-site and off-site factors, whereas Map Pack rankings are more focused on the quality of a Google Business Profile page.
Regardless of the percentages, reviews have a significant impact on how businesses appear in organic search results.
Several experts in Whitespark’s report stated that they will focus on “Keywords in Google Native Reviews” and “Quantity of Native Google Reviews” to improve visibility in 2022.
Where Should I Look for Feedback?
Google reviews submitted through a Google Business Profile page are the most valuable type of reviews you can receive for many local businesses.
Google reviews account for 57.5 percent of all online local reviews, with Facebook reviews accounting for 19 percent, according to ReviewTrackers.
Specialized businesses may benefit from receiving feedback on industry-specific or locally focused websites.
Reviews from these sites will, by definition, carry less weight in terms of organic search ranking and should not be sought out proactively.
Before investing time or money in seeking exposure or reviews on an industry-specific directory or review site, determine whether it appears in the search results for your primary keywords (i.e. has the authority of its own).
Where Should I Get Reviews?
According to Brightlocal’s 2020 report, “72 percent of US consumers have written a review for a local business,” which means that most customers are willing to submit a review if they believe they’ve had a positive or sometimes negative experience.
So, the first and most obvious way to get (positive) reviews is to simply provide your customers with review-worthy products and services.
Customers, on the other hand, may need to be shown or reminded where to direct their praise. You can encourage your customers to leave reviews by doing the following:
- Ask: Don’t be afraid to directly ask your customers for feedback, especially after you’ve successfully delivered a product or service. Some businesses send review requests via text or email immediately or within hours of a customer making a purchase, using a service, or finishing an appointment.
- Other companies include links to their Google Business Profile, Facebook page, or other review sites in their digital or printed invoices. There are technology solutions available to assist small businesses, which are typically short on time, in automating the process of requesting and responding to post-delivery reviews to ensure this is done on a consistent basis.
- Promote: Clearly display banners, badges, or links to your preferred review sources on your primary web properties, such as your website, shopping cart, and email signature, so your customers can easily provide feedback. Consider promoting and soliciting reviews offline as well. In a retail setting, this could entail displaying reviews sites on your front door or next to your cash register.
Regardless of where you ask them to provide reviews (if they believe you are deserving), it is also a good idea to suggest they mention the product, service, location, or other details related.
The goal here is for customers to write and submit reviews that include keywords and phrases that search engines can recognize and attribute to the business; a simple but effective SEO tactic.
Simply put, the easier it is for a customer to leave a review, the more likely they are to do so. Furthermore, the review will most likely reflect their overall positive experience with your company.
But What If My Business Receives Negative Reviews?
This is probably the most frequently asked question about reviews, which is why some local businesses may be hesitant to ask in the first place. Every company, regardless of how hard its employees work, will receive a negative review at some point.
The key is to deal with the negative review as soon as possible and to resolve whatever issue your customer is experiencing.
A conscientious business owner, on the other hand, will view a negative review as an opportunity to demonstrate responsiveness and customer service. Customers who are well-informed about this pay close attention to it as well.
According to ReviewTrackers’ research, “53.3 percent of consumers expect a response to their review within 7 days,” while Brightlocal’s research found that “20 percent of consumers expect to receive a response within one day” when writing a review.
It is worth noting that there is no mention of positive or negative feedback, implying that most customers expect some sort of response to their reviews regardless of their sentiment.
If the customer has left a negative review, these percentages must surely rise. Rapid responses and resolutions are essential for retaining and attracting customers.
According to a 2018 Harvard Business Review study that “examined tens of thousands of hotel reviews and TripAdvisor responses,” hotels that responded to reviews saw a 12 percent increase in the number of reviews received and a marginal increase in their overall rating.
Furthermore, it didn’t appear to matter whether these responses were too positive or negative.
While Google reviews should be your primary focus, if you have a profile and receive reviews on third-party sites such as Yelp, Tripadvisor, and so on, you should be just as diligent in responding to this feedback, especially if it is negative.
While these sites’ organic authority is limited, the overall impact on your brand and public perception is significant.
As previously stated, there are technologies available to assist in the rapid management of reviews, which can be linked to their sentiment. In other words, negative reviews can be highlighted and prioritized to ensure that they are addressed as soon as possible.
When determining a business’s authority and trustworthiness, Google understands and, no doubt accounts for the possibility of negative reviews.
A few negative reviews will not harm your ability to rank, but they may if they go unanswered. Furthermore, unanswered negative reviews are likely to harm your business in general because they demonstrate a general lack of customer service.
Multiple negative reviews, as one would expect, will undoubtedly reflect negatively on any business and its ability to rank prominently in search engines. If this is happening to you, it’s probably time to take a step back and reconsider how you’re running the business in the first place.
Social Proof Makes The Digital World Go Round
One constant, regardless of the medium, is that people prefer to do business with people and businesses they know and trust.
They frequently seek validation from their family, friends, and neighbors regarding the trustworthiness of the businesses they are considering.
Online reviews are simply a continuation of this process to this relatively new medium where modern buyer journeys are increasingly taking place.
Google understands this and rewards businesses that acquire, monitor, and effectively respond to their customer base with increased organic search visibility.
Learn more from SEO and read Why Focusing on SEO Keywords is Hurting Your Campaign.