Let's be honest about online reviews. You know you need them, but they can be a bit of a pain in the neck. From having to remember to ask your best customers for reviews to dealing with negative reviews when they show up, it's pretty tempting to just ignore the whole thing and let the chips fall where they may.
I hear that from a lot of the folks I work with, but before you throw in the towel, I'd like you to consider one rather sizable reason not to do that. It's a little thing called Google.
You know that when it comes to promoting your business online, Google is kind of a big deal. It's the number one search engine in the world. It's the most visited website in the world. And to top it all off, it's one of the Top 10 Review Sites online.
That's where having a strategy for generating Google Reviews comes in. To understand why, let's turn the tables and look at things from Google's perspective.
A large part of their business model revolves around staying the preferred search engine for the planet.
It's critically important that Google provide results that are as close as possible to what you actually are looking for when you type something into the search bar. Google knows that if they fall short on this one task, other search engines like Yahoo and Bing are standing by to take up the slack.
Reviews help Google spot the best companies to feature locally.
When it comes to Local Search, Google needs the best information it can get it's hands on to determine which businesses will be listed at the top of Page 1, and which ones will be buried several pages back.
Each year, MOZ, a national Search Analytics firm, conducts a Local Search Ranking Factors survey. They get responses from prominent SEO professionals from across the industry on what factors they've seen during the year that have an effect on Google local business ranking.
In the most recent survey, SEO professionals noted that Online Reviews made up 15% of the relevant signals that factored into getting their clients listed in the Google 3 Pack at the top of the page.
The ProRankTracker Blog lays out a very nice explanation of why Reviews matter to Google and how it affects your online visibility.
Reviews show Google there is interest in your business
Like backlinks, reviews tell Google that there is interest in your business. The more interest it gathers, the more it will signal Google it’s worthy of being featured higher in their search results.
There has even been cases where an actual drop in ranks was observed,. This has happened after Google has removed a chunk of reviews from a business, because they were fake or broke some sort of guideline.
It’s one of the core principles that made Google present higher quality search results, and is not likely to change.
Google TRUSTS reviews more than your SEO strategies
Backlink building and other traditional SEO strategies are constantly losing power. Since they are so documented and researched by the community, Google knows they might get manipulated. As a result, they are constantly improving their ranking algorithms and there is a regular race of arms between Google and SEO experts.
But reviews are different. They are still considered as a “cleaner” organic signal. Sure, reviews still get manipulated, but the penalty for that is more than just losing your rankings. You can also lose hundreds of thousands of dollars in fines, as these companies found out the hard way.
For example, a trendy new pub opens up in your town. It might take months for it to become highly ranked organically, but because it’s a local hotspot, it will start racking up reviews by enthusiastic customers. The reviews in this case will give a ranking boost to the business and show Google something interesting is there, long before any backlink strategies take effect.
Also Google will know in most cases if a person that left the review actually visited the place. They have tens if not hundreds of methods to know your phone’s location. Having a person that visited your establishment physically leave a review, will add credibility to the review and enhance its influence as a ranking signal.
Engagement signals – reviews drive clicks and visitations
Reviews are an amazing almost magical influencer when it comes to driving traffic to your business. Consumers are savvier than ever and checking reviews before buying is one of the standards of most purchasing decisions on the internet.
Leaving, or simply getting reviews (positive or negative) is engaging with your website. And that sends a positive message to the Google algo.
Clickthrough rates (CTR) and frequency of visits to your website are also a known engagement ranking signal.
Get a nice batch of honest reviews, that will fall in the research-backed sweet range of 4.0-4.7, and people will take notice and will want to check out your business. If your content is enticing and people stay on your website more than a few seconds, then even better, since a solid visit time is also a positive ranking signal.
Not to mention the power of reviews to drive actual physical traffic to your place. People might be so influenced by reviews that they will flock directly to your business, skipping all the tedious steps in between.
Reviews are external content that feature relevant keywords
Google’s spiders LOVE content. They aspire to crawl every inch of the surface web, but they have a bias for crawling popular websites first, since they offer the most promising and nutritious content meals.
The most popular website is Google itself, so the content that is found in Google Business reviews is very frequently crawled. In fact, sometimes keywords from the reviews themselves might rank you in their search results:
This is also the reason why reviews from other websites, and various directories that list your business, also matter quite a bit as far as ranking goes. It’s essentially “free” backlinks and external content pointing at your website. Which has been acquired simply by being good at what you do and encouraging satisfied customers to leave reviews.
Yelp and TripAdvisor are very well ranked organically. If you are in the hotel niche for example, you can see that many highly ranked niche-relevant search results are from those websites. If your business is mentioned with a niche-relevant keyword on Yelp or TripAdvisor, then for Google that means a credible high ranking website is linking back to your website and business.
Online reviews affect what future customers think of you and your business. More and more, they also affect whether future customers even see your business online. Start by following Darren Shaw's advice. Companies with better, more consistent review strategies will benefit immensely in this new shift Google is making.