Google reviews, as well as reviews on other reputable review sites like Trustpilot, directly affect your SEO because they contribute to one of the main elements of E-E-A-T – Trust.
Google’s algorithm doesn’t know which local business is the best and has no way to determine it. The same goes for AI tools like ChatGPT, which can give you answers to informational queries that have a commonly accepted answer, but they have a hard time with local transactional queries like “Who is the best plumber in Toronto?”.
But what an algorithm can do, is show you a list of local businesses that it thinks are good and worth mentioning. So how can reviews help you improve search rankings and include your business in this list?
Let’s find out in this article!
What Are the Main Factors For Local Ranking?
Google does not disclose the exact number of local ranking factors, but years of research and testing by different SEO experts show that there are more than 149 of them.
Before you get overwhelmed and decide to give up on learning SEO, I just want to mention that you don’t need to know all of them by heart. You just need to understand the main idea and know the top 5 for both Local Pack and Local Organic Results.
“Local Pack” is a list of search results that shows Google My Business profiles with reviews, titles, basic contact info and location. Google has been pushing it on top of all organic results for quite some time now, and the fact that it’s free to create this profile makes it a perfect opportunity for everyone who wants to rank locally.
Having a well-optimized GMB profile is even better than Ads because the average CTR of the first 3 results in a local pack is 8 times higher than the first 3 results of ads (16% vs 2%), and you also don’t have to pay for organic clicks!
The 5 main factors for ranking high in the local pack are:
- Google My Business Profile Factors – Proximity, categories, keywords in a business name, etc. (32%)
- On-Page Factors -Presence of NAP, keywords in the title tag, domain authority, etc. (19%)
- Review Factors – First & third party reviews, review quantity, review velocity, etc. (16%)
- Link Factors – Inbound anchor text, linking domain authority, linking domain quantity, etc. (11%)
- Behavioural Factors -Click-through rate, mobile clicks to call, dwell time, etc. (8%)
Local Organic Results
“Local Organic Results” is everything that shows below the local pack in search results. The main ranking factors here are in a different order:
- On-Page Factors – Presence of NAP, keywords in the title tag, domain authority, etc. (36%)
- Link Factors – Inbound anchor text, linking domain authority, linking domain quantity, etc. (26%)
- Behavioural Factors – Click-through rate, mobile clicks to call, dwell time, etc. (9%)
- Google My Business Profile Factors – Proximity, categories, keywords in a business name, etc. (9%)
- Citation factors – Location data, NAP consistency, citation volume, etc. (7%)
- Review Factors – First & third party reviews, review quantity, review velocity, etc. (6%)
Even though review signals are at the bottom of this list, it is still not something to ignore because they tell Google how established your business is and how many people were satisfied with your service, which is very important because there is no other way for Google to understand the quality of the services you provide.
How Much Influence Can Google Reviews Have on Your SEO?
So now that you know that online reviews are important, how do you make the most of them?
The following factors will mostly determine the effect of local Google reviews on SEO:
#1 Review Quantity
The more online customer reviews you have, the better. Having many reviews shows search engines that you’re an established business and shows customers that they can trust this rating, which helps to rank your GMB profile higher.
It also helps protect your rating from future negative reviews since one 1-star review may need up to twenty 5-star reviews to cover it.
#2 Local Google Reviews with Text
When customers leave a review on your Google business listing, they can either give a star rating and description of their experience or just give a star rating. While it’s easier for a customer to skip the description, this is not something Google and your potential customers want to see when they’re looking for reviews of your service.
This is why you should encourage your customers to write detailed reviews of their experience with you. Keep in mind that you should never openly incentivize customers to leave positive reviews for your business by providing material rewards. This is against Google’s Guidelines and can get your profile suspended.
#3 Review Frequency
Just like with any SEO efforts, Google wants to see consistent growth over a period of time. It shows Google that you’re taking it seriously and likely a legitimate business to recommend its users to.
Posting 10 business reviews in 1 week and then forgetting about it completely for the next year is not the way to do it.
Your potential customers also want to see reviews that were posted on Google Maps no more than a week ago. At the very least, it shows them that your business is still open and operates on the same level of quality.
#4 Keywords in Reviews
Google always highlights relevant keywords in reviews when it shows a Local Pack to users.
Even if you don’t have this keyword in the name of your business and don’t have this product or service in your Google Business profile, it still might show up if you have that keyword in reviews.
Keywords are crucial for ranking in a local pack. Although you can’t tell a person to mention your keywords in their review, the more reviews you get, the higher the chance people will start mentioning what you want them to.
To understand how this works, imagine if someone were to search for “sushi and sashimi.” In the local pack portion of Google’s search rankings, where local businesses show up under a map of the area, Google looks for the keywords “sushi” and “sashimi” in both the text of local restaurants’ websites as well as the text of the local reviews they’ve received under their Google My Business profile.
For example, imagine if restaurant A has 3 reviews which say:
“Great quality sushi and sashimi. One of the best in Toronto!” – 5-star
“Sashimi was fresh, koko mountain roll highly recommended! Service was exceptional as well!” – 5-star
“We were interested to try out Koko after seeing some good reviews. Sashimi was fresh and enjoyable. We found the ratio of crab in the black dragon roll on the heavy side…” – 4-star
While restaurant B has these 2 reviews:
“Sashimi not fresh. Feels sick after eating” – 2-star
“Sashimi was very fresh and tender. Liked their sushi as well. Will come again” – 5-star
Even though restaurant B has far more reviews than A and is closer to me, restaurant B has a lower overall rating (4.3 vs 4.5) and keywords “sushi” and “sashimi” are mentioned fewer times and one of the reviews with this keyword has a 2-star rating, so it shows up lower than A.
#5 Review Sentiment
This one is a no-brainer. Google picks up the tone of your reviews, and if your customers are raving about your service and employees, using words like “best”, “great”, and “very happy”, Google will have to believe that you’re doing a pretty good job.
If Google believes you’re doing a good job based on the word of your past customers, they’ll reward you with higher rankings in the local pack.
#6 Authority of the Reviewer
Not all reviews are made the same. Reviews from aged accounts that have left many reviews in one area, also known as “Local Guides,” have far more weight than reviews from new accounts.
And, before you ask, yes, it goes both ways. If a local guide leaves a negative review, you’ll need 2 times more positive reviews to cover it.
Negative Factors for Reviews and SEO
Of course, nothing good ever comes easy. Just as much as good reviews can help your SEO, bad reviews can really hurt it.
Here are the 4 main ways how they can negatively affect your SEO:
- Negative Sentiment – keywords that show negative experience with your business.
- Low Ratings – pretty self-explanatory.
- Reports of Review Gating – when businesses ask for reviews in advance or refuse to perform the service until customers leave a review.
- Too Many Reviews At Once – this looks unnatural and doesn’t send a trust signal.
Does Responding to Reviews Help Your SEO?
Yes, responding to reviews helps with SEO in many ways.
First of all, taking your time to thank a person who wrote a review is, at the very least, a good tone. This is also an opportunity to offer a resolution to people who left a bad review and highlight fake reviews.
According to MOZ, 67% of people read online reviews before they decide to engage with a local business. Many of those people are likely to use a service that has bad reviews if they see a response from an owner that respectfully clarifies the situation and offers an apology and resolution.
Another benefit is that Google ranks higher GMB profiles that have more updates on them every month. Responding to reviews, as well as posting new pictures, is a great way to keep that activity level high.
Last but not least, you can include keywords in your response, which will help your rankings in the Local pack, as I’ve mentioned before. Please keep in mind that you shouldn’t stuff your answers with them. Include keywords only when it’s appropriate.
Are Reviews Going Away Any Time Soon?
Since there is really no other way for Google’s algorithm to understand the quality of your services, reviews are likely to stay with us for quite some time.
The only thing that will change for sure, and there is a constant strive to it already, is the authenticity of reviews. Going forward, Google will teach its algorithm to better identify and delete fake reviews.
So the best thing you can start doing today is to integrate a system of automatic collection of real customer reviews. Most CRMs already have such a tool, but if yours doesn’t, or you use Google Spreadsheets, talk to your marketing team.
Google reviews can help with your search engine optimization efforts and should be a part of any successful local strategy. To get the most from them, create a system inside your business to consistently collect reviews with text, images and, if possible, the right keywords for your business. Also, don’t forget to respond to reviews you receive.
While Google reviews are the most important ones for seo rankings, reviews on other review sites and Facebook reviews can also be beneficial and included in your digital marketing strategy plan.
If you’re trying to do SEO yourself and find it extremely confusing, contact us for help! We will provide you with a free SEO audit and assessment of your current strategy, as well as give you tips on how to improve it so you can grow your organic traffic, appear higher in search results and get free leads.
Reviews help to improve SEO and show Google that the business has been around for some time and can perform a quality service for its customers.
Google reviews help ranking both in the local pack and in local organic results. It is an important factor that shouldn’t be neglected during SEO strategy planning.
Google reviews are the third main factor for ranking in local pack and the sixth for ranking in local organic results.
Bad Google reviews have a negative effect on SEO because they show Google that a business is not doing a good job and, as a result, should be shown less often to people looking for this service in the area.