I suggested almost exactly five years ago that reviews would be the links of the future.  By that, I mean that their weight in the Google algorithm would increase to the point that they became the most important individual factor. Much like links have many individual factors beyond just total count, such as frequency, site strength, link text, etc. that factor into the ranking power you get from one link, reviews also have many other aspects to them that have a weight on your local search presence, other than just your average score.  I wanted to point out a few today to help underline the fact that you need to bake reviews into your business process and make sure you have a way to ask for and manage reviews online for your business.

So below I will take a quick look at some of the key ways reviews are shown to matter to your business, starting with the most obvious and then moving to some less obvious factors.

Review Score

Online Review ManagementThis is probably the most obvious.  We all know we would lean toward a business with a 4.8 review score over one with a 2.5 score.  Many businesses are afraid of getting that bad review, but if you are doing a good job, you should just keep asking.  It will show itself.  There is no way to avoid a negative review on occasion, but that just helps show that you are a real business, and how you handle it can actually turn a negative into a positive. More on that below.  Just avoid paying for fake reviews.  Google always finds a way to catch the cheaters, and though it may be frustrating seeing competitors with hundreds of fake 5-star reviews, it will eventually catch up to them. Though it hasn’t happened often enough yet, when Google finds cheaters, they often punish them harshly. Other benefits of high reviews are that Google tends to only show businesses with 4+ scores for “best” search results, which are quite common, such as “best plumber near me”, or “best italian restaurant nyc”, etc.

Review Count

As with anything search algorithm related, everything is relative to the competition.  A divorce or bankruptcy lawyer will have more trouble getting reviews than a local restaurant, but the count still matters. If your local competitors all have over 20 reviews and you have 2, you have some work to do, and it is typically going to hold you down in the rankings. By always asking for reviews, your count should go up consistently and organically.

Review Frequency

Both Google and its users like to see regular reviews coming in. Having 20 reviews all come in a month two years ago and nothing since looks a little fishy to the algorithm and to the user. Users like to see recent reviews to help them have confidence that you are still doing a good job and dealing with their specific issue. Frequency of reviews has also shown to be a ranking factor.

Responding to Reviews

Responding to ReviewsGoogle has already acknowledged that responding to reviews helps with local SEO. It is important to respond professionally. Positive responses are easy, but the negatives are where people tend to make mistakes.  From what I have seen, the reviewer can’t respond to your review response directly on the review page, so remember you have the last word publicly, but also remember that many others are going to see it.  Users understand you are going to get that crazy customer every once in a while, and I have even blogged about how a 4.8 score can be better to a user than a 5.  Nothing screams out fake reviews more than a business with over 100 reviews that are all 5-star. Be professional and apologize for the fact that they had a bad experience and suggest they call the office to discuss. That is typically the best way to deal with it. Most won’t call. If you know you did wrong, apologize and offer to right the wrong. Sometimes the way you respond to a negative review is what seals the deal for a future customer that saw how professionally you handled that situation.  Response to negatives is a great opportunity to show your professionalism and trustworthiness as a business owner to everyone that ever searches for you again.

Reviews Trigger Search Results

Outdoor Seating Local SearchGoogle now uses the words people use in their reviews as potential triggers for their search results. When users speak about very detailed features that aren’t necessarily a part of your business category, Google uses that to gain information about your business to better serve its users in the future. For example, the map result hear is for a local search for restaurants with outdoor seating. That is not a Google business category, but you can see Google found restaurants with reviews that mentioned the concept and presented those over others in the area. This gave Google confidence that the restaurants provided outdoor seating. You can’t necessarily control what people say in their reviews, but you can ask for detailed reviews that specifically tell what they liked about your business. These specific reviews can sometimes be what gets you in a very specific search, just because it was mentioned in a review.

You can see that there are lots of ways reviews can enhance your online reputation other than just review score.  Keep asking for reviews and if you need help with local SEO or review management, please give us a call.