Word of mouth is very important to a small business, especially a business that relies on the local market for sales. The most powerful signal for the local customer of your business’s ability to fulfill their needs and solve the problems of its customers are online customer reviews. Highly influential, and trusted more than personal referrals from friends and family, online reviews are consulted by nearly 90% of consumers either regularly or occasionally and 72% of those consumers stated that positive reviews make them trust a business more according to BrightLocal’s 2014 Local Consumer Review Survey.
What we are now seeing is that online customer reviews are also being seen by search engines as a powerful signal of whether or not your webpages are a good match for local search results. It is the job of your search engine to give you the best information, which is how they get you to continue to use their search engine and how they make money selling ad space. It makes sense that highly reviewed and high rated businesses would appear high in local search results as the best choices to fulfill your local buying needs. Whether it is a restaurant, mechanic, or dentist, search engines like Google have recognized that the majority of buyers are looking at reviews. And if it is important to the consumer than it is important to the search engine to give their users what they want.
How Search Engines Look at Your Customer Reviews
Local search marketing authority, MOZ, dug deep into the search engine data and found that review signals rank as high as fifth on local search engine ranking factors. So out of overall factors for local search rankings, your business’s online customer reviews were highly regarded, ranking just after My Business, NAP/Citation, On-Page Signals, and Link Signals in importance – all online factors that are largely in your control.
Review signals are the data, content and other aspects of the online customer reviews that search engines are dissecting and analyzing to determine how an overall value to your reviews. You can’t rate your own business and write customers’ reviews but with the importance of online customer reviews growing you should be putting emphasis on doing what you can to influence how often you get reviewed and how highly you are rated.
In the past two years Google has put a much larger ranking power on customer reviews, putting them front and center in the carousel and showing snippets of reviews on search engine results pages. Getting those golden star reviews and positive online reputation to pop out in search engine results helps click-through rates and Google is all in favor of more clicks and more user engagement.
When you know what is influencing your business’s review signal you’ll know what you need to do to put your online customer reviews to work for you as part of your search engine marketing and SEO strategies.
What is influencing your review signal?
Review Quantity and Velocity
The more positive customer reviews your business has online, the more influence you have over consumer buying decisions and search engine rankings. How quickly you’re able to get those reviews (velocity) also shows how highly trust-worthy your business is and is a good indication of how naturally those reviews were collected. Both consumers and customers see your ability to impress the customer enough to post a positive reviews as a good indication of the quality of your business, and its service or product.
Third Party Traditional Reviews – Authority, Diversity & Quantity
Google reviews are great, but they are not the be-all and end-all of the review signal. It is also important to have reviews on other trusted third-party sites. Authority sites hold more influence and your business’s ability to gather high marks on a variety of authority sites really helps. Authority matters more than diversity, which means that Yelp reviews are going to be weighed heavily while reviews from BestSacramentoDentist.com will likely not matter at all in local SEO review signal, but will help with keyword search for “best Sacramento dentist”.
Getting your customer reviews into the microdata and showing up as rich snippets on search engine results pages really makes your business pop out on the page. And when there is so much competition for clicks on local search results a golden five-star ratings immediately draws the eye, gets attention and starts the process of building trust with the consumer. Businesses who use Reputation Loop to automate the customer review process and build their five-star reputation utilize a widget that creates these gold eye-popping gold star ratings in search engine results.
Content and Keywords
You don’t write your customer reviews (and if you do stop before you get in trouble) so you have very little control over the content and have to cross your fingers that keywords that matter to you and search engines can find their way in there. But obviously a two-word five-star “Love them!” review isn’t going to be as effective as a five-star “Love everything about my dentist. He’s the best in Sacramento. Wouldn’t get my kids’ braces done anywhere else.” because dentist, Sacramento, and braces are words that search engine users are searching for.
Using Customer Reviews in your SEO
There are a few other factors that make up your review signal but we are going to focus on the ones you can do something about. So here is what you can do to get your online customers review working over-time for you by making them part of your SEO strategy:
1. Have a Customer Review Plan and Process
As important as online customer reviews and high local search rankings are to your business growth and success you can’t leave this to chance. Your process should include how you will solicit reviews, how you will collect reviews, how you will handle negative reviews, as well as how and where you will post reviews.
This isn’t an overly complicated process but taking into consideration that you will want to get as many positive reviews as possible it can be time consuming. A smart option is to enlist the low-cost but highly effective online reputation services of a company like Reputation Loop whose software automates the entire process of generating customer feedback and turning positive feedback into online ratings and reviews. Customers giving positive feedback are asked to click through to leave that review on your selected review sites such as Google and Yelp. But if the feedback is negative the information is directed back to the business and away from review sites so business owners have a chance to address negative experiences before they end up online. A ton of other features all come together to make Reputation Loop an easy choice for nearly hands-free review management to build customer review quantity and velocity while building a five-star online reputation.
2. Diversify Your Review Sites
Find out where your customers are and be there. That applies to so many aspects of marketing and selling your business and online is no exception. Google is important and Yelp is important but your industry has its authority review sites. Find out what they are, establish your business profile and page, and make sure that some of your reviews are being funneled there.
3. Get Your Gold Stars on Search Engine Result Pages
Stand out and be seen by getting the average of your star reviews front and center with your business name on search engine results pages. Reputation Loop users can do this easily, but if you’re more of a DIY business owner and webmaster you can visit the Google Developers Structured Data page on Enabling Rich Snippets for Reviews and Ratings to get examples, definitions, tips and code to get your gold stars seen.
Customer reviews have a direct impact on local search results, and knowing what you can do to get more and better customer reviews on the right place online means you have an advantage over your competitors. When you can gather and post more five-star reviews and have those ratings pop out on search engine results pages you become the clear winner in the battle for the consumers’ dollars.