Local SEO Success: Unpicking The Relationship Between Reviews And Rankings

By Rodney Laws | Business

Jul 26

90% of consumers read online reviews before visiting a business. And 87% won’t consider using businesses with a low star rating.

Whichever way you slice it, reviews are a massive part of the online buying journey. They help shoppers perform research, choose between different products and services, and they act like old-fashioned word of mouth recommendations in today’s digital-first world.

Although Google fiercely guards its ranking algorithms, it’s an open secret that reviews factor in a big way when it comes to how high local businesses feature. To help set you up for success, this post looks at the clues, analyzes the SERPs, and unpicks the relationship between reviews and local SEO rankings.

Google trusts the opinion of other customers

Every business is going to claim they are the best at what they do — it’s the name of the game. Understanding this, most people don’t believe that companies have their best interest at heart, and need reassurance that their buying decisions are the right ones.

Step forth, social proof. A psychological and social phenomenon, social proof is the idea that the influence and attitude of others has a profound effect on our own behavior; the belief that if other people are doing or saying something, then it must be correct.

How does this factor into reviews and local SEO?

Cast your mind back to the last time you looked for a restaurant in a new town. We’re guessing you opted for the one with the highest star rating across the largest range of reviews. You’re not the only one.

According to research, 80% of customers don’t trust businesses with a star rating of less than four. This is true whether you run a small cafe, plumbing service or hairdressers. Google wants to give users the best possible answers in a fraction of a second; associating trust with ratings and reviews helps them to achieve this.

Regular reviews supply Google with fresh content

Google’s bots reindex websites based on a number of key algorithmic factors. These include new links coming into the site, the number and volume of keywords, and whether the site has been updated with fresh content.

If you incorporate reviews into your website’s product or business pages, then they count as fresh content. Acting as a great way to increase the overall visibility of your site, as little as 800 words can represent as much as 70% of the fresh content for that page.

At the same time, a report by ReviewTrackers shows that nearly seven in every 10 customers believe that reviews older than three months are no longer relevant. So, there is even more incentive to encourage customers to leave new reviews.

Reviews encourage click-throughs

There has been a huge debate whether organic click-through rates impact SEO rankings. Some people think it’s a myth, others swear that it’s vitally important. Because Google doesn’t reveal much information about their search algorithm, it’s hard to know for sure. However, Moz believe they have found evidence that improving your organic CTR by 3% will move your business up one spot in search engine rankings.

If you accept that click-through rates are a crucial part of SEO rankings, the importance of good reviews becomes clear. The better the reviews and ratings you have displayed in SERPs, the less likely it is that potential customers will scroll past your business.

In fact, research suggests that going from a three-star rating to a five-star rating can earn a local business up to 25% more clicks. As a result, if your website is languishing behind its competitors in the SERPS, improving your reviews will increase the chances of getting more clicks and potentially climbing up the rankings.

The content and platform of reviews matter

When deciding where to get your reviews from, some platforms carry more weight than others Integrated within Google My Business, unsurprisingly, Google Reviews are probably the most important in relation to boosting search rankings.

According to Moz’s most recent Local SEO Ranking Factors study, the third biggest factor for businesses appearing in the ‘Local Pack’ is reviews. A fundamental part of local SEO, the Local Pack is the mini box (pictured below) that sits at the top of local searches in Google, displaying a map, address, and, of course, reviews.

A quick glance at the screenshot above shows the results of a local search for the term ‘flower shops’. In addition to the star ratings taking prominence, you can see little snippets taken from reviews, saying things like “love this place” “a wonderful shop”, and “I suggest everyone to shop there”. This provides evidence that one of the biggest factors Google uses to decide which shops to feature in the Local Pack is reviews.

Google reviews are important, but to make the most of any local SEO strategy, they need to be backed up by reviews from trusted third-party review platforms.

Taking another example of a local search for ‘bakeries near me’ the Local Park once again takes prominence in the SERPS.

Searching for the top result of Laurel Street Bakery specifically, you can see from the screenshot below that the bakery also generates excellent reviews via both Yelp and Facebook.

Reviews on these third-party platforms show Google that their reviews are accurate and the search results they provide are relevant. Combined, this provides a clear signal that Google and third-party reviews work together to propel businesses up the local SERPs.


How to get more reviews

Taking control of your Google My Business listing is the easiest way to provide customers with a way to review your business quickly and easily. But you can do more to boost your rankings by actively encouraging customers to leave positive reviews. Here are some of the most effective methods:

Identify customers likely to leave reviews

Targeting the most likely customers to leave a glowing review is not as tricky as it might sound. Repeat customers and those reordering the same product over and over are all indicators of a loyal and happy customer who would be inclined to leave a positive review. Great customer experiences are priceless and should be leveraged to boost your brand reputation and validate your product or service where possible.

Incentivize reviews (indirectly)

New customers who have had a positive experience with a business are more likely to leave a review. Incentives such as a welcome discount, money off their next purchase or gift cards make it more likely that you will leave a positive first impression. Just be wary of directly incentivizing reviews as it’s a practice that could come back to bite you.

Use email

Asking at the right stage of the buying journey will help you maximize the volume and the quality of the reviews you receive. Research by Power Reviews reveals that up to 80% of reviews come from follow-up emails encouraging shoppers to provide feedback. If first-time customers opt-in to email, then take the chance to send a follow-up message using the right methods and templates.

Direct your customers to review pages

Nearly seven out of 10 customers are happy to leave a review according to research by BrightLocal. For this reason, it’s a great idea to optimize all your web pages — blog posts, landing pages, homepage — with buttons and badges that clearly and quickly redirect users to your Facebook, Yelp, Yotpo, and Google Review pages.

Based on the growing evidence, it’s hard to refute that there is a link between good reviews and a business’s search engine ranking. People have learned to trust the recommendations of Google, and reviews are a great way for the company to use social proof and the opinion of its users to strengthen those recommendations.

For this reason, reviews are likely to continue to form a significant part of the algorithms that determine local search engine rankings for the foreseeable future. Make sure you’re ahead of the game by doing everything in your power to get as many customer reviews as possible.