If you’ve been wondering what the big deal is about online reviews, you’ve come to the right place. Here you'll learn how reviews affect your search rankings, when you should remove your reviews (spoiler alert: not very often) and how to earn more positive reviews to keep your business booming.
Can Reviews Affect Your SEO Rankings?
You already know that local SEO is the name of the game. It’s essential to send Google signals – through keyword use and other SEO techniques – that your business is local. You also want them to know who it serves and where it is.
What you might not know is this:
Your online reviews play a direct role in your business making the cut to appear in the Google local three-pack.
The Google 3-pack is a collection of businesses that appear at the top of Google’s SERP when someone searches a keyword. It turns out that one of the keys to landing a coveted spot in the three-pack is getting good reviews. Here’s what you need to know.
The Proof That Reviews Matter
How can we tell that reviews make a difference in SEO rankings? Google’s algorithm is proprietary and the known ranking factors (keywords, links, and Google Rankbrain, to name a few) don’t include reviews.
Local SEO experts have been saying this for years, but it’s actually fairly easy to see that online reviews are important. Google any local business category and you will get a list of results with a three-pack at the top. When you look at the businesses that made it into the three-pack, you’ll most likely see the following:
- Star ratings pulled directly from online reviews of the business
- Keywords in those reviews
For example, if you searched for the keyword “Spokane hair salon,” you would see reviews that related to that keyword. That’s all the proof we need to know that reviews make a difference in determining which businesses appear at the top of the SERP.
The Local SEO Guide found that local reviews were the second most influential factor in determining search rank in their 2017 Local SEO Ranking Factors study. The influence in this study appeared to be limited to reviews that specifically included the keyword searched. Customers, however, are likely to use the most commonly searched terms naturally.
In addition, LSI keywords that are related to the search term may also play a role. Try Googling your top keyword and looking at what’s highlighted in the reviews in the three-pack. You may notice that reviews that use semantically-related words show up even if they don’t use the precise term you searched.
The Reasons Google Likes Reviews for SEO Rankings
There are some concrete reasons that Google thinks reviews matter. They’re directly related to the ways that Google’s algorithm has evolved. In the early days of the internet, it was possible to get a page to rank highly on any search engine by stuffing it with keywords.
That changed because it omitted any concern for the experience of a user who clicked through to a site. After all, if you could click on a site because it ranked for a keyword only to find that it was useless to your needs, you wouldn’t revisit it. You might even resent the search engine that directed you to it in the first place.
With that in mind, here are:
The Top Three Reasons Google Likes Reviews for SEO Rankings
- It trusts outside sources more than it trusts you (at least when it comes to the relevance of your site.) This first reason is related to the ongoing importance that Google places on authority backlinks. It stands to reason that it would accept mentions and references from other sources as proof that your site is relevant to certain keywords and topics.
- Google uses written content as a way of determining authenticity. When customers write reviews, they describe your business. They may even include information that’s not on your website. Even if you don’t list reviews on your site, these things can help flesh out the information on your site and give Google more context for its interpretation of your site.
- Click-through rates also influence Google’s ranking algorithm. That might seem obvious, but what you need to know is that a business with lots of good reviews is, inevitably, going to get more clicks and traffic than a business with a few mediocre reviews. It’s in your best interest to encourage online reviews if you want to boost your Google rank.
These three things explain why reviews matter to Google. The key takeaways here is that Google takes outside resources into account to help it determine the authenticity and usefulness of your website. Users “vote” for your site by writing reviews and describing your site. Just as web users trust peer reviews to help them make buying decisions, Google trusts them to help it make recommendations of which sites are most likely to be useful for the keyword searched.
How to Make the Most of Your Reviews
Here are some quick tips to help you make the most of your online reviews:
- Claim your listings on all relevant review sites. This includes Yelp and Google My Business, as well as local review sites. You want to make sure that you use keywords in your listing, link to your site, and include relevant information that will help people find you.
- Link to your review pages directly from your website so customers can leave reviews if they want to.
- Put a reminder about online reviews on your receipts or comment cards. Remember that dissatisfied customers are often motivated to leave online reviews, but happy customers will do so if you make it easy for them.
- Send a note to your email list with a link to your review sites and ask them to leave a review.
- Reply promptly to negative reviews to try to resolve them and get the reviewer to update their review.
These things will help you dial up the impact of your reviews and help you get into the coveted local three-pack for your most important keywords.
You know that, and now you can do something about it. Organic traffic is increasingly difficult to come by but encouraging and highlighting your reviews can help you get the biggest possible bang for your marketing bucks.
When Should You Remove Online Reviews?
Not too long ago, business reviews were written by subject-matter experts and printed in well-known publications. In today’s world, that’s simply no longer the case. Nowadays your customers can easily voice their opinion and experience they had with your business online for the world to see.
But that’s actually a good thing – and there are plenty of good reasons why your business should be listed on review sites. The first is that you get to add a link to your website which will boost your traffic - and secondly, people can also get some basic information about your business such as the name of your hours of operation, where it’s located, your phone number and so on.
But most importantly it’s the customer reviews on these review sites (they call them review sites for a reason!), that makes them so important, but it also can be a double-edged sword.
Positive reviews can do wonders for your business, as review websites are considered more credible than any form of advertising. But negative reviews can have disastrous consequences to your bottom line. The complaint can be serious enough to significantly derail your business. Like a report about seeing bed bugs in a hotel room or a cockroach in an entrée at a restaurant. What’s really frustrating is when the report is not true and no merit at all.
But the question is, when should you remove reviews – reviews that make your business look bad?
Advantages of Removing Negative Reviews
Purging negative reviews can be a good thing. First of all, it limits the number of people who’ll ever read them – keeping the damage to a minimum. After all, it’s not unusual for a potential customer to reconsider their choice after reading just one negative review over a dozen positive ones.
Another benefit to removing negative reviews means that your average rating will go up. Studies show that a high customer rating means a potential increase of 55% in sales. According to Yelp, a restaurant with a 4-star rating is 63% more likely to be full at any given time than a restaurant with just a 3-star average rating. And a one-star increase in the average rating can bump up your revenue by 5 to 9 percent.
So it’s blatantly obvious why anyone who runs a business would want to remove negative reviews.
Disadvantages of Removing Negative Reviews
But these reasons alone for removing negative reviews doesn’t mean you should necessarily do so. In fact, websites like Yelp, Facebook, and Google don’t make it easy for you to remove negative reviews for one very simple reason— it damages the credibility of the site and the business
Removing reviews is to remove trust
People trust review websites because they believe that by and large the reviews are honest and unbiased. To most people it’s an obvious red flag if they only find positive reviews. There’s got to be some contrast. You can’t please everyone and consumers know that. They will become suspicious if all you have is raving reviews about your business.
In this way, negative reviews are helpful because almost 7 out of 10 consumers are more likely to trust the reviews when they see that there is both positive and negative reviews in the mix. In fact, it’s been found that shoppers who read negative reviews are actually 67% more likely to convert than the average consumer.
What to Do When Slapped With Negative Reviews
First of all you need to understand that unless the review is inaccurate, a fake review, or violates the policy of the review website in question – you don’t stand a very good chance of actually getting the review removed.
To start with, you need to keep an eye out for online reviews - whether they are positive or negative. But if you can’t spend the whole day manually monitoring these website, it’s a good idea to consider using an online tool like reviewpush.com to help you monitor the sites automatically.
If you want a free alternative, setting up a Google Alert will pretty much do the same thing.
Once you have been alerted to a new review, it’s best if you can respond to it right away, good or bad. When you respond to positive reviews, it shows that you’re a gracious business owner who acknowledges the importance of your customers.
But when you are responding to negative reviews or complaints, you have several options. For example, if a customer felt your business fell short in some way then you should apologize and promise to do better.
But you can turn a negative into a positive while by taking responsibility but also emphasizing how you’re going to do better next time to balance things out.
Or you can even engage with the customer and ask ideas from them. Apologize for any inconvenience caused and then ask if they have suggestions on how you can do things better.
Whatever you do:
Just be polite.
The good thing about responding to negative online reviews is that 33% of the reviews are amended and become a positive review instead when they get a response from business owners. So it’s a win-win solution.
Negative reviews with inaccuracies or negative comments of your business that are flat out lies posted maliciously–often by competitors, or disgruntled ex-employees are the reviews that you’ll have the best chances of getting removed – but there must be a legitimate reason.
How to Remove Online Reviews
Each review site has its own rules and guidelines, but for most reputable sites you can’t just remove a review simply because it says negative things about your shop. However, you can take a peek at the guidelines governing such reviews, and you can flag a negative review if you think it has violated a rule or guideline.
- For Google local reviews, check out the Google local review content policies and see if the review violated any one of its guidelines. If it has, you can flag the review and bring it to Google’s attention. Examples include offensive content, advertising for your competitors, or conflict of interest such as a review which was written by a competitor.
- The Facebook Community Standards are similar to Google’s. You can just follow the Facebook instructions to report a review and request for its removal.
- For Yelp, check out their guidelines and if you see a violation you can follow the instructions on reporting an inappropriate review.
For other review sites:
Contact the website’s webmaster, requesting them to remove the content, or at least indicate to Google that it shouldn’t crawl or index the page. They will probably require a compelling reason to remove reviews, so back up your request with as much proof as possible.
Whether you plan to keep or dispute a negative review, your main priority should be to boost the trust of your customers. Remember, positive reviews can make them trust you, but the presence of negative reviews doesn’t always mean that they will trust you less.
It may be better to simply respond to negative reviews in a proactive way than try to remove them. When you show to your customers that you value them by making every effort to give them a positive experience, then even bad reviews can be used to your advantage.
6 Smart Ways to Generate More Positive Reviews
We have 6 tips for you to generate more positive reviews in a smart way. Who doesn’t love receiving positive reviews from a satisfied customer? Every business owner knows the value of positive reviews – and they’ve never been more important than they are right now.
Did you know that more than 80% of all consumers say that they trust a product review from a stranger as much as they would a personal recommendation from a friend. Not only that, people trust user reviews more than the official descriptions of products.
If you’re thinking of customer reviews as something that you can’t control, think again. Business owners can do a lot to encourage reviews – and of course, you can increase the chance that you'll have mostly positive reviews by providing excellent quality and service.
Still, those things aren’t enough. You can’t afford to sit back and hope that customers leave reviews of your business.
Fortunately, you don’t have to take a backseat to your customer’s whims. Here are six smart ways you can get more positive online reviews.
#1: Email Customers After a Purchase
Do you send customers an email after they make a purchase?
I’m not talking about the confirmation email where you send them an order number if they order online. I mean an email where you specifically ask them how they like your product and request that they write a review.
This is a practice that’s become increasingly common – and for a good reason. Some people automatically leave reviews for everything. They’re the well-known Yelpers who have thousands of reviews.
Many people need a reminder. They’re not going to leave a review of their own accord – but they just might if you ask them nicely. This is the review version of the call to action on your website. It’s a specific request to take a specific action.
Try sending your review request email a week to ten days after the purchase. That way, the customer will have had a chance to use your product and may be ready to offer an opinion.
#2: Empower Your Employees to Ask for Reviews
Sometimes, making the right request at the right time is all it takes to get the reviews you want. That’s why it makes sense to have your employees ask for reviews.
Some Uber drivers do this. Just before they arrive at their passenger’s destination, they ask about the review. The simple request puts the idea of leaving a review in the customer’s mind and greatly increases the chances that they’ll comply and leave a review.
Why ask at the point of service? When a customer has just made a purchase or used your service, the experience is fresh. A cashier who provides a friendly checkout and some banter is ideally placed to ask for a review because they have an opportunity to build rapport with the customer.
If you decide to use this method of getting reviews, consider printing cards asking for reviews and putting links to your review pages on your website. You don’t want customers to be confused about what to do – so eliminate the guesswork and you’ll reap the rewards.
#3: Use a Reviews Provider
The benefit of using a reviews provider like JVI Mobile is that they can get you a bunch of reviews at once. They’re real reviews from your real customers and they can give your page instant credibility.
These providers are a good option for start-up businesses because they can make your website appear to be well-established and popular. As you go, you can supplement the online reviews you get through a service with new online reviews from your customers.
#4: Try to Get a Google Local Guide to Review Your Company
Google Local Guide is a program owned by Google that designates certain reviewers as local experts. The process of getting a local guide can be a complex one, but here are some tips to help you do it:
Make sure your Google My Business listing is up-to-date and active
Join Google Local Guides on your own – you can write reviews of local businesses and raise your visibility provided you don’t use the platform to promote or favor your business
Attend local events with other guides
Invite other guides to come to your business
This isn’t a quick fix, but the nice thing about Google Local Guides is that when a local guide reviews your business, their designation shows up in the review and that gives it more weight than it would have otherwise. Another benefit is that Google requires guides to use their real names, so there’s less of the anonymous ranting that shows up on Yelp.
#5: Automate the Asking Process
If there’s a way for you to automate the process of asking for online reviews, why wouldn’t you do it?
Automation means that there’s no worry that a stressed-out employee will forget to ask. It turns the process into part of your customer service – a hands-off way of encouraging customer feedback and garnering the kinds of online reviews you want.
Here are a few suggestions to help you automate your system:
Set up an autoresponder to send an email requesting a review. Instead of manually sending those emails, link the date of a customer’s purchase to their email and have it go out on schedule. If you link customer purchases to your email marketing provider, you can rest easy knowing that every customer will get a request for a review.
Print up review request cards and put them in the customer’s bag at checkout. This method eliminates the need for your cashier to ask for a review, and makes it simple to do even at times when you’re busy and have a line at the register.
Put review links on your product pages. That way, when a customer makes a purchase they can easily read reviews of it – and it may help to remind them to leave a review after their purchase.
With JVI Mobile's reputation management platform, you can have your review process automated using our tools. Automating your review request system makes good business sense because it eliminates the guesswork.
#6: Set Up a Review System in Your Company
Even if your business is small, you shouldn’t fly by the seat of your pants when you’re requesting reviews. The method you use to ask for online reviews should be part of your company’s standard operating procedures.
Your review system should:
Specify whose job it is to ask for reviews
Specify the language to be used when requesting a review
Specify methods to be used (email, conversation, links and printed cards, to name a few)
Specify the timeframe for requesting reviews
Lay out procedures for responding to both positive and negative reviews
If you codify your system for requesting and managing reviews, you can be sure that there isn’t any confusion and that customers always get the request you want them to get.
Don’t Sweat the Negative Reviews…
We’ve focused here on garnering positive reviews for your business, but don’t get too stressed about negative reviews. If you handle them properly, they can help your business too!
Respond quickly and graciously and offer solutions. Don’t get defensive. Many businesses use negative feedback to demonstrate that they care about their customers.
If you’re getting so many reviews that you’re having trouble keeping up, you may want to consider using an online review management system to help you – and having too many reviews is the problem you want to have! That’s how businesses grow.
See how your business stacks up! Get your FREE Review Scan here to generate an instant reputation report and check out how your business appears on local review sites.