How important are reviews for small business and local SEO? Pretty important it would seem and there are plenty of folks out there in Googleland that will tell you this. But, what is somewhat harder to find out is why they are important? What is it about reviews that are important for local search rankings and? The remainder of this post will take a look at what it is that makes reviews important for Local SEO so you can use that knowledge to improve your own local rankings.
Reviews for Local SEO
In the Local Search Ranking factors study by David Mimh we have five general areas ranked from 5 (highly important) to 1 (less important) for effective local SEO:
- 4.46 – Place Page Criteria
- 4.03 – Off-Place Page/Off-Site Criteria
- 3.72 – Website Criteria
- 2.33 – Review Criteria
- 1.18 – NC Social/Mobile Criteria
So, reviews are towards the bottom of the pile when it comes to total importance and are certainly not as important as having a well put together place page in Google+ Local. They are not as important as having solid off-site metrics (think citations and local links). Reviews are also not as important as having a website that has a local and topical authority and is well put together either. But, that makes sense and is not all that surprising right? What we can tell is that reviews are still a huge and important part of the overall picture so unless you have no competition (unlikely) then reviews should be an important part of your local SEO strategy.
Optimising your reviews
Let’s take a look at what we can, should and should not do to optimise our reviews where possible for increased local visibility and more importantly increased engagement with our business through a set of consistent (and one would hope positive) reviews.
1. Total Number of Reviews
There is an interesting study done by Bizible that indicated that having five or more reviews on your Google+ Local places page was well correlated with a 1.85 improvement in rank. That’s a hike of two places for the rest of us just by getting five reviews so surely, that is an important first step?
So, having 10 reviews gives an improvement of 4 places right? No, unfortunately not and you the same Bizible study shows us that we will need to hit 100 reviews before we see this kind of improvement again.
2. Score of Reviews
The Bizible study also shows us that review score can be a negative if the review is a single star but score plays a much smaller part from 2 to 5 so don’t try to game those reviews and please, please, please don’t add your own or pay someone to add fake reviews. The David Mihm study shows some improvement for those with high 4 to 5 results but earn this and don’t fake it as those rewards likely come with extra scrutiny and any manipulation leaves a footprint and you will get caught and pay the hidden-at-the-bottom-of-the-results price.
3. Review Content
The content of those reviews matter and we don’t want one line or one-word reviews but rather we want descriptive reviews of a few paragraphs or more. The Local Ranking Factors study by David Mihm also lists having the product or service name (keyword) and the location at which you operate in the body of the review as a positive factor.
4. Velocity of Reviews
How quickly, and importantly how naturally you acquire reviews is important and if you hit that magical five reviews for your 2 point hike and then call it a day, sooner or later, those benefits are going to start slipping away. We want to acquire reviews at a rate that is natural for your business so if that is several a day or one a month – just keep it consistent and keep asking those happy customers for those reviews.
5. Location of Reviews
Of all the review factors in the David Mihm study quantity of native Google places / Google+ Local reviews is the most important factor but in third place is quantity of third party reviews so be sure to include driving reviews to your other important citation sources. In the UK that tends to be Yell, Yelp, Qype and various others but I always like to see which citation sources are visible in your industry and for your keywords and use that as the gold standard on which sites to drive reviews at (that is to get reviews on the sites that people are likely to find).
1. Get at least 5 reviews, shoot for ten for a score and slowly aim to get 100+ over the course of a year or so
2. Try not to suck too badly and have an average review score of over 1 out of 5 stars
3. Guide your reviewers and ask them to review your product and service at this location. We don’t want to influence the output but rather give the reviewer an idea of the kind of review that is helpful to us and where we have gone beyond the call of duty our experience is that many people are happy to leave reviews so long as you make it easy for them.
4. Be consistent in asking for reviews and as your business grows, let your review process grow with it.
5. For every five reviews you get on Google+ Local try to get one on one of your other citation sources and concentrate on any that are highly visible for your keywords.
Further thoughts on reviews
The David Mihm Local Ranking Factors has some great info and if you dive into the comments we have comments from the various big noises in the Local SEO world and some of the most interesting tid-bits here are:
- Positive sentiment in reviews – get people to say nice things about you
- Negative sentiment in reviews – if people are saying bad things it can count against you
- Growing importance of reviews from active Google+ users
- Location and Product keywords in reviews
- Social factors from Google+ (circles, +1’s etc)
People read reviews
It is easy to get tied up here in the technical reasons for this and that and trying to dive into the correlations to inform our opinion but we must remember the simple fact that people read reviews. It is hard to pick a business online and as an example it can be tough to choose a hotel online and once you have been burned once then forever will you check out tripadvisor.co.uk for independent reviews. People are learning to use reviews more and more so think not only of the SEO implications but think of how doing better by your clients and inciting reviews from those people who will recommend you will only help you rank higher but it will help people choose you once they have found you in local search.
When it comes down to it solid Local SEO is all about a well optimised Google+ Places account, an optimised site, high quality backlinks (with local links in the mix), good quality citations with a consistent NAP and a good selection of reviews on your Google+ Local page & across other strong citations.
Google Plus Local + Optimised Site + Backlinks + Citations + Reviews = Great results in local search.
Next up we will take a look at how to formulate a solid review policy and how to squeeze strong reviews out of happy customers.
I welcome your reviews in the comments
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