Customer reviews are thought to be an important factor in Google’s search ranking algorithm because they convey trustworthiness and also authority. We’ve previously posted about the relationship between the quantity of Google reviews and the local pin map ranking, as well as the importance of reviews for social proof. Today, though, we’re covering an often overlooked benefit of reviews – how the actual review content can impact search results.
How Customer Review Content Helps SEO
Google determines local ranking based on relevance, proximity and prominence. Customer reviews can assist with two of these factors. Reviews aren’t just a rating of your company, product or service, they also represent content that can be crawled – on your site if you pull in Google reviews, or in your Google Business listing. Access to this additional content helps search engines better understand what your site is about. Better still, each new review represents fresh content to crawl. When keywords are used in reviews, this can result in higher ranking for these relevant terms. And, when these terms match user intent, you’re likely to see a boost in organic click-through-rate.
In some cases, snippets of reviews may actually appear under your business name in pin map results. Other times, these review snippets will appear in the actual Google Business listing, as shown below:
Google is also experimenting with categorizing reviews by “Place” and “Topics” in order to make it easier for users to sort through reviews. Although this is not available currently across the board, for some businesses Google will allow reviews to be sorted according to various themes, as shown below:
How Google Calculates Average Rating
This is a little bit of an aside, but did you ever wonder why the average Google star rating is not always a numerical average? For example, your business might have five 5-star reviews and one 4-star review, The average should be 4.83, right ( (5×5 + 1×4) / 6)? Instead, Google might list the average rating as 4.2 or 4.5. According to Google, the average score is calculated from user ratings as well as “…a variety of other signals to ensure that the overall score best reflects the quality of the establishment.” From what we’ve seen, the average rating appears to vary from the numerical average most frequently with businesses that have a low number of reviews.
How to Ask for a Google Review
So now that we’ve established that Google reviews and impact local rankings, what’s the best way to get quality reviews? The simple answer is to simply ask. Across all industries, we hear from clients who are apprehensive about asking for reviews out of fear of getting a bad review. Instead, they sit back and wait for the reviews to come to them. Interestingly, research from Northwestern University indicates that reviews that are self-motivated are more likely to have resulted from a negative experience than those that are the result of a request. This is not to say that a requested review will not come in with a low rating, but this is less likely to occur than with reviews that are submitted by a customer who was prompted to leave a review.
Google’s best practices call for businesses to avoid “review gating” – a process in which a preliminary review request is sent out and then those customers with glowing responses are sent a follow-up request to repost their review on Google. Avoid this practice by requesting a review after each transaction or business engagement. You can create a custom Google review link for your business and include it in a thank you email or text or even in your monthly eNewsletter.
How to Monitor Google Reviews
Tracking and monitoring customer reviews is important for brand reputation. Sign up to get an automated email in your inbox each time your business gets a Google review. Just select “Settings” from your Google Business dashboard and ensure the “Customer Reviews” box is checked (see below image). Google will then send alerts to the address listed under “Prefered Email”.
Please note that if there are more than 100 listings in your Google dashboard, Google will not forward alerts even if the “Customer Reviews” box is checked. In order to get around this, you can sign up for a third-party (paid) service like ReviewTrackers or split your dashboard up into multiple dashboards (perhaps organized by state or by business line).
Once you are alerted that you’ve received a review, you can view it under “Reviews” in your Google Business dashboard (see below), and can respond there as well if appropriate. Here are some tips for responding to positive or negative reviews.
Regardless of whether a review is positive or negative, responding is still best practices. Responding to reviews can increase customer retention and also increase rankings. A 2018 study by TripAdvisor showed a 12% increase in the number of reviews and 0.12 star ratings increase for hotels that consistently responded to reviews.
How to Dispute a Google Review
If you do receive a negative review from a disgruntled customer, try responding as suggested above. Better still, if you are able to contact them directly, you may be able to resolve their issue and ask them to amend the review or take it down altogether. In some cases, though, you might receive a negative review from a former employee who was dismissed or a spam review from someone you do not even know. In these cases, respond politely and then go to Reviews in your Google Business dashboard, click on the ellipsis to the right of the review and select “flag as inappropriate” (see below).
Then, as a follow-up, contact Google Support from your Google Business dashboard and request their assistance. If you feel the content in the review constitutes slander, complete Google’s content removal request form.
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