We all know that user reviews are a helpful resource for your prospective customers.

Why?

Because, let’s face it, you’re not exactly the most unbiased source of information when it comes to your own business.

If someone wants to find the best cheesesteak in Philadelphia or the best taco in San Diego, they’re going to turn to customer reviews rather than corporate messaging.

But that’s not the only benefit of business reviews.

Business reviews can have a profound impact on your local search rankings. They’re one of the main elements that contribute to search engine optimization (or SEO).

But how do reviews impact your local search engine ranking? Are they that important? And if they are so important, how can you get more of them?

Read on to discover the ins and outs of business reviews for local SEO.

How Important are Reviews for Small Businesses and Local SEO?

In the past few years, reviews have become an incredibly important factor for small businesses and local SEO.

They are, of course, just one factor in the jungle of SEO. Nonetheless, they can’t be ignored if you want to rank well on your target SERP.

Reviews show a conversation between one customer and another. They’re a way for your business’ users to inform each other about their experiences with your organization.

From a trust-building point of view, reviews are incredibly impactful:

Impact of reviews

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Now, most business owners already know of the role that reviews can play in reputation management and building out a successful marketing strategy, but fewer would identify them as a factor for SEO ranking.

Reviews appeal to Google’s search algorithm and can play a part in making your site easier to find through local searches.

We’ll get more into the nitty-gritty of how business reviews impact local SEO below.

For now, though, it’s enough to know that if you want to make money, you first have to be found.

And SEO rankings, supported by business reviews, help you get found. Once you’re found, you can make sales. Those sales generate reviews which in turn strengthen your SEO ranking. And the cycle of growth continues.

Where do reviews show?

Reviews can be featured in what’s known in the SEO world as the “local three-pack.”

When someone searches “plumber in Philadelphia PA,” they will see a Google Maps result highlighting a number of businesses.

Three of those businesses will be listed and linked below the map. Underneath the business names, you’ll notice a star rating system. This is the company’s user reviews. Sometimes, relevant quotes from the reviews will be featured, as well.

Google Star Rating System

It’s not easy for your business to rank in the local three-pack, but garnering positive reviews could be the difference-maker that gets you listed.

And, as the local three pack ranks above all other organic search engine results, ranking there can have a huge impact on your business’ click-through rates and organic traffic — especially for mobile searchers.

Unfortunately, social media reviews, reviews on your website or other review sites won’t help you rank in the local three-pack. The three-pack only pulls reviews that are left on Google, so it’s important to have a Google business profile and encourage customers to leave reviews on the platform. We will talk more in-depth about Google-specific reviews later on.

That’s not to say that Google reviews are the only reviews that matter.

The reviews that appear on your website can be helpful when it comes to your organic SEO placement.

However, in order to contribute to your SEO placement, these reviews have to be coded into your site through schema markup, a form of structured data that makes it easier for search engines to rank you.

Using structured data, you can communicate directly with the search engine, giving it detailed information about the nature of your content. This includes your on-site reviews.

What kind of impact can on-page reviews have for your SEO score? 

In a study from by Yotpo showcasing the impact of adding customer reviews onto a business website, the businesses surveyed saw an average increase of 2,500 organic, unique visitors over a nine-month period. That’s a serious boost to click-through rate.

This means, of course, that you’ll have to promote and manage reviews on several platforms in order to maximize your results. Make sure that you have a Google My Business profile and you’re hiring an expert with the technical SEO skills needed to code your on-site reviews using structured data.

How Do Online Reviews Affect Local SEO?

We’ve determined that positive reviews impact on local SEO. But the question remains, how does third-party review content affect Google’s broader search engine algorithm?

Reviews Build Trust

SEO is all about gaining the trust of Google, and Google places more trust in customers than it does in marketers.

In a sense, Google acts a lot like a typical customer when it’s researching your business (though Google’s doing it to determine your place in the SEO pecking order).

Positive user reviews gives Google an idea of where you stand within your chosen industry. They provide 3rd party validation (social proof)..

It’s similar to the importance that Google places on backlinks within the SEO process. A quality backlink (one which improves your business’ domain authority and SEO ranking) is a link to you that has been placed on another site that is in good standing with Google and is relevant to your industry.

Google considers a link placed by another site to be an endorsement of your brand, and that endorsement goes a long way.

With reviews, it’s much the same.

Reviews Improve the User Experience 

When Google makes a recommendation to a user, it’s putting the full weight of its reputation behind those results. As such, Google wants to make sure that the people who visit your site are going to find what they’re looking for and have a positive interaction with your brand.

The overall usability of your site is all tied up in user experience, and reviews go a long way toward optimizing that experience.

How do reviews impact the user experience? 

Firstly, business reviews give you an idea of how your visitors are reacting to your site, your service, and your business overall.

Reviews are an invaluable way to take the temperature of your audience and determine not only what you’re doing right, but what you’re doing wrong. If users are complaining about the load times of your site, you can fix that and improve the user experience.

Secondly, reviews also enrich the user experience by providing helpful, specific information to your prospective buyers in a format that breeds trust.

By reading the unedited reactions of their peers, potential customers get a better feel for your site. The site is offering them a more informative and in-depth experience.

This all combines to create an improved experience that is reflected back to Google’s search algorithm. Suddenly people are staying on the site more. They’re making purchases; they’re filling out forms.

That improved experience will also generate more positive reviews and continue the cycle.

Customer Study

While reviews can give you an important glimpse into the user experience on your site, they can also help businesses get a better understanding of not only what their customers want out of a service, but how they’re asking for it. Seeing how your customers phrase their reviews will help you better target long-tail keywords.

Let’s say that someone leaves a review on Philadelphia’s Franklin Institute museum stating that it offers the best educational field trip program in Philadelphia.

That review can now contribute to the key term “best educational field trip program in Philadelphia.” It stands to reason that this is something the museum’s target customers would be searching for. By seeing the way this customer worded their review, the marketing folks at the Institute would know that they need to optimize their website and content for this phrase.

How do You Get More Online Reviews for Your Business?

Reviews are vital to both your online reputation and the local search engine optimization process. Thus, business owners must be proactive in getting more of them.

But how can you encourage your customers to leave reviews? 

There are a few tried and true ways to do this.

Firstly, you should be using specialized review software to help with acquisition. Something like ReviewTrackers can help you:

  1. First, it will give you tools that you can use to encourage your customers to review, such as in-store signage, QR codes, and landing pages. All of this makes pinging your customers for reviews quick and easy.
  2. The software will automatically reach out to customers and have them express their review, whether it be positive or negative.
  3. If they react positively, they are asked to leave an online review. Negative sentiments are encouraged to leave feedback that goes directly to management and is not shared online as negative reviews.

Another way to get business reviews is via Net Promoter Score surveys. These surveys ask customers to rate their transactions between 1-10 and provide any feedback on the experience. Use your review tracking tool to follow up with customers who have rated you highly and ask them if they would be willing to post an official review.

Net Promoter Score Survey

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An automated email campaign could be another useful tactic. You send out an email to your existing customers and ask them to provide feedback on a recent purchase.

For instance, the ride-sharing company, Lyft, sends out emails immediately following a completed ride, asking customers to review. Obviously, this task is too extreme for a human worker, so outreach is done with specialized software.

If you’re not getting a lot of responses to your review requests, it could help to incentivize the process. Enter customers into a sweepstakes for providing a review, with one or two winners walking away with prizes. These prizes can be something as simple as 10% off a future order. It costs you little to give and encourages repeat business.

It’s a win-win.

You should also make it a point to follow up on new purchases with Net Promoter Score surveys. These surveys ask customers to rate their transactions between 1-10 and provide any feedback on the experience. Follow up with customers who have rated you highly and ask them if they would be willing to post an official review.

A few essential business review process best practices:

  • Make leaving a review super easy to do. Otherwise your audience won’t bother.
  • Provide simple and effective site navigation in your review section.
  • Create direct links from your review request emails.
  • Make the process short — “scale of 1-5” or multiple choice options are usually your best bt to get a high volume of reviews.

What are Google Reviews?

Another great way to get Google to notice you is to collect Google Reviews for your business. These reviews are integrated into your My Business page and Google Maps.

Customers can post public reviews through Google to share their personal experience.

Google Review

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It’s a simple process and can be highly effective for SEO.

As we’ve said above, Google reviews are the only review type that matters when it comes to Google’s local three pack, and (more than for SEO), Google reviews can also improve your standing in Google My Business rankings.

How Many Google Reviews Do You Need?

At one time, you needed at least five Google Reviews for your company’s star rating to show up in local searches. Over time, though, Google has softened on that number.

Your star rating will now show up even if you only have one or two reviews. Despite that, you should still be trying to get as many as possible. If you don’t have a lot, one lousy review will tank your entire rating.

When trying to figure out a strategy for Google Reviews, consider doing a competitor audit. See how many Google Reviews your largest competitors have and try to get as many or more.

In Conclusion

Whether you make the best roast pork in Philadelphia or you make the best burritos in San Diego, reviews can make or break you in the hearts and minds of your prospective customers.

However, the benefits of business reviews go far beyond their ability to sway customer loyalty and trust. Properly maintained, a steady string of user-generated reviews from multiple platforms like Google, social media, and third-party review sites can have a profound impact on your local SEO success.