We all know that content and backlinks are critically important to SEO. But for local businesses, customer reviews are an often-overlooked “secret weapon” that can have a serious impact on local SEO in much the same way as content and backlinks.
In fact, customer reviews are the #5 most important factor in local SEO rankings. Just as Google counts backlinks as votes of confidence in a web page, Google also counts positive reviews as a vote of confidence in the local business itself.
In addition to boosting local search rankings, customer reviews turn traffic into paying customers by building greater customer trust which leads to higher conversion rates.
Use these 6 actionable tips to put your customer reviews to work boosting your local SEO.
Out of all the major review sites, Google reviews are by far the most important for local SEO. So if you don’t already have a Google My Business account, get one immediately and start getting customer reviews on Google.
But did you know that Google is not the only review site that affects your local SEO results? Google also uses customer reviews from other review sites to determine the reputation (think SEO “authority”) of your business.
So don’t focus solely on Google. Also pay attention to Yelp, Facebook and any review sites that cater to your industry—such as HealthGrades for healthcare, TripAdvisor for hospitality, or Zillow for real estate.
Pro tip: Make sure your profile on all review sites uses the same identifying information, such as business name, address, phone number, website and email. Don’t list your phone number as 123-456-7890 on one review profile and (123) 456-7890 on another profile. These differences can make Google’s algorithms less confident that the two review profiles belong to the same business…which can then hurt your local search rankings.
Your average star rating is the most important part of your review profile. You must have a high number of stars for your reviews to help your local SEO.
Shoot for a minimum of 4.0 stars. And if your local competitors show up in the Google Local Pack with higher star ratings, shoot to beat them instead of just stopping at 4.0 stars.
If you drop below 4.0 stars, make it your top priority to increase your star rating before concerning yourself with anything else. None of the other tips in this article will do much to help you if your star rating is below 4.0 stars.
There are right ways and wrong ways to improve your average star rating.
Don’t compensate your customers for higher reviews. Buying reviews is literally illegal, not just black hat, and can expose you to the risk of tens of thousands of dollars in fines.
Also don’t try to get fake reviews, including reviews from friends, family or employees. This practice could get your account flagged by the review site for fraudulent reviews, making it harder for legitimate reviews to avoid getting filtered out.
The best way to get white hat reviews from authentically happy customers is simple: Pre-screen customers first, asking them how you did. Only encourage them to share their experiences in a review after you know they’re happy and would give you a star rating that’s above your current average.
Google doesn’t just look at your average star rating as a ranking signal. Google also cares about the keywords reviewers use, as well as sentiment analysis.
Like most other aspects of SEO, keywords are important in reviews, too. If you want to rank for the search term “lawyers in atlanta, ga” then you want reviews that use words like “lawyer” and “legal” and “law.” If Google doesn’t see these terms, but sees “plumber” and “plumbing” and “pipes” then you may not rank well for “lawyers in atlanta, ga.”
Google also uses sentiment analysis to determine if a reviewer was happy or upset about your business. Google might downgrade a 5-star rating if many of the reviews have lots of negative words indicating the reviewers were not entirely happy.
In most cases, you don’t need to do anything to encourage the right keywords or a positive sentiment. That’s because customers normally write reviews that tend to give Google the right signals.
But if you analyze your review profile page and feel that some of the reviews might be giving Google a bad read on your keywords or sentiment, then try encouraging your customers to use the kinds of words that will help correct the problem.
To encourage a customer to use the right words in a tasteful way, express your interest in getting the customer’s feedback on a particular topic.
For example, after you pre-screen a customer and know the customer is happy, follow up with a message like this… “Thanks so much for your feedback. That means a lot to us. We’d be thrilled if you shared your experiences with others in a Google review. If you do write a review, I’d be especially interested to hear about how you felt about our knowledge of the law, since we hold ourselves to a very high standard in that department.”
Notice that this example tastefully asks the pre-screened customer for a review and encourages the customer to use words like “law” and “legal” and “lawyers”…without being too pushy.
Even a 5-star average isn’t good enough if it’s based on just 1 review. So make sure you have enough reviews to make your high average star rating credible.
In addition to credibility, a higher quantity of reviews also helps you rank higher in search results…not just Google search results, but even the search results of most major review sites like Yelp or TripAdvisor.
As a general rule of thumb, make sure you have at least 30 reviews. If you have local competitors with more reviews, then shoot to beat them with an even higher review count.
Sudden spikes in customer reviews can cause Google and other review sites to suspect the new reviews are fraudulent.
Create a daily or weekly routine to encourage your newest customers to write reviews…instead of executing an occasional “marketing campaign” to get a bunch of new reviews all at once.
If you reach out to new customers on a daily or weekly basis, you’ll get a steady, predictable flow of new reviews that sends a signal to Google and other review sites that the reviews are authentic.
If you haven’t gotten very many reviews for a while, also be sure to gradually ramp up. For example, if you haven’t had a review for 3 months, try getting 1 review in 1 month, then 2 reviews in the next month, then 3 in the next month, and so on.
If your website has a “Testimonials” page, you could get Google to show the number of stars and the number of reviews when displaying the page in local search results. This “review snippet” in search results gives searchers more confidence in clicking through to the page, leading to better search rankings for the page.
You can help Google parse the reviews listed on your website accurately with structured data, earning the coveted review snippet. Check out Google’s review snippet guidelines for implementation details.
Unfortunately, spammers and black hat SEOs have a long history of abusing structured data, so Google now includes algorithms to detect spammy review snippet markup.
Steer clear of spammy practices and send Google a clear signal with the following tips:
You’ll give your local SEO rankings a big boost by making sure you have a high number and steady flow of reviews with good keyword optimization, positive sentiment, and a high average star rating from both Google and a variety of other credible review sites, as well as testimonial reviews on your own site. There are a number of online reputation management companies and services that can help you manage and get more online reviews for your business.
Chas Cooper has a passion for helping small businesses, the unsung heroes of our economy and way of life. So, after 20 years leading marketing efforts for Silicon Valley tech companies, Chas decided to apply all he had learned to help small businesses get the appreciation they deserve. To that end, Chas founded Rising Star Reviews to help small businesses get more 5-star reviews from their happy customers on review sites like Google, Yelp and Facebook. Feel free to reach out to Chas directly at chas at risingstarreviews dot com.