Why Are Online Reviews So Important for Local Businesses?
Written by John Kennedy on July 17, 2020
As a local business, online reviews can make or break your business. Believe it or not, online reviews hold a lot of weight with consumers as well as with search engines. Businesses that have a high number of positive reviews rank higher in search results than those that don’t. They also get more clicks, calls, and conversions.
Positive ratings are something that you should be actively seeking out if you want to stay competitive and acquire new customers online. If you’re not convinced that online reviews matter for your local business, we have some facts and statistics that we think will change your mind.
Who reads reviews online?
For starters, let’s answer the first question most business owners ask when discussing the importance of reviews: “Who actually reads them?”
That includes 93% of people aged 35-54. When consumers can run an online search and instantly see a list of options, reviews serve as one of the main differentiating factors that influence their decision to click or not to click.
Online reviews have a powerful impact on purchase decisions
Even if your local SEO efforts have paid off and you are ranking in the local 3-pack for relevant search terms, you are likely to lose the click to your competitor if they have more positive reviews than you. Regardless of who ranks higher in the 3-pack, a customer will see a business with 100 reviews as more trustworthy than one with 4.
Northwestern University’s Spiegel Research Center revealed statistically how reviews impact purchase decisions in their groundbreaking report, which states:
Local business reviews are also a search engine ranking factor
Getting more positive customer reviews will improve your business’s local search rankings. This is because Google’s objective is to give searchers the most relevant and credible results. Google likes to use outside sources to judge your website’s credibility, rather than taking your word for it. One example of this is backlinking. If other credible websites link to yours, Google takes this as a signal that your website is also credible. Similarly, when customers leave positive reviews, it signals to Google that your website is credible and worth showing to local searchers.
Local search rankings are influenced by a wide variety of factors, but several studies have shown that review signals are among the most influential. According to Moz’s 2018 Local Search Ranking Factors Survey, review signals are the #3 most influential factors for ranking in the local pack.
Google filters by average rating when searchers include superlative terms such as “best”
If someone searches “best dentist in Denver”, Google will automatically filter the local pack to only show results with an average customer review rating of 4 stars or higher. This also works with other superlative terms like “good”, “great”, “awesome”, “top”, and “top-rated”. These types of searches are becoming more and more popular, so it’s crucial for you to have an average rating of 4 stars or greater if you want to show up in the local pack.
Even when the user doesn’t use a qualitative term in their search, they have the option to manually set the rating filter. Searchers who choose to use this filter will most likely be selecting 4.5+ stars, which filters the results to the absolute top-rated businesses in the area.
What review factors should you prioritize?
- Star rating: Your average star rating plays a role in your search ranking, especially your ability to rank in the local 3-pack. It also impacts your conversion rate. Around half of the consumers who read reviews say that they wouldn’t trust a business with an average rating below 4 stars. (Source: BrightLocal, Local Consumer Review Survey)
- Number of reviews: While there isn’t a universal number of reviews that all local businesses should aim for, it’s important that you have more reviews than your competitors who show up alongside you in search results.
- Frequency of reviews: When Google’s algorithm factors review signals into your search rankings, they look at how often your business is being reviewed. It’s also important to know that many customers will only read reviews that were posted within the last few weeks, so you should aim to get at least one review every 2-3 weeks to stay current.
- Keywords in reviews: When a customer leaves a written review that contains a keyword search term, a snippet of their review can appear in search results with the keyword bolded, which means their review helped you rank for that term. This can also work with synonyms and semantic keywords. For example, if someone searches “personal injury attorney near me”, the results may return a listing with a review snippet that contains the bolded term “personal injury lawyer”.
How you can start getting more Google reviews
Google prohibits business owners from offering incentives in exchange for reviews. They want honest, unbiased reviews and there have been some crackdowns on businesses using shady tactics to gain reviews. For example, a Louisville-based law firm had nearly 100 reviews removed from their Google My Business listing after it was discovered that they were using contests and financial incentives to solicit reviews.
If you want to be clear on what’s allowed and what may be penalized, Google included the following guidelines in their Maps User Contributed Content Policy:
“In addition to Prohibited Content guidelines, Text Reviews and Captions are subject to the following additional requirements:
- Don’t discourage or prohibit negative reviews or selectively solicit positive reviews from customers.
- Don’t offer or accept money in exchange for reviews.
- Don’t solicit reviews from customers in bulk.”
Here are 5 simple ways you can encourage customers to leave reviews, and make it easier for them to do so, without breaking Google’s guidelines:
- Directly ask customers to leave a Google review
- Add a Google review link to your website
- Send customers a follow-up email asking them to leave a Google review (and include a link to your review page to make it easy for them)
- Leave customers with a physical card telling them that their feedback is appreciated and explaining how they can leave a Google review
- Respond to your reviews, whether positive or negative, either to thank the customer for their review or attempt to reconcile the issue if the customer was dissatisfied (customers will be more likely to leave you a review if they believe you will actually read it and respond to it)
You can use these instructions provided by Google to create a short link that will bring customers to your review page with one click.
Get Professional Help
If you need assistance setting up and optimizing your Google My Business account, managing your online reviews, and making it easier for customers to leave reviews, contact Plum! We can help you optimize your listing, add a review link to your website, and more.