There is one area within the “Local Search Sphere” that brings a wide amount of debate when it comes to ranking impacts, importance, and ethical dilemmas. That area is reviews. Dah dah daahhhhhh. ß Scary Movie Sound
So, in an attempt to put light on a fairly clouded subject, this post will focus on following…
How reviews effect local search rankings
The future of local search + reviews
A list of review sites that currently get picked up by “The Engines”
A 6 step review strategy for your business.
How Reviews Effect Local Search Rankings
In this section I will be calling on information from David Mihm’s 2009 Local Search Ranking Factors as well as my own experimentation and thoughts.
- There are no doubts that reviews effect ranking factors on the major search engines, as well as a number of IYP’s (Internet Yellow Pages). This issue has a very high “agreeance” among local SEO’s, and I have seen certain amounts of reviews move companies up the rankings with all else staying the same. Mary Bowling of SeOverflow stated that,
- “Yahoo Local has said there’s a threshold for the number of reviews and that once you reach that threshold, the reviews begin to factor into your rankings. Of course they will not say what that threshold is. For [Google] Maps, more reviews help you to rank better, and even one review is helpful, and gives you an edge over businesses with no reviews.”
- Many Local SEO’s don’t like that this is the case, and both sides of the issue have good ammunition for debate. Reviews are a very good trust factor to prove the validity of a business, but they can be semi-easily fabricated by guys with black hats and dark sunglasses. At this current time, and for the foreseeable future, reviews affect rankings. So, instead of fighting this, I have chosen to embrace it, and look at ways to promote real reviews of local businesses.
Not only do reviews lend a helping hand when it comes to ranking factors, but the number of reviews works as “eye candy” to people searching for local businesses. Let’s look at the following example…
If a business has no reviews, then the link to the Places Page says “More”. If Google has a single review associated with the business, then the text changes to show the number of reviews.
The review count is the last part of the listing that users see
They are surrounded by white space
It is the only means of comparing businesses at a glance
Consumers generally trust online reviews for finding more information on a local business.
Reviews can also be used to your favor with Google’s Other Places You Might Like Tab as pointed out by Andrew Shotland.
Now, a little nugget for businesses that show up with a 3 pack or less.
When a business has 5 reviews or more listed, the “review stars” a.k.a. “five eye candies” make their way to the listing.
All of this adds up to show that businesses with reviews stand out, and can lead to an increased Click-Through-Rate. When I shop…I shop reviews, my mom shops reviews, and I even caught her dog reading reviews on a local Petsmart.
Now, one of the things that seems to bring varying opinions amongst the local community is the ranking weight given to different review sites as they are picked up by search engines. I am not going to shed light on this issue. I will save those thoughts for a different occasion.
Review sites that currently get picked up by Search Engines
First and foremost Yahoo, Bing, and Google have their own review systems for consumers to leave feedback. The following is a list of places that the search engines gather reviews to include in their own results.
Yahoo – None
Bing – Citysearch, Judysbook.
Google – Across most industries (SuperPages, City Search, Insiderpages, Judysbook)
This is a basic list of some of the most generic review sites that show up well in industries across the board. Google pulls reviews from 100’s of Industry specific sites like demandforce for dentists, and urbanspoon for the food industry. Just recently it was announced that they would pull reviews from local blogs and news sites as well. So, with Google and Bing pulling information from other places, what are they doing with it?
The Future of Local Search + Reviews
Sentiment Analysis is the next phase of Local Search, and I believe we will see this evolve throughout the rest of 2010. A few month’s ago we saw the following pop up on Places Pages, and a similar list on Bing’s Listings as well.
This shows that Google is now analyzing the ratings, and keywords found within individual reviews in order to rank businesses on price, atmosphere, service, and many other factors. Now, why would this information be useful to a Search Engine? With businesses properly categorized, they would be able to return listings based on searches like “Italian restaurants with great atmosphere” or “dental office with great services”. Instead of this information being returned by optimizing keywords for the SERPs, the search results would be based on user generated content. This will also increase the percentage of local boxes being displayed in the results. So, when the engines begin this, you had better have a good understanding of what your reviews say about your company, or clients. If you don’t, you might find yourself ranking very high on a term like “dirtiest restaurant in New York City”.
A review strategy for your business
The following is by no means all you should do. This is the basics and contains a very broad scope to a subject that needs a narrow and specific focus. But, these steps are important and serve as a great starting point for any business.
1. Do not fabricate fake reviews or the Local SEO gods will beat you like a red headed step child and drop you from visibility (No offense to any red headed step children). I consider fake reviews one of two unpardonable sins. The other is hijacking a listing.
2. Look at every review about your business found on the search engines. Then, do a search for the following “your company name” + phone number. This will show you every listing that is indexed on your business. It will also allow you to see what reviews are saying (and reveal a fair amount of citations in the process). From here, the wonderful Miriam Ellis wrote a guide on her SEO Igloo Blog entitled Edit, Remove and Respond To Reviews – Tools For Conflict Resolution in which she identified the process of fixing a tainted image. Now, understand that it is important to follow up on negative reviews, but you don’t need them all removed. No business is perfect, but showing that you are “aware and care” is as close as you can get.
3. Find a way to thank those who have left reviews. Many site have profiles where you can send the reviewer a message, or at least respond to the review. Do so, and in the process you could ask them to follow you on twitter or facebook, and ultimately create loyal customers who can be called on in the future for helping with your online reputation.
4. Look at the review section of your industry competitors on Google and Bing, and find out which sites reviews are gathered from. If you didn’t catch the hint up above, Citysearch and Judysbook are showing in both engines. This means that a single review on the mentioned sites could help you on more engines than one.
5. Choose a few sites that you want to promote as the place for customers to go to leave reviews. It is important to not put your eggs all in one basket. I have seen 30 Google reviews disappear that took a client months of work to generate. The company was only explaining how to leave reviews on Google. If they had been able to give directions or links to multiple review sites, then only a few might have been lost.
6. Come up with a review campaign that fosters legitimate feedback. Look at the guidelines for each review site to make sure you are acting in accordance with their expectations. Some review sites ask that you don’t reward people for leaving reviews, others say that offering something is a great tactic. Use your best judgment, and I would love to hear what you are doing to promote honest feedback of yours, or your client’s businesses.
Reviews are such a vital part of local search and like me, they are gaining weight as time goes on. Businesses that monitor what is being said about them will be able to learn from honest customers, and have a good understanding of what the outside perspective of their company is. Not only will they be able to ultimately rank better for different searches, but they will also be able to improve on business practices based on the customer feedback. So, the time has come for small businesses to manage their online review reputation, or manage to find themselves with nothing but a bad Click-Through-Rate and a link begging for “More”.
Mike Ramsey is the owner of Nifty Marketing, a Local Search consulting company hailing from Burley, Idaho. His twitter handle is niftymarketing and he is a proud husband and father. Mike is also teaching a social dance class if anyone is interested. Yes, his wife talked him into it.