It’s no secret that when it comes to searching for a new business, many people rely on reviews to determine which company to choose. Google has taken consumer reviews one step further by using them to assign businesses a star rating, which customers can quickly and easily glance at to determine the quality of a business.

Recently, however, GetFiveStars noticed that Google has made some changes in how they determine star ratings, and these changes could potentially impact your business — for better or for worse. It’s important to take notice of the changes so that the reputation of your company doesn’t suffer in the aftermath.

## What’s Changed in Google Star Ratings?

Google is now awarding stars for as little as one review. This has changed from their past policy which required businesses to have five reviews before a star rating would be shown. As you can see in the screenshot below, just two people are responsible for creating that star review that future customers/clients will glance at in the future.

For those who aren’t familiar, Google uses a five star rating scale to rank businesses based on performance. Consumers are given the opportunity to leave a business review, which includes choosing a grade from one star (poor performance) to five stars (excellent service). Google then uses an algorithm to average the reviews together to determine an overall star rating.

This rating shows up next to the business listing on Google’s search results page. This is important because the star reviews help the business stand out amongst other companies that may otherwise not have any star ratings.

In addition to reducing the number of reviews required to determine a star rating average, the mathematical equation Google uses to calculate the averages has also changed. Previously, Google used the Bayesian average, which looked at the overall data set for all businesses when determining an average and which also gave five star reviews more weight than others. They’ll now be using the arithmetic way to calculate an average (that most of us were taught in grade school).

In the long run, this is a welcome change for businesses and patrons as it is a more fair and accurate way to calculate review averages. Whether the decreased number of required reviews will impact businesses positively or negatively still remains to be seen, but it’s definitely safe to say that this is an important change that business owners need to pay close attention to in the coming months.

Customer reviews in general, and this includes star ratings, are extremely important for business success. According to Invespcro, “90% of consumers read online reviews before visiting a business and 88% of consumers trust online reviews as much as personal recommendations.” This means that all reviews impact your business, whether they are good, bad, or nonexistent. Thanks to Google’s new policy for star ratings, customer reviews are about to become much more prominent.

Previously, when businesses had to have five reviews before they were assigned a star rating, having four reviews or less meant your business wasn’t rated. That was good if you had a couple bad reviews — most likely no one took notice. It was more of a problem for businesses that had several positive reviews, because again, probably no one really noticed.

But that’s all changing. Now, if a customer leaves a review for a business and it’s the only review listed, that’s going to essentially determine the business’s entire rating until someone else decides to write a review. This could be good or bad, depending on the review.

At the risk of sounding obvious, we’ll make this quick: If someone leaves you a bad review then you’re going to end up with a poor star rating, and this could seriously impact a customer’s decision to use your business.

On the plus side, if you only have one or two reviews and they’re both positive, then Google will give you a good star rating (as you can see in the screenshot below). This should encourage people to check out your company.

## The Problem With the New Google Star Rating and How to Take Charge

Business owners can’t control what kind of reviews customers leave; they can only control their products and customer service. Most likely if a business puts time and effort into creating a quality product and delivering excellent customer service, their consumers will reward them by leaving positive reviews. However, everyone knows that it’s possible to get a disgruntled customer who could severely damage your star rating if you don’t have a lot of reviews posted. This is the case in the example below who unfortunately has a one-star rating purely due to one poor review.

So what’s the best way to adapt to this change and safeguard the reputation of your business? Encourage your customers to leave reviews! The more business reviews you have, the less likely one bad one is to ruin the image of your company.

Below are some easy ways to encourage your customers to leave their feedback behind:

### 1. Don’t Be Afraid to Ask for Reviews

Probably the easiest way to get reviews is to simply ask your customers to write one after they’ve purchased something or otherwise interacted with your business. Customers generally know how important reviews are (after all, they probably read some when they decided to use your company!) and as long as your experience was a positive one, most likely they’ll be happy to provide some feedback.

You want to ask right away though. If you wait too long they may become hesitant, and their memory of the transaction won’t be as clear so they might leave out some key details that could have otherwise benefited your company.

### 2.Make Reviews Easy

While most customers will be happy to provide feedback, they’re not going to jump through hoops to do it. (The only customers that will jump through hoops to leave a review are the ones who’ve had a negative experience.) Before you ask a customer to leave a review, make sure you’ve simplified the process as much as possible. For example, provide a direct link to whatever site you’d like them to leave the review on. Provide these links on your website and blog as well. And if you’re contacting a customer directly, make sure you give them the link along with clear directions on what to do.

### 3. Send a Follow-up Email After a Purchase

Another great way to solicit reviews is to send out a follow up email after a customer has made a purchase. Ask them if they’re satisfied with the product and with their experience as a whole, and let them know you’re open to suggestions for improvement. Consider sending the email about a week after they’ve received their product; most likely they’re still excited about the purchase, and if they’re happy overall they’ll be more willing to go online and leave a review.

Following up is also a good way to build solid customer relationships; customers will appreciate that you’ve taken the time to make sure they’re happy, and in turn, they’ll be more likely to take the time to leave you a review. Just remember to provide a link to the site where you’d like them to leave the review!

### 4. Reward Those Who Review

If you’re still struggling to get enough reviews to build a solid star rating, consider providing incentives for those who leave feedback. This isn’t a long-term strategy as it tends to cost a good amount, but it works well if you’re trying to build momentum and customer loyalty. Consider creating a giveaway where everyone who leaves a review in a specific time period (like a month) will be entered automatically. You could also give away a discount code or coupon for the first five people who leave a review, etc. Just be clear that you’re asking people to provide a review, not necessarily a good one.

### 5. Respond to Negative Reviews

While you may be tempted to delete any bad reviews, in the long run, this is not a good idea. People aren’t stupid, and they’re likely to mistrust a business that has a large number of only positive reviews. No matter how good you are at your job, and how amazing your product is, there’s always going to be someone out there who isn’t happy — but that’s OK! A few bad reviews aren’t the end of the world, especially if you know how to handle them. The most important thing you can do when you see a negative review is to respond to it.

Acknowledge the customer’s problem, apologize if there was any wrongdoing on your part, and work to pacify the customer. Not only will that person appreciate you taking the time to address their issue, other customers will also see that you’ve responded to the review and are working to solve the problem. This will go a long way in building customer loyalty and relationships, and other customers will also be more confident when leaving a review because they’ll see it’s pretty likely it will get published (even when it’s bad).

## Conclusion

Have you noticed any changes in your Google star rating?  How do you go about encouraging customers to leave reviews?

Image Credit: Featured image taken from DepositPhotos.com. All screenshots taken by author February 2017

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Managing Partner at HigherVisibility

Adam Heitzman is a co-founder and managing partner at HigherVisibility, a nationally recognized SEO firm. Having been a marketing executive ... [Read full bio]