Everyone agrees reviews are good for business, but many business owners and marketers still view them with resentment.
It’s understandable. Keeping your profiles up to date and respond to customer reviews – whether they’re positive or negative – is a lot of work. It’s yet another to-do item in a growing list of requirements to “be good at SEO.”
Fortunately, the return on investment with reviews is real.
UGC marketing platform Yotpo looked at 30,000 business websites from a variety of industries over a period of nine months after they started using reviews as part of their marketing strategy.
Here’s what it did for their site traffic:
Clearly, reviews are good for SEO. But, why exactly? Let’s review (pun intended).
1. Semantic Search
With the rise of semantic search, third-party review sites are more important than ever before.
What is semantic search? An SEJ writer summed it up nicely enough to earn a featured snippet from Google:
Whenever someone searches for “best [your industry] in [city]”, we expect Google to show Yelp listings or another review site. They have the domain authority, the popularity, the links, everything. Of course, a review site will beat out a single brand’s website.
But it’s important to remember that Google reads and digests those review websites just like any other. That means that Google is crawling all of that juicy review content. For example, if someone searches for “best naan in [city]” (it was lunchtime at the time of writing), what do you think they’re going to show?
- The local map pack
- The Yelp search results pages
- An Eater or another food blog if your city is big enough
- Individual Yelp listing pages if there are enough reviews speaking about naan specifically
If you’ve done a good job at optimizing your site for the term “best naan in [city]” by marking up your images, your H2s, sharing your naan recipe in a blog post, and maybe linking out to a food blog or review of your amazing naan, Google might show your site, too.
The real value in semantic search comes from what’s next: Google will connect the prevalence of reviews talking about your naan with your restaurant’s website. This will lead them to experiment with showing your site more within the search results or perhaps placing you higher within the map pack. The more those adjustments result in solving people’s quest for the best naan in your city, the more entrenched your visibility will be.
Google is all about reducing clicks and answering people’s questions directly from search. They want to give the people what they want. In this case, your naan.
2. Voice Search
Voice search, in particular, relies heavily on semantic search working the way people expect. The power of voice search lies in its immediacy.
Twenty percent of Google’s mobile queries are already voice search. That trajectory has led experts like Mary Meeker, creator of the Internet Trends report from KPCB, to estimate that by 2020, a full 50 percent of searches will be through voice.
The growing popularity of voice search makes it increasingly important to achieve position zero, especially when you consider how it works. Voice search often reads the first search result, whether that’s a featured snippet, an Instant Answer, or a product if you’re using an Amazon Echo.
For the Echo, Amazon relies on third-party databases like Yelp to provide search results for things outside of Amazon. Getting your business ranked high within those third-party sites ensures Alexa tells users about your company.
For local businesses, having accurate profiles on directory sites is critical to encouraging Google to understand the type of business you are and displaying you in the map pack and other search results.
Citations help establish legitimacy. Review sites take the citation a step further by helping Google understand the relevancy of your business. Google loves fresh content. As it crawls review sites and gobbles up their latest review content about your business, Google recognizes that it means your business is very much still in business.
This is why Moz ranks review signals (the volume of your reviews, the freshness of your reviews, and diversity of review sites where your business is talked about) as a key ranking factor. Moz estimates that Google weighs review signals 13 percent in their algorithm for the local map pack and 7 percent for local organic results.
Just as reviews help establish legitimacy for Google, they perform the same role for consumers as well. This is something we studied back when I worked at SeniorAdvisor.com.
We found that a business with a negative 1-star rating is significantly more likely to get conversions that a business with no reviews at all, indicating that customers are suspicious of businesses without any reviews.
4. Content Development
You can mine reviews to see how your customers speak about your brand. Rework your keyword research and transform it into the long-tail phrases people are actually using. Better yet, use your responses on review sites to further emphasize those keywords (but please, no stuffing!)
Reviews help you develop content that builds your SEO.
Want to publish some new case studies? Reach out to the customer who wrote a detailed, glowing review of your business.
Need some testimonials for a low-converting landing page? Ask the happy customers who reviewed your product.
Running low on social media fodder? Customers love getting a shout out from brands they love, and reposting reviews is a self-promotion tactic people can actually stomach.
5. Site Traffic
Let’s finish by remembering where we started, with that image from Yotpo showing the traffic growth. SEO is all about boosting site traffic.
Third-party review sites may “steal” your ranking for a “best of city” search, but they’ll more than make up for it in the volume of traffic they send your site.
We all know many people start their research of products, services, and businesses by going to review sites first. In fact, according to BrightLocal, that number is as high as 37 percent.
For many businesses, these review sites should be treated as mini Google search engines in their own right.
What happens after a customer reads those review? Over half of them go straight to the business’s website.
When people click through from a review to your site, they’re looking for additional information. Ensure your website answers any additional questions they may have about your business with an easy-to-follow navigation and header links, clearly stated NAP and directions to your business, and content that speaks their language.
Never forget about third-party review sites. They help customers find out about your brand, especially with the rise of semantic search and voice search. Use these sites to your advantage to boost your brand awareness, establish legitimacy, and attract more customers.
In-post Images: Screenshots taken by author.