Reviews, in a local SEO context, refer to reviews of your business, provided by your customers, that have been published online.
Whilst any positive online review of your business is good to have, only those left in particular places affect your rankings in Google’s local search results. Reviews left on your Google+ Local page are the most important ones, with reviews on authoritative sites, like Yelp, Yell and Scoot being secondary to those.
Reviews of your business left on blogs, forums, social media sites, and less authoritative local and business directories, don’t form part of Google’s local search algorithm. Reviews at those places aren’t completely irrelevant though, as potential customers may still read them and base buying decisions on them.
Reviews are typically in a written format (from one sentence to several paragraphs) and are accompanied with a score or rating, which could be numerical (e.g. 1-5) or descriptive (e.g. Poor – Excellent). If only a score or rating is given, it will be given less than weight than if it were given alongside a written review.
Reviews are important for three reasons – they affect your ranking in Google’s local search results, they affect which search results get clicked on, and they affect peoples’ buying decisions. This makes them as important as backlinks and citations in a local SEO strategy.
Even if you do manage to rank your business at the top of the local search results for your chosen keywords with very few reviews, or even none at all, you probably won’t get much new custom if the businesses ranked below you have more reviews and/or a higher rating than your business.
Potential customers will almost certainly read the reviews of your business, and also compare them to the reviews of your competitors. Unlike the marketing copy on your Google+ Local page and website, they will consider reviews to be unbiased opinions of the services you provide or products that you sell.
If they see that 10 people have rated your business as ‘excellent’, and have taken the time to leave a review of you, then it’s a strong signal to them that you can be trusted. It minimises the risk involved for them, and the less risk there is involved for them, the higher the likelihood that they’ll contact you and buy from you.
Reviews left on your Google+ local page are, by far, from a ranking perspective, the most important ones, as Google feels that they can trust them more than reviews left on 3rd party websites. They’re also the ones that potential customers are most likely to see, as there’s a direct link to those reviews from the search results page.
From the search results page, below the link to your business’s website, Google shows how many reviews have been left for your business and, if more than 10 reviews have been left, they also show a score out of 30 for your business, which is based on those reviews.
When reviewing a business on Google+ Local, people must rate their experience of that business as either ‘excellent’ (3), ‘very good’ (2) , ‘good’ (1) or ‘poor to fair’ (0). The score out of 30, which is shown both in the search results and on your Google+ Local page, is calculated by averaging the individual ratings (of between 0 to 3) and multiplying by 10.
Needless to say, your score out of 30 is very important. If your score is noticeably less than your competitors, especially if it’s below 15/30, then very few people will click through to your website or your Google+ Local page, even if you manage to secure a No.1 ranking courtesy of having better backlinks and citations than your competitors.
If you feel that the Google+ Local score for your business is, for whatever reason, unfair, then you have two options available to you – either improve the score by getting more positive reviews and ratings, or ‘flag’ the individual reviews that you feel are unfair and which are pulling down your overall score.
The text of individual reviews, and details of the reviewers, can be seen by anyone who views your Google+ Local page. Reviews are, by default, sorted in order of how ‘helpful’ they are, which Google determines by assessing the authority of the reviewer, the length of the review and how many people have clicked the option below the review to say it’s helpful.
– Directly ask/phone/email existing and new customers.
– Message people you’re connected to on social networks (Facebook, LinkedIn, etc.).
– Add a ‘leave a review’ link in a prominent place on your website and in your email signature.
– Put up a sign in your store or office that shows a review page url.
– Include a printed flyer within something that you hand or mail to customers that details how to leave a review.
– List a review page url on your business cards and/or sales receipts.
Some types of businesses (restaurants, hairdressers, mechanics, etc.) naturally get reviewed more than other types of businesses (accountants, solicitors, surgeons, etc.). The size of the location you operate in matters a lot too, with, for example, businesses based in London typically having more reviews than businesses based in Leicester.
As with backlinks and citations for local SEO, quality is more important than quantity, so it’s not simply a case of getting more reviews than your competitors. You’ll be in a stronger position than a competitor if you have 10 positive, 100+ word reviews, and they have 20 mixed, 1 line reviews.
You aim should just be to get as many honest reviews of your business as you can, however, for a more specific target, you need to see how many reviews your competitors currently have (by checking their Google+ Local page and their profiles on the main 3rd party review sites) and keep track of how many new ones they pick up each month.
As stated earlier, reviews left on Google+ Local are more valuable than reviews left on other websites, therefore, you should focus your efforts on getting people to leave reviews on your Google+ Local page, though not at the complete exclusion of getting reviews anywhere else. So, aim to get 1 review on a 3rd party website for every 4 or 5 you get on Google+ Local.
To get an approximate number for how many Google + Local reviews to aim for, total up how many reviews the businesses ranked on the 1st page of the local business listings for your target keywords have and divide the number by how many businesses there are on the 1st page. The number you get will probably be somewhere between 5 and 50.
You need at least 10 reviews on Google+ Local in order for your average score (out of 30) to show up in the search results alongside your business, so that should be your minimum aim. From there, getting 3 or 4 reviews a month should be enough to out-do your competitors for most keywords.
The speed at which you get reviews is important too, as spikes and surges in new reviews signal to Google that some attempt has been made to manipulate their rankings. The result of which could be, at best, those reviews being disregarded, and at worst, you rankings dropping.
Therefore, you should avoid the mindset of seeing review acquisition as a one-off task, or something to be focused on just every few months, and that can be simply ticked off by contacting all of your customers at the same time (i.e. a mass email send out or calling session) to ask for reviews.
Instead, integrate the process of getting reviews into your business and always be on the look out for any review opportunities that present themselves. Taking this approach also makes your review requests more personal and timely, which makes it more likely that people will respond positively to them.
- Most review sites, and Google themselves, state that you’re permitted to ask people for reviews, but that you’re not permitted to offer an incentive, such as a discount or a free gift, for people to leave one. It’s impossible for them to know this though, unless you make such an offer somewhere on your website.
- The ‘if we provide a good service then the reviews will come naturally’ approach doesn’t work. People aren’t accustomed to leaving reviews online, so if you don’t tell people that you want/need them then you’ll get very few reviews, if any at all.
- People are most responsive to giving a review within 3 days of their purchase from you, as their experience with you is still fresh in their mind. That freshness means that if you were kind and friendly to them, they’ll feel more obligated to respond likewise.
- Follow-up communication a few days after an initial request for a review significantly increases the number of reviews that you’ll get, as people often have good intentions to leave a review for you at the time of your initial request, but they then get sidetracked by other tasks and forget about it.
- The easier you make it for people to leave a review of your business, the more likely they’ll be to leave one. So, don’t just send them to a review page and expect them to know what to do. Give them clear information on what they need to do before telling them where they need to go.
- The length and tone of the first review of your business on a particular review website often influences the length and tone of subsequent reviews, so get people you know to write a positive, 100+ word review for you on each of the review sites that you’re targeting before you focus on getting reviews from your customer base.
- You don’t need to get reviews on every website that you’ve listed your business on. Aside from Google+ Local, actively focus on just 3-5 alternatives. Choose sites like 192.com, touchlocal.com, yell.com, yelp.co.uk, scoot.co.uk, that are both trusted by Google and which make it simple for people to leave reviews.
- Reviews left on Google+ Local can be noted as helpful or unhelpful by other people, with reviews being classed as helpful being given more weighting and being featured more prominently. So, ask people you know to click the ‘Yes’ option in the ‘Helpful?’ section of a review to help boost the authority and visibility of positive reviews.
- A review left on your Google+ Local page by someone with a newly created Google account is essentially worthless, as Google has a review manipulation filtering system in place to safeguard against the practice of creating new accounts solely for the purpose of leaving reviews.
- Multiple reviews submitted to Google+ Local from the same IP address (for example, from your office/store/home) will almost certainly get automatically flagged as being fake (even if they’re not) and will have no positive effect on your rankings.
- Taking verbal comments from customers, or excerpts from their emails to you, and submitting them yourself as reviews of your business can, in theory, be done, but to avoid falling foul of review manipulation filters, you would need to submit them from unique IP addresses and from aged user accounts that have usage history.