By Todd Atkins
For local search, reviews are still king. It used to be quantity of reviews was more important than the sentiment of those reviews. Google has gotten a little smarter about how it judges reviews in local search. We started seeing this with the Venice update about a month or so ago. Yesterday, Google announced the demise of Google Places and how its successor Google+ Business Pages are taking over. We predicted this integration back in November when Google first rolled out Google+ Pages.
Anyways, back to reviews. Quantity does matter, but quality is starting to trump it. There is a difference between quality and sentiment. The sentiment of the review (number of stars) doesn’t seem to have as big of an effect as the three R’s. This should help mitigate competitors writing fake negative reviews. Reviews for local search are likely to become even more important now that Google is rolling Places into +. When you think about it, reviews are content for your + Page. So this brings us to our first ‘R’.
Reviews that are relevant to your keywords and include a keyword in the review are going to count a little more in the local ranking algorithm. This will also help with CTR from SERP to your site or G+ page. When searching in maps, Google will even put matches of a review’s content to your keyword query in bold. See below.
As a business owner, you have very little control over what a reviewer says about you. Unless, you are writing fake reviews. A thousand curses on your business if you are. You will get caught eventually and it will almost certainly backfire on you. So compete fairly and honestly. However, there’s nothing wrong with encouraging your customers to write a review. When you do, ask them to share details about their experience and why they chose your business. Odds are they will naturally include one of your keywords in the review without stuffing keywords in endlessly. Review length and other Google users marking a review as helpful are other quality signals Google appears to be using.
Reviews from 2 years ago are still great, but if those are the most recent reviews, you need to step it up and get some new ones. How recent a review is can have a big impact on search rankings. On the same note, a steady drip of reviews over time is better than getting a large handful of them in a matter of a few days. This can be a tricky balance act if you are running a campaign to solicit more reviews from your customers. Don’t reach out to all of your customers at the same time. Break your list up over a few weeks or months to allow reviews to trickle in instead of getting the firehose.
One of the easiest ways to spot a fake review is to look at the other reviews the reviewer has posted and their profile. Does the reviewer have a profile picture? Do they use their real name? Is this the only review they’ve ever written? Is their home town in the same region as the business? Do they have photos geo-tagged near the business? We’ve seen a high correlation of better rankings if the reviewers have a legitimate and more complete Google profile. One can extrapolate this resoning to also include age and activity of the reviewer’s Google account as signals of the quality of the reviewer. This is also something a busienss owner has little control over. There are a few things you can do to help get high quality reviewers.
If you have an email list, this is pretty simple to do. You’ll be soliciting customers who probably use Google on a regular basis (including writing reviews). This will also likely have a higher success rate since there is no sign up needed for these users.
There is even some evidence that a reviewer that has written reviews for competitors is a signal Google takes into account to determine the quality of the review. The logic behind this is pretty simple when you think about restaurant reviews. If the reviewer has rated 10 other restaurants, Google may view them as an authoritative source of opinion.
If the reviewer lists “food” or “cooking” as an interest in their Google+ profile, it may be another signal that the review is an authoritative source.
So there you have it, Relevant, Recent, and Reviewer, the three R’s of local reviews.
Ben Smith is a Researcher at Fruition. Ben is a graduate of the University of Denver’s Mathematics program, and he enjoys learning about Google’s algorithm updates. He's a vital asset of the Fruition team, and he one day hopes to publish a book. In his free time, you can find Ben walking around reservoirs in Colorado.
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