9 min. read
Every business owner loves seeing positive Google reviews from customers on their Google My Business profile. Not only does it let you know that folks love your products and services, but it lets everybody who might stumble on your website know it, too!
However, as nifty as those 5-star ratings might look, do they actually help your website rank better?
This question gets asked a lot, and there’s a short answer and a long answer.
The short answer is that although many factors go into your SEO efforts (over 200, in fact), positive online reviews send signals to Google that your business is trustworthy, authoritative, and recommended by others. This, in turn, boosts your search rankings and helps along your overall SEO strategy.
But, as I said, there’s also a long answer.
How Do We Know Online Reviews Influence Rankings?
When Google’s algorithm assesses a website, one of the goals is to measure what is called E-A-T: Expertise, Authority, and Trust.
In measuring that “T” in E-A-T, Google reviews play a key role. Glowing reviews from real-life local customers signal to Google that your business has that trustworthiness the algorithm is looking for.
On top of that, studies have been done showing concrete evidence that Google reviews play a tremendous role in your search ranking.
Last year, Google decided to ban anonymous reviews without profiles attached to them. The new ban was even applied retroactively, which meant that a lot of businesses lost many of their reviews overnight. Joy Hawkins, the owner of Local Search Forum and Sterling Sky, took the opportunity to see if GMB profiles that had lost reviews saw a change in their rankings.
The result? Businesses who had lost a significant number of reviews typically dropped two spots or more, sometimes even getting shunted off of Page 1.
Around the same time as Hawkins’s study, Darren Shaw of Whitespark released findings from his annual Google Local Rankings Survey, showing that reviews accounted for over 15% of how Google ranks a local business.
In a somewhat related study, the folks over at Moz released a piece on what makes for good SEO for local restaurants, observing that eateries with less than 100 reviews had only a 1% chance of making it into the 3-pack in the 50 major cities studied. Further, none of the 3-pack-worthy restaurants they studied had ratings below 4.1.
Obviously, results will vary wildly depending on your location. As I type away here in Bristol, Pennsylvania, which is most decidedly not a major city, my search for “restaurants near me” yields this:
China Gourmet, at the bottom of the pack, has a 4-star rating with 54 reviews. Then again, the Chinese eatery was beaten out by two local bars, despite being an actual sit-down restaurant and the closest to me of the three.
The difference, perhaps? Though other factors certainly play a role, the two taverns respectively have 269 and 389 local customer reviews.
Why Do Your Google Reviews Matter for SEO?
Okay, so we know that Google reviews from local customers are great for your rankings. But why do they influence rankings? Why does Google care?
There are essentially three reasons.
1. Local customer reviews build trust
We’ve gone over trust and authority quite a bit already, but it bears repeating. In a sense, Google trusts what other people say about you much more than what you say about yourself. Sure, you can put “Best Pizza Joint in Philly” on your website as much as you like — but when customers freely offer the same opinion, that counts much more in Google’s eyes. In return for the social endorsement, the algorithm rewards your website with greater visibility.
2. Good customer ratings drive more traffic
For many people who search online, a business’s Google reviews mean everything. According to BrightLocal, 57% of consumers will only use a business if it has 4 stars or more. If your business has a solid star rating with lots of detailed reviews, searchers are more likely to trust and click on your website. This added traffic sends a signal to Google that your website is authoritative, and thus worthy of a strong search ranking.
3. Local reviews tell Google what your site is about
When you’re building a website, having rich, detailed descriptions on all of your pages is essential to good SEO. These full descriptions make it easier for Google to recognize and crawl your website; in turn, this increases the likelihood Google will serve up your website for online searchers.
The online reviews that your customers leave do the exact same thing. Not only do your Google reviews let the robots know what your site’s all about, but your customers can even fill in gaps that your website’s content may have missed.
Perhaps your pizzeria’s website neglects to mention that you offer vegan options on request. If so, all of your vegan Google reviewers who appreciated the flexibility can come to your rescue!
Presto: next time someone in your neighborhood searches “vegan pizza,” Google will keep you in mind.
How Businesses Can Acquire & Leverage Reviews
There’s no magic bullet to getting more 5-star ratings. However, there are things you can do to encourage customers to leave positive reviews. Don’t be afraid to reach out and get creative — many businesses leave out signs or placards requesting reviews, offer “Review Us” options on their site, or even ask for them directly from their most satisfied customers.
Keep in mind, though, to never pay people for Google reviews — including marketers. Not only does it violate Google’s guidelines, but their algorithms are designed to sniff out inauthentic reviews. If Google has reason to think you or your employees have been inventing false reviews, your website could wind up with a stiff penalty that would tank your rankings.
As you accrue more positive reviews, you can get the most out of them by posting them to your website’s homepage. Granted, doing so does no benefit or harm to your SEO — but it’s great for user experience. People love seeing all-star reviews, and there are plenty of tools out there, such as EmbedReviews, Kudobuzz, and Yotpo, that let you add your social reviews to your website.
How to Handle Negative Reviews
If you get a negative customer review, use it as an opportunity to make amends and win back that customer.
Sadly, many business owners respond to negative reviews with angry, not-so-professional responses. Don’t be that person. Instead, reach out by commenting directly on that review, and go the extra mile to make up for their poor experience with stellar customer service. You can kill two birds with one stone by both retaining the would-be former customer and zeroing out that bad review. You’ll be surprised at how many customers will change their tune — and their negative post — after you reach out and listen to their concerns.
By the way, you should always respond to all of your reviews, even the positive ones. Which brings us to our next point:
Does Replying to Google Reviews Help SEO?
Whether your online reviewers are singing your praises or venting about a bad experience, you should always respond to every review. Not only does it go a long way with less-than-satisfied customers, but it helps build trust among all of your past and potential customers by demonstrating that you care.
Further, responding to reviews does more than build trust with your audience: it builds trust with Google, too. Your responses send signals to Google that your business is actively responding to customers, which is great for your SEO strategy and search ranking.
In fact, Google itself admits that responding to reviews helps your SEO. Check out this snippet from the Google My Business support page:
Google likes it when you interact positively with your customers, and rewards your business with visibility.
Does it Matter If People “Like” My Reviews?
Sometimes, SEO agencies will get requests from clients to get more people to “like” their GMB reviews. Does getting more likes actually help your rankings, though?
First, let’s back up a bit. Starting in 2016, Google started allowing those logged into their Google accounts to give a thumbs-up to any GMB review they like. You can only give one thumbs-up, you can reverse your thumbs-up by clicking twice, and there is no opposite thumbs-down function.
In a small study by Miriam Ellis over at Moz, the author found that although thumbs-up in themselves don’t help your rankings, reviews with lots of thumbs-up are more likely to surface at the top of the reviews, without viewers having to click “View all Google reviews” to see it.
This gives you an opportunity to highlight your most glowing reviews. Just beware not to have too many people like a review — if a single review gets, say, 100 likes, Google may consider it spam and penalize your website.
Do Reviews on 3rd Party Sites Like BBB Affect Search Rankings?
We’ve been talking about Google My Business a lot, but what about other review platforms, like Yelp or Better Business Bureau? Do reviews on those platforms affect your rankings?
On the one hand, it seems that they don’t matter so much, at least SEO-wise. Last year, John Mueller from Google stated flat-out that BBB and other third-party reviews don’t influence your rankings, with the transcript from the interview here:
On the other hand, according to Google’s Quality Raters’ Guidelines (QRG), a poor reputation is considered a red flag for a site being low-quality, and the QRG talks a lot about third-party sites playing a role in a website’s reputation, particularly the BBB.
One portion of the QRG plainly says, “You will sometimes find high ratings on the Better Business Bureau (BBB) website because there is very little data on the business, not because the business has a positive reputation. However, very low ratings on BBB are usually the result of multiple unresolved complaints. Please consider very low ratings on the BBB site to be evidence for a negative reputation.”
Seemingly, ratings from the 3rd-party sites don’t carry SEO weight in the same way Google reviews do. But from the looks of it, they definitely have an impact, so monitor your other online customer reviews carefully.
Summary & Final Thoughts
Wrapping up: Google reviews affect your SEO, so do what you can to garner and highlight positive reviews, make the most of negative ones, and to use your Google My Business reviews to their full potential.
Also, if you like what you just read, don’t forget to like and share this article, too!
About the Author
Nachum Balofsky is an SEO & Content Strategist at 1SEO I.T. Support & Digital Marketing. His key skills include developing creative content campaigns and SEO, both on and off the page.
His ideal meal is chicken & waffles with black coffee.