Google My Business Reviews and Search Engine Optimisation
While only Google knows the recipe to its secret sauce enough hints have been given and tests run to suss out that reviews in general can strongly contribute to a higher ranking.
When ranking a local business Google itself lists three major components: relevance, distance and prominence. To quote them:
“Google review count and score are also factored into local search ranking – more reviews and positive ratings will improve a business’s local ranking.”
So there you have it. Straight from the horse’s mouth!
The authoritative Moz 2017 Local Search Ranking Factors Survey also points to both GMB signals and review signals as important ranking factors. It suggests the importance of reviews in boosting the ranking of a local business increased by 21.53% between 2015-2017 to 13.13%.
Moz’s Local Ranking Factor research
The 2017 Local SEO Ranking Factors report by Local SEO Guide also sums up the importance of reviews as follows:
“Reviews are obviously a driving factor of ranking in Google My Business pack results … it’s a way for Google to crowdsource ranking factors, it’s hard to spam, and the most problematic type of abuse is illegal. It’s also something that let’s Google approximate online to offline ranking factors … All of this means it’s something that is easier for them to trust then say, links. At a high level, having a keyword you are trying to rank for, and a mention of a city you are working to rank in, in reviews has a high correlation with high ranking Google My Business results.”
In short, reviews send a strong signal to Google that your business is popular, active and in business.
Reviews are very much part of local SEO ranking signals, i.e. ranking for terms that specify a location, or are location-based in nature, e.g. Rotherham accountant, Leicester dentist, Derby printer, computer repair near me, office to rent near me.
In the example below we searched for “Manchester lawyers”. Each result has a star rating. These are pulled directly from Google My Business.
Google My Business reviews on a Google Maps search: “Manchester lawyers”
Local Search Note
Much attention is given to Google My Business and local search engine optimisation. Local SEO, as it’s known, comprises a slightly different set of rules to the more general SEO landscape but all businesses should get in on the act of seeking reviews regardless of whether they consider themselves local or not. Yes, Local SEO does refer to the coffee shops, restaurants and yoga classes in a specific location – the typical local business – but it also refers to a far wider set of lawyers, doctors, trainers, carpenters, builders, designers, software engineers etc. Even if you service a wider region, e.g. Greater Manchester, the South East or UK in general, reviews still send very positive signals to search engines and potential clients alike.
- Reviews will not trump a crap poor website and user experience. Just because you have more, or better, GMB reviews than your competitors does not mean you will rank higher. Search engine optimisation is complex and never will one component by itself shoot you to the top
- It is also entirely up to Google whether reviews are shown, or not. Businesses can point Google in the right direction by optimising their websites and GMB data but you cannot force results to show up
Google Business Reviews and Customer Perception
Think back to the last time you booked a holiday or bought something online. Did you look at the reviews? Did they consciously make a difference to your purchase decision?
The fact is if people don’t know your business they’re far more likely to trust reviews from friends and peers than company PR and that’s how reviews work.
There are bucket loads of stats to back this up but by way of example according to BrightLocal’s Local Consumer Review Survey 2017:
- 97% of consumers read online reviews for local businesses in 2017, with 12% looking every day
- 85% of consumers trust online reviews as much as personal recommendations
It would be remiss to ignore this next result but I’m not entirely convinced about it. BrightLocal go on to say: “17% fewer people will visit a business website after reading good reviews than in 2016”. This goes against the grain. However:
- The number of consumers who would visit a business as their next step has grown by 10% in the last year to 17%
- 10% of consumers now contact a business after reading a positive review
And according to research by Moz:
“… online reviews impact 67.7% of respondents’ purchasing decisions. More than half of the respondents (54.7%) admitted that online reviews are fairly, very, or absolutely an important part of their decision-making process.”
Google recognises this, and the GMB review system allows people to publicly rate businesses. If you’re searching for a business, you’re likely to listen to what others have to say.
Why Would Anyone Want to Review Your Business?
Good question. In the same manner that people like to share news, updates and posts on social media, people like to post reviews.
According to TrustPilot, people write reviews because:
- There is an emotional appeal
- They allow expression, empowerment and “consumers a public outlet to voice their opinion. Reviews provide consumers a chance to tell their side of the story”
- I review therefore I am: “Reviews serve to feed the ego, by giving reviewers the opportunity to be recognized and acknowledged by their peers”
- They offer a sense of community and altruism: “It helps influence their decision if they want to buy with the company or not”
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What are the Downsides to Business Reviews?
Good reviews produce not only strong ranking signals, but also create trust in your business. Consistently poor reviews would likely indicate a problem with products and services, quality and/or communication and Google is not averse to displaying bad reviews either. The downside therefore to reviews is that it can put your business in a bad light. Who wants bad reviews to show up in Google?
Googling “Derby builder” for example shows Littleover Building Services Ltd. with a one-star review. I don’t know this business but while it’s only the only review, which business would you prefer calling, or which website would you more likely visit? Johnson Building Services and Interbuild with five stars, or Littleover Building Services with one?
Littleover Building Services would be well advised to get more reviews to improve their rating.
A bad review on Google My Business
Anonymous and Fake
Why would someone post a fake review? We’re all familiar with fake news in the liberal, mainstream media and fake reviews are very similar in that they push a bogus agenda. Businesses might try and game the system and post rave reviews about themselves, or derogatory reviews about a competitor, all with the aim of improving their rank and visibility in search engines.
You can’t post anonymous reviews on GMB as you must be signed into Google to do so – but that doesn’t stop people creating fake email addresses for such purposes. We’re all familiar with the (apparently) sneaky Russians trying to manipulate elections and they would have done this through fake email addresses, profiles and accounts. Well, creating a fake email address and writing bogus reviews is in the same ball park.
Businesses might well do this themselves. Alternatively they might pay a third party, such as a marketing agency, to do so. (BTW we don’t and won’t post fake fake reviews so there’s no point asking.) Payment might be direct or in return for an incentive or discount.
Fake reviews are a HHUUUUGGGE No No from Google so you have been warned, but the fact is they happen and anyone can review a business. Be aware! To quote Google: “Google has no tolerance for fake reviews. We may take down any review that we think is fake or that doesn’t follow Google’s review policies.”
Reviews should be organic, natural, from real people, real customers and at a natural frequency and volume. So getting 100 reviews in a few days (a large volume and high velocity) may seem unnatural and Google could come down hard. Post fake reviews and you could fall foul of Google’s Review Policies such as having your site demoted, removed from search altogether or handed a manual action (no pun intended). Policies are quite broad but cover a wide range of spamming, foul language, copyrighted content and more.
To clamp down on this since 2016 Google has tightened its policy and now says if you’re making a product review, for example, you need to openly state if you’re benefiting.
As Kevin Lee points out, fake reviews “may subject the marketer and/or opinion spammer to criminal and civil penalties”. That’s pretty harsh but highlights the severity. The article, while speaking about reviews in general, is worth a read.
Suffice to say, you’ve been warned.
How Do You Know If You Receive a Review?
When a review is posted you’ll be notified via email. You’ll see who posted and when, and be able to click through to read it. This will take you through to Google My Business.
Of course, as reviews are public you can also search for your company on Google, look at your GMB profile and click on the review. The name of the reviewer, their profile image and the review will appear.
Note: just because you have a Gmail account and you’re the MD of your business does not mean you have access to your GMB listing! Many a time we’ve come across businesses who have no idea how to access their Google Analytics, Search Console and My Business profiles. An agency or (previous) employee set it up aeons ago. Get it sorted!
If you’re keen on being notified when you get a review, and replying, make sure you’re the owner, manager or communications manager of that listing!
Google My Business review email notification
A Google My Business review
Can You Edit a Google My Business Review?
No. Businesses cannot edit reviews left by customers but it’s always a good idea to reply to them.
Businesses can edit their own replies.
How to Dispute or Remove a Review
If you think a review is fake, completely unfair or misrepresents the actual course of events there are steps you can take to remove it. To be honest, WhiteSpark has written a pretty good How To guide on removing fake reviews so rather than reinventing the wheel I suggest you take a look.