This blog post is particularly addressed to anyone or everyone who operates small businesses or businesses in local areas. This post is equally meant for SEO professionals and enthusiasts who want to enhance their knowledge about Local SEO.
I would like to start by saying that reviews including ‘Google reviews’ are often over- looked while working out an SEO strategy. This fact resonates especially in the case of local SEO or anyone who wants to enhance the visibility of their local businesses in the search engine.
But why such strong bias against reviews. This bias may exist mainly because SEO ranking campaigns, irrespective of whether it is done for local businesses or big businesses, are generally tilted towards link-building and content creation.
Reviews most often (as hinted above) ranks very low in the priority list. In fact, sometimes they don’t even make it into the list.
This is not just a minor mistake, but a big mistake.
This post will shed light on as to why it is a mistake while I’ll be mainly focusing on ‘Google Reviews’ and why it is so important for local SEO.
The reason I’m focusing purely on ‘Google Reviews’ is because it gets preferential treatment on Google. It is the only review service that makes it into Google’s feature snippet. For those who don’t know Google’s feature snippet is selected search results that are featured on top of Google’s first page.
They mostly pop-up when someone searches for local businesses like restaurants, doctors, dentists, plumbers etc. on Google.
As for the preferential treatment is concerned then this is obviously because Google Reviews is owned by Google. And Google, as we all know, is the world’s no 1 search engine.
Below I’ve pasted screenshot that will give a clear idea about what feature snippets really looks like….
Reviews positively drive sales growth
Before veering towards Google Reviews, I’d like to shed some light on how reviews positively impact sales and ROI.
I would like to take a rough bet that almost all readers who are or will be reading this blog post must have searched for reviews for products and services at some point. In fact, many would be habitually searching for online reviews before buying any products and services.
Today reviews have unarguably become an integral part of the modern consumer behavior. Whether consumers hail from developed countries like the U.S. and Switzerland or developing countries like India, they are becoming more & more dependent on reviews for making better buying decisions.
What does this basically implies for sales and overall business growth? Well, more positive reviews basically results in more sales and propels any business towards growth trajectory. In fact, many advertising experts claim that positive reviews can play a critical role in building strong brand equity for any product or services.
Here are some interesting facts that establishes a strong correlation between online reviews and sales.
- Displaying reviews on high authoritative websites helps in high sales conversion by as much as 70% to 100%.
- Reviews matters a lot especially for expensive and costly products
- Too many negative reviews can potentially impact the sales of any business in a bad way
- While too many negative reviews are bad, too many positive reviews (especially too many 5 star ratings) can create suspicion in the minds of customers.
- Embracing and replying negative reviews instantly does help in better brand management.
Google confirms ‘Reviews’ as a ranking factor
No less than Google itself has confirmed that Google reviews can help your business in standing out in its search engine.
This is what Google has said about Google reviews:
“Reviews on Google provide valuable information about your business to both you and your customers. Business reviews appear next to your listing in Maps and Search, and can help your business stand out on Google.”
I have deliberately highlighted the last few words of this sentence in bold to assert the importance that Google attaches to Google Reviews.
The importance of Google reviews is also quite self-explanatory. Just search for local businesses/ services or simply search for their reviews and Google reviews will automatically pop up in Google’s feature snippet.
I am quite sure that everyone have seen those Google reviews on top of the first page while searching for local businesses and services. And this fact is enough to underline the importance of Google reviews in giving increased visibility to local businesses in search engine.
But how does one respond and manage Google reviews.
Well, any local business owners wanting to increase the online presence of his business can do so by registering their business on Google My Business.
Google My Business (GMB) is a free business listing service by Google that helps business owners to connect with their customers across Google search and Maps. Managing and responding to reviews is one of the important features of GMB.
It is very easy to register and verify your business on GMB. All it takes is barely few minutes to do so.
However, if you’re really serious about increasing the online presence of your business then merely registering your business on GMB is not enough.
One needs to regularly log in to their GMB account and check the reviews & respond to them if needed. Besides, regularly updating your GMB account with fresh content and photos is equally important.
In Local Seo, reviews are almost equivalent of backlinks
If any local business owner reading this post doesn’t have an iota of SEO knowledge then I would like to clarify that backlinks play the most critical role in ranking of any website on Google.
But when it comes to local Seo, this job can almost be done by reviews. This is no exaggeration but an undeniable fact. I can prove with a simple example….
In this example, I conducted an online search for Chinese restaurants in Mumbai – the financial capital of India.
The search brought me a feature snippet that showed me the names and ratings of three top Chinese restaurants in Mumbai city. Please see the screenshot below…
Now out of the three names that you see above, only Yauatcha Mumbai has an official website while Royal China and China Bistro don’t have official websites of their own.
However, despite not having an official website and therefore no backlinks, Royal China and China Bistro have still managed to make it into Google’s feature snippet; i.e. at the top of the very first page.
How did they manage to do this? Well, they got themselves into the envious position of Google’s first page only by virtue of reviews. This shows the power of reviews in the ranking of local businesses in Google.
While fetching Google reviews is immensely important, getting positive reviews in other high authoritative websites is just as critical. The latter is especially important in increasing the trustworthiness of any business in Google’s eyes.
Let us again take the example of Royal China and China Bistro. They both enjoy good number of reviews on Tripadvisor.in and Zomato.com, both being high authority websites.
The morale of the story is that Google, in all probability, attaches great degree of importance to high authoritative review websites. Therefore while focusing on Google reviews, don’t underestimate the importance of other high authoritative websites in your niche.
How to fetch Google reviews from customers
It is actually pretty easy to get Google reviews provided that your business is able to create regular stream of satisfied customers. The more number of satisfied customers, the greater is the chance for your business to fetch more positive Google reviews.
Below I have shared some tips about how you should go about in securing Google reviews from customers…
- Politely ask for reviews from customers before they leave your business premises.
- Follow-up with your satisfied customers by mailing and reminding them about writing a nice Google review about your business.
- Ask for reviews from your customers on your business’s official social media pages like Facebook, Twitter, Instagram etc.
- Ask for reviews by mentioning about it on menu cards or visiting cards. You can also paste creative stickers around your business premises to request your customers to write reviews about your business on Google reviews.
Following things are not allowed while pursuing Google reviews
Just like everything else, Google has issued guidelines for Google reviews as well. A big part of this guidelines deal with actions that is considered as violation of these guidelines.
- You cannot pay or gift your customers for writing reviews.
- Your employees cannot post reviews about your business.
- You cannot ask for bulk reviews from customers
- You cannot stop any body from writing bad or negative reviews about your business
How does Google deal with fake reviews?
Some competitors or people with whom you share animosity might try to damage your business by posting fake reviews.
Although Google has categorically mentioned in its guidelines that it has low tolerance for fake reviews, the fact remains that even Google finds it difficult to detect fake reviews. That said, the search engine giant has a fixed protocol to spot fixed reviews.
For instance, it does not accept multiple reviews with same content nor does it accept reviews for same business from multiple accounts.
Google also allows you to report fake reviews. But the final decision to flag the review rests with Google. Its reviewing team or bot will flag the review if it thinks that the review is indeed fake. Else it will choose to ignore your compliant if it concludes that the review is genuine.
Lastly, fake reviews doesn’t have to include only negative reviews. Even positive reviews can be fake. Many business owners may indulge in unethical practices of posting fake postive reviews for boosting their ratings.
It must be categorically noted that such practice is against Google’s guidelines. Repeated offence of this nature will attract severe penalty.
How to deal with negative reviews?
Last but not least, I would like to end this post by talking about how business owners should deal with negative Google reviews.
Surprisingly, business owners can turn negative reviews into a boon given that they can openly embrace them.
Rather than getting embarrassed, they should openly accept that customers may have genuinely felt let down by their products or services. This realization will propel business owners to reach out to the unsatisfied customers by apologizing for the bad experience and genuinely trying to address their problem.
This will show that your business genuinely cares for customers and this consistently caring attitude will help in keeping your business’s reputation intact.
In fact, there have been innumerable case studies to prove that negative reviews can become strength for those businesses that have genuinely caring attitude.