How Google Reviews Impact Map Pack & Organic Search Rankings
There is little doubt there are local SEO and general business benefits to earning and encouraging customers to leave keyword-rich reviews. In many cases, customers will leave reviews whether you ask them to or not.
Even negative reviews can have a positive effect if they are resolved promptly and in a positive way. Perhaps the worst thing a business can do is not respond to a review to show the customer you are listening.
And in addition to the impact they have on conversion, reviews are a local ranking factor that can either bolster or hinder your rankings, depending on a number of factors.
Let’s learn more about how local reviews impact your Map Pack and local organic search rankings.
The Benefits Of Customer Reviews
Customer reviews are a powerful indicator of the standing a local business maintains within its community. After all, who better to advise Google of the worth of a business than its customers?
The events of the past two years have pushed more and more consumers online. They will no doubt continue to look to their peers for insights on which businesses to purchase from or work with in the future.
In fact, a local consumer review study from BrightLocal released in December 2020 found that 87% of consumers read online reviews for local businesses in 2020 – that’s up from 81% in 2019.
Another local consumer study from BIA/Kelsey and ConStat reveals that, not surprisingly, 97% of consumers now use online media when researching products or services in their local area.
Further, the study says that “90% use search engines, 48% use Internet Yellow Pages, 24% use vertical sites, and 42% use comparison shopping sites.”
Google and other search engines certainly appear to reward businesses with higher volumes of positive reviews by placing them in the coveted Map Pack at the top of organic local search results.
It appears in search results over 30% of the time and whose links receive upwards of 70% of organic search traffic.
The Map Pack (or Local Pack) features three Google Business Profiles, deemed most worthy of this top billing, along with their star rating, customer reviews, and business details.
A recent study by SEMrush of the Local Pack for 5,624 businesses found the average star rating to be 4.1 and, more importantly, the business in the number one position on average had more positive reviews than those in positions 2 and 3.
In other words, more positive reviews received on a consistent basis will have a positive effect on a business’s ability to rank, be seen, and gain targeted local traffic.
Going a step further, Whitespark’s 2021 report on local ranking factors, based on a survey of 42 SEO experts, breaks down the importance of review-specific characteristics to Map Pack ranking as follows:
- High Star Ratings (i.e. 4-5).
- Keywords in Google Reviews.
- Quantity of Google Reviews.
Whitespark’s polled SEO experts also point out the importance of reviews to Google Business Profile conversions, which represent customers taking action (i.e. clicking, calling, etc.).
In this case, the following review characteristics were deemed to be most important with the top 2 being the overall top factors in GBP conversion:
- High Star Ratings.
- Positive Sentiment in Review Text.
- Quantity of Google Reviews.
- Recency of Reviews.
- Presence of Owner Responses to Reviews.
- Quantity of Positive Review Attributes.
One other benefit of customer reviews is the generation of keyword-rich content tied to the local business as customers comment on the business (brand), products, or services they’ve consumed.
This is content the business owner/managers don’t have to create.
There is, however, an onus on the business to respond to reviews, which we’ll discuss in a moment.
Based on all of this, if you own or manage a local business, you need to capitalize on the potential benefits of customer reviews.
How Do Reviews Affect Map Pack vs. Local Ranking?
There are some differences in how Google interprets reviews relative to where a business shows up in the Map Pack and what ranking it receives in local search engine results pages.
Whitespark’s report reveals reviews account for a 17% share of rank in the Map Pack, but only a 5% share in local organic ranking.
Map Pack rankings tend to be geared more towards the quality of a Google Business Profile page, which local organic rankings are tied to a broader set of on-site and off-site factors.
Regardless of the percentages, reviews have an important part to play in how businesses appear in either organic search format.
Several of the experts in Whitespark’s report cited focusing on “Keywords in Google Native Reviews” and “Quantity of Native Google Reviews” as two areas they will be focusing on to improve visibility in 2022.
Where Should I Get Reviews?
For many local businesses, Google reviews submitted via a Google Business Profile page are the most valuable type of reviews you can receive.
According to ReviewTrackers, Google reviews account for 57.5% of all online local reviews, with Facebook reviews coming in at 19%.
Specialized businesses may find value in obtaining reviews on industry-specific or locally focused websites.
Reviews from these sites will, by definition, hold less weight from an organic search ranking perspective and should therefore not be sought out proactively.
Pro-tip: Identify whether or not an industry-specific directory or review site shows up in the search results for your primary keywords (i.e. has authority of its own) before spending any time or money seeking exposure or reviews there.
How Do I Obtain Reviews?
Brightlocal’s 2020 report noted above found “72% of US consumers have written a review for a local business,” which means most customers certainly are willing to submit a review if they feel they’ve had a positive or sometimes negative experience.
So, the first natural key to getting (positive) reviews is to simply provide your customers with review-worthy products and services.
However, sometimes customers need to be shown or reminded where to extend their praise. There are a few things you can do to encourage your customers to leave reviews:
- Ask: Don’t be afraid to ask your customers directly for reviews, particularly after you’ve successfully delivered a product or service. Some businesses trigger review requests via text or email immediately or within hours after a customer has made a purchase, used a service, or completed an appointment.
- Other businesses include links to their Google Business Profile, Facebook page, or other review sites in their digital or paper invoices. There are technology solutions available to help small businesses, which are generally strapped for time, automate the process of requesting and responding to reviews post-delivery to ensure this is being done on a consistent basis.
- Promote: Visibly display banners, badges, or links to your preferred review sources on your primary web properties, so your customers have easy access to provide feedback e.g. your website, shopping cart, email signature. Also, consider promoting and asking for reviews offline. In a retail environment, this might involve referencing reviews sites on your front door or next to your cash register.
Regardless of where you prompt them to provide reviews (if they feel you are deserving), it is also a good idea to suggest they reference the product, service, location, or other details related.
The goal here is to have customers create and submit reviews containing keywords and phrases the search engines can pick up on and attribute to the business; a small, but effective SEO tactic.
In short, the easier it is for a customer to leave a review, the more likely they will. Further, the review will more likely be a reflection of their overall positive experience with your business.
But What If My Business Receives Negative Reviews?
This is probably the most asked question when it comes to reviews and why some local businesses may shy away from asking in the first place. Every business, regardless of its employees’ best efforts, is (at some point in time) going to get a negative review.
The key is to deal with the bad review and resolve whatever issue your customer has, as soon as possible.
In fact, a conscientious business owner will look at a negative review as an opportunity to demonstrate responsiveness and customer service. Savvy customers pay keen attention to this as well.
ReviewTrackers study found that “53.3 percent of consumers expect a response to their review within 7 days” while Brightlocal’s research revealed, “When writing a review, 20% of consumers expect to receive a response within one day.”
Note that there is no mention here of positive or negative, meaning most consumers expect some response to their reviews regardless of the sentiment.
These percentages certainly must go up if the customer has left a negative review. Quick responses and resolutions are critical to keeping and attracting customers.
According to a Harvard Business Review study from 2018, which “examined tens of thousands of hotel reviews and responses from TripAdvisor,” hotels that responded to reviews saw a 12% increase in the number of reviews that came in and a marginal increase in their overall rating.
Further, it didn’t seem to matter whether these responses were too good or bad reviews.
While Google reviews should be the primary focus, if you maintain a profile and receive reviews on a third-party site like Yelp, Tripadvisor, etc., you should be just as diligent at responding to this feedback, particularly if it’s negative.
While the organic authority of these sites is limited, the overall effect on your brand and public perception is real.
As noted earlier, there are technologies available to help quickly manage reviews, which can be tied to their sentiment. In other words, negative reviews can be highlighted and prioritized to ensure they are dealt with swiftly.
Google understands and no doubt accounts for the likelihood of negative reviews as well, when considering the authority and trustworthiness of a business.
A few negative reviews will not hurt your ability to rank, but they could if those reviews are left unanswered. Moreover, unanswered negative reviews are likely to hurt your business in general as they demonstrate a lack of customer service overall.
Multiple bad reviews, as you would expect, are undoubtedly going to reflect poorly on any business and its ability to rank prominently in the search engines. If this is happening to you, it’s likely time to step back and reflect on how you are running the business in the first place.
Social Proof Makes The Digital World Go Round
One thing which has never changed, regardless of the medium, is that people want to deal with other people and companies they trust.
They often look to their family, friends, and neighbors to validate the trustworthiness of the businesses they are considering.
Online reviews are simply an extension of this process to this relatively new medium where modern buyer journeys are increasingly happening.
Google recognizes this and rewards those businesses who obtain, monitor, and effectively respond to their customer base with improved organic search visibility.
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