How important are reviews for SEO?

Your company’s reputation plays a large role in local organic search rankings. For example, if your company is listed in every major local business directory and you’re mentioned on local news sources regularly, and if great user reviews of your business dot the web, you’ll likely rank higher than if just the reverse occurs: You’re rarely mentioned and your reviews are poor.

Every business gets a bad review now and then, and some businesses naturally have trouble attracting reviews from their customers. But, with local SEO becoming more important and more influential, just how important are consumer reviews for SEO?

The multiple benefits of reviews

Online reviews do more for your business than just look good on external sites:

  • Lots of good reviews can increase your business’s local rankings in search engines. Currently, Google displays the “top three” most relevant businesses for any given query. When someone searches for a business in your area that’s like yours, Google uses customer ratings as a major determining factor for whom it places in those top three spots.
  • Better reviews mean you’ll get more clicks once you’re ranked. Imagine that you’re looking for a specific kind of restaurant, and you’re met with three options: One has an average five stars, while the other two have an average two stars. Which one will you click? Rankings are nice, but qualified traffic is even better.
  • Better reviews mean more business. Customer reviews are a subjective yet reliable credibility score that let other potential customers know whether your business is a good choice.

These three benefits, working together, clearly illustrate the value of attracting good reviews online. If, between two otherwise equal competitors, one business pursues better reviews while the other ignores them, the business that pursues better reviews will undoubtedly win out in terms of traffic and eventual purchases.

The increasing importance of reviews 

As if the raw benefits weren’t enough, the power of reviews is actually increasing. Thanks to Google’s local Pigeon update back in 2014, Yelp and third-party directories have more influence than ever over search rankings; some business pages on these directories are actually ranking higher than the business pages themselves. Plus, in the new local 3-pack, Google is doing more to prominently display average ratings for businesses immediately within results, so users know instantly how highly rated your site is.

Platform specificity

Keep in mind that a review on one platform is rarely equal in power or visibility to a review on a competing platform. For example, some platforms syndicate their reviews for use on other platforms, while others keep them as platform-exclusives.

Certain platforms are also more important to your search engine rankings than others. As you might imagine, your reviews on Google+ carry extra ranking weight, plus you’ll get some immediate visibility embedded in the search results (provided you’re in the top three). Google+ ratings also display first for many branded search queries, especially searches conducted on mobile devices (which, according to Google, have surpassed desktop searches in quantity). Yelp, Foursquare, Citysearch and YP are also especially important landmarks. If you’re getting lots of reviews on these sites, you’re probably getting ample coverage on other, less popular sites as well.

Relative value

When it comes to all the factors responsible for producing your ultimate ranking, reviews aren’t the most important. The structure of your site, the user experience you offer, your content strategy and your link-building program are all going to play a greater role in determining your ranking than online reviews. Still, once all the “basics” are taken care of, the quality and quantity of reviews you attract will add another significant influence to the list. Never sacrifice the quality of a content campaign to attract more reviews, but don’t shelve reviews as being unimportant, either.

Industry considerations

It’s also important to remember that certain industries are subject to greater influence from consumer reviews than others. For example, if you’re looking for a nice restaurant or a good hotel, user reviews can inform you whether your experience will meet your expectations. On the other hand, choosing a new bank requires less user-based input; a consumer is more likely to base his or her decision on objective factors, like rates or product offers, than subjective customer reviews. Accordingly, consider your industry when weighing the value of local reviews for your overall success.

Along similar lines, remember that not all review sites are relevant for all industries. For example, UrbanSpoon exists exclusively for rating restaurants. If your industry has a specific review site, be sure you’re listed on it. If there’s a review site completely irrelevant to your industry, you can ignore it safely.

If you’re looking for a bottom line, it’s this: Online reviews are important for more than just your search rankings. As a general rule, the more positive reviews you earn, the more online traffic and conversions you’re going to get. If you want to do more to earn local reviews, make your presence on local directories known. Yelp, for example, will give you free promotional collateral you can use to let your patrons know your presence on the review site, which will prompt active consumers to leave more reviews.

You can also sign up for Google Alerts to actively monitor mentions of your business online, which you can use as opportunities to cultivate positive feedback and nip in the bud any bad reviews before they cause real damage.