Product and Engineering
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Product and Engineering

How Ratings and Reviews Impact Search

Reviews have always been important to the customer experience. In this blog post, learn more about how ratings and reviews impact search, as well as techniques and best practices to help optimize your online reputation.

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Reviews have always been important to the customer experience. Customers are more likely to trust businesses that have positive reviews, and around 89% say they read reviews before making a purchase.* However, a benefit that typically isn't associated with reviews is their impact on search. Reviews impact search in a number of different ways. These experiences vary depending on whether someone is doing a branded search query. Branded searches are searches for a specific brand (e.g. Starbucks near me) while unbranded searches don't feature brand-specific terms (e.g. Coffee near me). Let's start with what marketers care the most about: showing up for unbranded searches.

Reviews impacting unbranded searches

Google's main criteria for how they rank businesses in search is based on distance, relevance, and prominence.** A big part of prominence consists of your online reputation. By definition: average rating, the number of reviews, and the recency of your reviews all contribute to make up your online reputation.

On top of that, Google heavily leans on average rating when determining what the "best" business is. Take this common search query: "Best coffee shop near me." How do you think Google knows what the best coffee shop is? Google probably isn't going to every coffee shop and trying the coffee (sign us up though if a job like that ever opens up!). Instead, Google uses average ratings to deliver what they believe are the "best" results. Google often curates the results to only show businesses that are rated 4 stars and above when users include the word "best" in their search.*** That's right, in this case if you're a coffee shop rated 3.9 stars or lower, you don't even have the opportunity to show up.

In addition to average rating, Google also utilizes the content of reviews to help justify why a business was ranked. Using the same example as above: "best coffee shop near me" – Google will crawl the review content for each business and highlight the keywords in bold that match the search query. The top three coffee shops in this example all have snippets from a review (known as review justifications) that contain the keywords "best coffee."

Reviews impacting branded searches

Now let's look at how reviews impact branded search experiences. Take this search for example: "Joe Smith Canuck Insurance"

This is the search engine results page on Google, with Joe Smith's business profile on display to the right. Google will crawl the web for all types of data, but will sometimes pull in information from other places to enrich their own search experiences.

An example of that is on display here with Google prominently displaying ratings and reviews from other sites directly on Joe Smith's Google Business Profile. One of those review sources happens to be first-party reviews (reviews that Joe Smith generated himself and then published on his website page). A benefit of generating first-party reviews with proper schema markup: Google will sometimes reward businesses by showcasing the star rating at the top of the search engine results page (as seen in the top left corner).

Fully understanding how much ratings and reviews have an impact on search can be eye opening for most businesses. The next challenge is understanding how to implement a reputation management strategy. Here are some strategies and best practices that our most successful customers have implemented:

Monitor reviews.
Knowledge is power, and the first building block for any reputation management strategy is to have visibility into your brand's ratings and trends over time. This can help you keep a general pulse on customer sentiment towards your brand's service. But looking at ratings can sometimes be misleading; here at Yext we recommend using more advanced tools to understand the specific reasons why ratings are trending positively or negatively. This is where sentiment analysis comes into play.

Yext's Sentiment Analysis tool uses Natural Language Processing to identify important keywords in your customer reviews and assign a positive or negative sentiment score to each keyword. This functionality allows you to analyze your reviews based upon the actual content of each review and understand how your customers feel about different aspects of your brand. These insights provide a better understanding of your customers, helping you to deliver an excellent customer experience! The problem with most review management vendors is they can only capture high-level sentiments; they can't do keyword-level tracking and those that do, can only group keywords into one of three buckets: positive, negative, or neutral. This level of analysis, however, doesn't account for extreme sentiments. At Yext, sentiment scores can range between -100 and +100, with lower scores corresponding to negative sentiment, and vice versa.

Let's look at two keyword examples that both have a negative sentiment: "waits" and "floors."

We can see "waits" has a sentiment score of -12 because people are moderately displeased with the long wait times, but "floors" has a significantly worse sentiment score of -80 because people are fiercely unhappy with the dirty floors. Using the sentiment analysis provided by most review vendors (as described above), both keywords would fall into the same "negative" bucket.

The downfall of this bucket approach: Brands don't have true visibility into how much each keyword actually contributes to the overall customer experience. It's critical for brands to be able to easily identify and fix issues that are contributing to severe negative brand experiences, as is the case here with the dirty floors.

On the other hand, Yext's sentiment analysis assigns a numerical value to each keyword. This provides more granular analysis and allows businesses to easily identify areas that require immediate attention. Or, on a positive note, provide insights into parts of the business that significantly contribute to positive customer experiences.

Oh and by the way, reviews contain keywords with strong sentiment more than you might think. Almost 15% of reviews have strong mixed sentiment, meaning they have at least one strong positive keyword and one strong negative keyword.****

Respond thoughtfully to reviews.
The benefits of responding to reviews thoughtfully expands far beyond just increasing the likelihood of retaining an existing unhappy customer. Google crawls a variety of content when determining how to deliver the most relevant results in search. This likely not only includes content from the reviewer, but also the words business owners use to respond. That's why, as it specifically relates to search, it's important that business owners personalize their responses based on the feedback in the review itself.

Most review vendors that support "personalization" in their response templates can only dynamically populate fields that are specific to the location you are responding for – not the actual content of the review. Here is what a response template like that might look like: "... Please contact us at {{location-specific number}}."

Sure, this level of personalization helps the response feel less automated, but it does not help from a search perspective. Although review justifications do not technically cause rankings, there's a strong correlation with businesses featured in the local pack that have justifications featured. That's why, whenever possible, it's important to incorporate the keywords used in each review into your responses.

Yext offers a tool known as Intelligent Review Response that suggests responses dynamically based on the keywords and sentiment identified within your reviews. This allows you to craft responses that are more likely to affect search results, as well as add personalized content without having to manually write out each response from scratch.

Generate more reviews.
Review generation is the process of inviting customers to leave reviews for your business. Customers are 21% more likely to leave a review after a negative experience.***** That's why generated reviews tend to be rated higher than reviews that are organically acquired over time.

Outside of featuring more positive reviews on Google, publishing first-party reviews on your website pages can further help from a search perspective:

  1. Reviews on local pages can cause increased engagement on that page. More engagement on pages can cause an SEO bump vs. pages with less engagement.
  2. Including first party reviews on your page schema marked up can help Google understand an entity better in search. Having terms like "great wifi" in your schema marked up first party reviews can help your business show up better for those types of searches.
Value of implementing a reputation management strategy

Given how much ratings and reviews have an impact on search, it's clear reputation management should be at the forefront of any business's search strategy. It may seem like a daunting task for those who have never implemented a reputation management strategy, but the results are worth it! Companies with four and five-star ratings tend to earn as much as 22% more than companies with bad reviews or poor ratings.******

Leader in reputation management software

If you're looking for the best reputation management software, choose Yext. G2 voted Yext as one of the top leaders for Enterprise-level reputation management software.*******

Interested in learning more? Check out Yext's Reputation Management Solution, or schedule a demo here.

Sources:
* Trustpilot
** Google
*** Search Engine Land
**** Yext Analysis, 2020
***** Findstack: The Ultimate List of Online Review Statistics for 2022
****** Online Reputation: Why Online Reputation Management is Important
******* G2

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