Do reviews have an impact on your search performance? The answer is a resounding yes, with Google confirming that "high-quality, positive reviews from your customers will improve your business's visibility." But to comprehend the true role that reviews play in your search strategy fully, you need to understand the different types of answers your customers see in search results — objective versus subjective answers.
Objective Answers, Subjective Answers and Your Search Ranking
Often, customers are asking questions about a business that have objective answers. When it comes to the essential facts about your business's products, services, people and places (these are the types of facts that make up the answers to those questions that show intent to transact) there is no better expert than the brand itself. Digital marketers can and should be in control of these facts everywhere they appear, delivering accurate brand-verified answers about their business at every stage of the consumer search experience.
But brands can't deliver every single answer their customers need. Sometimes, customers want to hear other people's feedback — which means they're looking for subjective answers. Subjective answers include opinions, reviews and recommendations. Google reports an 80% increase in mobile searches including the phrase "should I" in the past two years. When customers perform these types of searches, it's elements like your ratings and reviews that are going to rank in search results.
Brands can't control these types of answers directly. Most review sites have guidelines in place to make sure that review content remains as subjective as possible. But brands can influence the subjective answers consumers find about them with effective reputation management — by encouraging, monitoring and responding to reviews across digital properties and by taking action on negative reviews to achieve consistency and quality throughout the customer experience.
So monitor and analyse the feedback customers are already leaving for you around the web. Your customers are telling you how to create a great customer experience; you just have to listen. Respond to their feedback and make changes as you can — and encourage them to continue leaving reviews so that you have recent ratings for search engines to draw upon.
The best thing a business can do to improve its ranking for subjective answers is to cultivate loyal followers simply by providing great service. A great experience creates natural brand advocates. Ratings are a reflection of the business you're already doing and they amplify your existing reputation publicly.
Whether You Rank At All
You probably know that these subjective answers about your brand online shape consumer perception of your business and have an impact on their decision to visit. But reviews can also affect whether your business shows up in search results at all. Search engines like Google often pre-filter results for searches including terms like "best" (e.g., "best fixed-gear bike for commuting"; "best fast food vegan options"), and will only show results for businesses with a 4-star rating or above.
Similarly, when you ask Alexa or Siri for a recommendation for "best" anything, it's reviews that inform how they surface the "best" answer.
Wondering what extra steps you can take to ethically build positive reviews? Here are some best practices for responding to reviews and other tips.
About That Google Algorithm Update…
On the more technical side, reviews and search performance have been a hot topic with the rollout of Google's September 2019 algorithm update. The search giant announced that a new algorithm would be part of the indexing process for review snippets and other rich results, making changes in the way Google Search Review snippets are showcased.
The major impact? A curbing of self-serving reviews and a clear set of schema types for review snippets. Google no longer supports Google Search Reviews for the schema types Organisation and LocalBusiness if they use markup code and third-party widgets to obscure who they're actually coming from.
In other words, no more gaming the system that way — so increase your focus on organic ways to shape the subjective answers about your brand through reputation management and bear in mind that your review response strategy matters more than ever.
Explore more strategies inThe Complete Guide to Reputation Management.