This guest article was written by Andrea Brandon, Vice President of Marketing and Creative Services at Mindstream Media.
Andrea guides marketing and communications strategy to build awareness and generate leads for the agency and its clients.
Customer reviews and ratings are emotive for franchisees and other local business owners. A great review lifts your spirits, while a questionable or negative one can knock the wind out of you for days. You know what reviews can do to your mental state, but how do they affect your business? Not only do they influence potential customers who see them, customer ratings impact search rankings on sites like Google and Bing.
Why search engines care about your reviews.
Consumers read and act on online reviews. As many as 85 percent of consumers trust them as much as a recommendation from someone they know. And according to a recent report, ratings and reviews are now the #1-factor consumers use in determining which business to visit. These users value reviews and ratings across a variety of search, social, and e-commerce sites, because they’re helpful along their buying journeys. From brand research to product reliability to customer service, users want to know whether products and services suit their needs, and they look to others who have been in their shoes. Because consumers think reviews are important, search engines also think reviews are important.
The role of reviews in search rankings.
Franchisees and other businesses can see customer ratings and reviews influence where they appear in search results on the following platforms:
- Google Local Pack. The Local Pack serves up just three business locations in the user’s geographic area that offer the products or services being searched on Google Maps. One of the variables in play that Google considers when serving the results are business reviews. Here, algorithms generally factor in number of reviews, recency, frequency, ratings, and even whether the business is responding to reviews. Review signals make up almost 16 percent of Local Pack ranking factors making it the third-highest factor behind Google My Business signals (25 percent) and link signals (17 percent).
- Localized Organic Results. The results served up organically are also impacted by review signals. Although not to quite the extent in Google organic results as in the Local Pack, reviews are still a growing influencer year-over-year. Bing also uses customer ratings and reviews in their algorithm for search results and has been more open about doing so than Google in past years.
How to get reviews that help search rankings.
Getting more reviews, earning better star ratings, and engaging with consumers that leave reviews are all areas franchisees and other business owners can play an active part to improve their reputation and search position.
- Increase review volume. First things first—each franchise should claim/verify every one of their location pages and ensure the information is accurate and maintained. This is a requirement for Google to serve your listing. Next, ask customers to leave reviews on Google and other sites, like Facebook or Yelp, and encourage them to be specific with keywords calling out the relevant products and services purchased. You can train employees to ask directly, put signs up at your locations, and include a review request in product packaging or service notes.
- Earn better customer ratings. Better performing businesses are more likely to rank well on results pages. There’s no getting around the fact that your business must earn reviews by making every customer interaction a positive one. Even negative experiences and reviews can be improved later by your locations’ reactions to disappointed customers. Keep reading.
- Respond to reviews and social media comments. Best practices for responding to reviews are centered around being authentic, showing genuine interest in the customer’s experience with your brand and products, apologizing and making good when you should, and being timely. Ideally, locations should respond within an hour, according to the Localized Social Marketing Benchmark report published by the Local Search Association and SOCi. Ultimately, responding properly and quickly serves both your customer and your business, as it better positions you in search results and in the eyes of prospective customers who may be researching your brand and reading your review responses.
What was once word of mouth, online reviews are now exponentially more important because of the volume, immediacy, and impact they have on business exposure and traffic. Franchise businesses that understand customer ratings’ impact on search results are best positioned to beat out the competition.