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As a local business, reviews are your lifeblood. According to a research report created by SOCi and the Local Search Association, positive online reviews are the most important factor for consumers who are considering a purchase. However, we’re now learning that reviews from Google My Business (GMB) affect SEO ranking as well as consumer decisions. GMB is worth paying attention to; according to that same report, Google is now the No. 1 site for rankings and reviews in terms of total volume.

Online reviews represent an unbiased opinion about a business. Reviews are crowdsourced information that isn’t coming from the business owner or someone paid to promote the business. Which is why it’s no surprise that Google factors reviews into its SEO rankings. Google’s affinity for reviews is similar to the way the search engine rewards businesses that receive backlinks from other websites. The more other people are talking about your business, the higher Google ranks your site.

Google doesn’t reveal the rationale behind its search algorithm, but there are a few things that we can infer about how Google uses reviews in its search results. Here are three things to know about reviews on Google My Business:

The Content of the Review Matters

Now that Google is deprecating Google+ and adding local-focused features to Google My Business, reviews on GMB are a key factor for SEO. In fact, reviews that contain keywords are the second biggest SEO factor for determining where a local business shows up in the “local pack.”

The “local pack” is the box at the top of the search results, under the map. It shows nearby local businesses that match the search term, and it’s the first thing consumers see after they perform a search.

The aforementioned research shows that your business is more likely to show up in this local pack if it has reviews that mention:

  • Keywords you’re trying to rank for
  • The city/neighborhood that your business is located in

Reviews can help you rank for keywords, but there is another opportunity to add SEO content to your GMB page; Google Q&A is a GMB feature that displays crowdsourced questions, to which businesses and consumers can provide answers. Like reviews, those questions and answers will also show up in search results if they feature keywords.

Google does allow business owners to pre-populate Google Q&A with common questions and answers — a feature that savvy business owners can take advantage of. You can fill those pre-populated questions and answers with keywords in an effort to improve your SEO rankings.

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Engagement Is a Two-Way Street

You’ve likely heard about how much engagement matters on social media, but engagement is equally relevant to Google My Business. Instead of having consumers like your Facebook posts or comment on your business’ photos,you’re hoping to see them leave reviews on GMB and post questions on Google Q&A. By the same token, you can engage your consumers by responding to their reviews and answering their questions on Google Q&A.

Google My Business has a support page titled, “How to Improve your Ranking on Google.” On that page, Google recommends that businesses, “Interact with customers by responding to reviews that they leave about your business.” This hints that responses may affect SEO rankings. If nothing else, your response could change the way a customer feels about your business and get them to change their negative review to a positive one. Our research shows that 89 percent of consumers are willing to change a negative review based on how the business responds.

Reviews Earn Clicks & Clicks Earn Visibility

As we mentioned before, reviews matter for reasons beyond SEO. Our research showed that ratings and reviews are the No. 1 factor consumers use when choosing between local businesses, and that same research revealed that more than 50 percent of consumers pass up companies with less than a 4-star rating.

The better your reviews and ratings, the more likely it is that consumers will choose your business over a competitor. This is still related to SEO, however, because Google does seem to reward websites with a high organic click-through-rate. Having good reviews can increase your website traffic, which in turn boosts your SEO ranking, creating a positive feedback loop.

Based on the above findings, we can conclude that Google My Business profiles — and the accompanying reviews — are crucial SEO components for local businesses. Be sure to claim and manage your GMB profiles, respond to reviews and post-keyword-rich questions and answers on Google Q&A. This can be a tall task for marketers managing multiple business locations, but there is technology available to help you manage your local presence.

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