Why does Google care if your business has online reviews in 2019?
Over the last decade we’ve come to expect handy guidance from ratings and reviews anytime we go online. Now Google expects them, too.
Maybe it’s because Amazon taught us to rely on ratings and reviews, or maybe it’s because we’ve always been social creatures, eager to hear about what others did when faced with similar decisions.
Maybe it’s because Google tends to show us search results that feature reviews and ratings.
Whatever the root cause, there’s no question that ratings and reviews help shoppers on their quest for the perfect purchase, or that they work wonders for businesses of just about any size.
Whether you need to improve your online reputation, create a feedback loop with your customers, step up your user-generated content game, or boost on-site conversions — a review strategy can help with all of that.
But perhaps the most underrated benefit of collecting reviews is that, when implemented properly, reviews can help Google better understand your site. That’s a huge win for organic SEO.
Between more and more businesses emerging each day (who are, to say the least, also trying to stand out in organic search), and paid advertising becoming less effective in saturated markets, ranking well in organic search results is a true asset for any business.
When your potential customers are off consulting the internet for help making their next purchase, wouldn’t you want to put yourself right where they can see you?
Reviews can help you rank higher in organic search results
Unlike paid advertising campaigns, which don't always delight consumers, doing what you can to improve your organic Search Engine Results Page (SERP) ranking can really move the needle — with less risk of potential customers getting fed up with your brand.
If we had to quantify the importance of your organic search ranking, a staggering 91.5% of organic traffic share goes to sites listed on the first page of results. Don’t shoot the messenger, but if you’re not ranking anywhere near the first page of results, you’re probably not getting seen in organic search.
Make no mistake. Ranking on the first page in Google SERPs is a challenge for businesses of all shapes and sizes, and it certainly doesn’t happen overnight. The good news is that other aspects of your broader marketing strategy, like review collection, can do double duty to help you with organic SEO.
But how do we know that reviews and ratings are meaningful to the powers that be at Google in 2019?
According to Moz's 2018 Local Search Ranking Factors, review signals like quantity, velocity, and diversity came in as the 3rd most important factor in how Google ranks local businesses in its “Local Pack” SERP. Some sources consider review signals to be even more important in 2019. That’s a pretty big deal, especially if you do a lot of local business.
And if you’re not a brick and mortar business, the SEO community believes you’ll still see serious SEO benefits from gathering reviews. Common understanding is that Google uses them to derive brand signals, which can boost your site’s domain authority and eventually your position in search.
Because Google’s goal is to serve up high quality and reputable results, they’re on the lookout brand signals that can help them separate the “brands” (who, among other indicators, have proof of a satisfied customer base) from the “generics” (the sites that Google classifies as having a poor user experience).
Simply put, Google appreciates when some of the guesswork around a website’s quality is done for them, so it’s a good idea to use independent (read: trusted) online platforms to gather reviews.
The role of reviews in off-page SEO
In answering why Google cares about online reviews, we have to touch on the role reviews play in off-page SEO. As the name suggests, off-page SEO (also called off-site SEO) refers to the actions you take outside of your actual website to impact your rankings in organic search.
This is a high level look at how it works:
By incorporating some off-page SEO techniques into your overall strategy — like building a presence on social media and third-party review platforms — you signal to Google that you’re a brand.
Most businesses have an on-page SEO strategy to help with organic search, but fewer are spending significant energy on off-page opportunities. Pulling some key levers for off-page SEO could be the competitive advantage your business needs to rise to the top of organic search results.
Google changes. Reviews are likely here to stay.
According to Moz, off-site SEO-related factors like third-party reviews carry more than 50% of the ranking factor weight. Though search engines are constantly evolving, factors like relevance, trustworthiness, and authority will likely always play a role in a page’s ability to rank, and building up your online presence with reviews can help businesses crush all three of those criteria.
At the end of the day, you want both your customers and Google to think of you as a brand. You can make all the on-page SEO optimizations you want, but Google will still be looking out for your brand’s reputation on third-party platforms.
An ever-improving brand reputation
Most businesses spend a lot of time optimizing their websites for what they think Google wants to see, but what your customers want to see is still incredibly important. When a person searches for reviews of your company, they’re looking for a neutral third-party source of information.
Profiles on third-party review sites like Trustpilot tend to rank highly thanks to their strong domain authority, helping them stand out in organic search. They’re a great way to highlight your reputation to potential customers.
Choosing to build your online presence on a platform that’s likely to appear at the top of search is an advantage. But choosing a review platform known for transparency and openness is the fast track to a brand reputation that consumers can not only easily find, but also easily trust.
If you want to learn more, here are some other useful links that will help you get started improving your organic search performance with online reviews.
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