How Online Reviews (& Responding to Them) Improve Your SEO

Jonas Sickler SEO Manager
Key Points
  • 93% of consumers say online reviews impact their purchasing decision. 82% of consumers make a special effort to read the reviews before they purchase a product.
  • Reviews are trust signals and act as social proof for Google when determining what results should appear in the SERPs.
  • Online reviews can prove (or disprove) your expertise, authority and trustworthiness to both Google and the customer.
  • Get online reviews by claiming your listings on every major review platform, allowing on-site reviews and proactively asking for reviews.
  • Make it scalable by automating the review-collection process with tools such as ReviewPush and GatherUp.

Do you crave online customer reviews and recommendations like these?

“This laptop is lightning fast! It ROCKS!”

“Softest sweater in the world. I told all my friends about it.”

“Sophia is much more than just a financial advisor. She’s always asking about our family, even our crazy Pugs. She’s helped us not only solidify our finances, but also sock away enough for both our life goals and big annual family vacations. Hire her! You won’t regret it.” 

You already know why online reviews are important. They help companies to establish trust and enable their customers make informed decisions. But did you know that online consumer reviews also influence SEO?

Let’s take a look at how online ratings and reviews impact Google ranking factors and how your company can maximize their full potential.

THE IMPORTANCE OF ONLINE REVIEWS TO SEO

Online review stats

Reviews can have a major impact on your organic traffic. They’re a natural source of long-tail keywords and they produce the sort of off-page SEO impact that increases search engine trust. But before they move the needle on your SEO, they have to move the customer. And the data tells us they accomplish this. In fact, a whopping 93% of consumers say online reviews impact their purchasing decision. 82% of consumers make a special effort to read the reviews before they purchase a product.

Within the ecommerce world, 63% of consumers are more likely to make a purchase from a website that has reviews. And for companies with brick-and-mortar locations, the impact of off-site reviews on platforms like Yelp is just as pronounced. In fact, 57% of consumers will only visit brick-and-mortar locations that have four stars or more on Yelp.

People don’t just read reviews; they also trust them. This is especially true in younger demographics, with 91% of 18 to 34-year-olds saying they trust online reviews as much as personal recommendations. It’s a striking nod to the power of social proof, both online and offline.

With so much influence over customer decision-making, your ecommerce SEO strategy had better include tactics to manage online reviews.

Online reviews give Google social proof

Online reviews give Google social proof

Social proof isn’t just part of the decision process for the customer. It’s also a critical way for Google to gauge the popularity, authority and trustworthiness of your site. Google’s algorithm relies heavily on trust signals like mentions and inbound links from high-authority sites. Similarly, reviews tell search engines whether or not consumers trust a business. That’s why the importance of product reviews can’t be overstated.

This is true of both on-site product reviews and off-site local reviews. On-site reviews lead to richer, more engaging content and keywords, a better customer experience, and a higher conversion rate. However, off-site local reviews take the clear edge in the “social proof” category.

Off-site reviews also carry the most weight as a search engine trust signal for several reasons:

  • They have a diverse user base spread across multiple platforms
  • It’s difficult to alter or delete a review on a third-party site
  • They’re viewed as more impartial

Online reviews increase E-A-T

E-A-T (Expertise, Authoritativeness, Trustworthiness) is an acronym first used by Google in 2014 as a reference point for their Quality Raters. The E-A-T score has only increased in importance since then. You can think of Quality Raters as a manual check and balance system for Google’s algorithm: Google Raters across the globe manually review millions of search results each day. Their job is to score each page in the results on quality (determined by E-A-T).

This information gives Google a better understanding of how successful micro-iterations of its algorithm are when they’re pressure-tested against different types of queries. The score has no impact on live search results. However, it does measure the effectiveness of the algorithm as a whole and sets a standard, over time, for the type of content searchers find useful.

That makes it something to pay attention to, because rarely does Google so succinctly and transparently spell out what it wants to see from a website. In fact, E-A-T is so fundamental that almost every SEO tactic you’ll use is designed to increase at least one of the three factors. Here’s how reviews, specifically, interact with E-A-T:

positive customer reviews showcase expertise and authority

Expertise

Google cares a whole lot that anything purporting to be expert content was, in fact, written by an expert. Companies in the financial services sector, or health industry take note: since your content has the biggest impact on the user’s life, health, and financial well-being, it will be held to the most stringent standards. Other industries, you’re not off the hook. If you’ve ever written a “how-to” or advice post for your company blog, assume that content is also subject to the “expert test.” 

Authoritativeness

Reviews help prove to Google that you are an authority in your market space.  A bank with glowing Yelp reviews (or reviews, period) for each operating branch will fair much better than a bank with no reviews. Google knows where consumers turn for answers, and whom they think is an authority in the space. The more you can spell out your relationship to the industry and your customers with “data points” like reviews, the better.

Trustworthiness

The byproduct of expertise and authority is trustworthiness. Your users should feel safe taking your advice, buying your product or giving you their credit card information. If they do, then search engines will deliver your site as a resource. Reviews are the perfect way to establish trust: remember, 91% of 18- to 34-year-olds trust online reviews just as much as they’d trust a personal recommendation.

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HOW TO GET MORE ONLINE REVIEWS

While you may get a few reviews naturally, there are several ways to boost the frequency and volume of good reviews.

Claim your listings

If you have local or multi-local brick-and-mortars, cover the basics first: claim each location on every major review platform. Doing so will allow you to control your business information (not the reviews themselves). An established profile provides new customers with complete, accurate information and a compelling reason to visit.

For each location, keep the NAP (Name, Address, Phone Number) consistent across all review platforms. Inconsistencies create confusion and diminish trust with search engines because Google can’t determine which information is accurate. As a result, your site is less likely to rank locally.

Software like BrightLocal streamlines the process of claiming your listings and maintaining a consistent NAP across platforms.

Are you concerned with local search? Here are some of the best customer review platforms to pay attention to:

Facebook reviews

When Facebook added the “Reviews” tab to business pages, they opened up a world of opportunity for local businesses. The Reviews feature allows companies to showcase their individual locations rather than maintain a single Facebook business page. Consequently, Facebook reviews are now a viable alternative to Yelp.

Google reviews

Once you verify your company on Google My Business, users can leave reviews that will appear beside your listing in Google Maps and in the Google Knowledge Panel for branded searches. Good reviews help your business stand out in the search results and can encourage customers to click through to your website.

Searchers are also able to leave a review by clicking on the review option in a company’s Google Knowledge Panel.

A new prospective customer will see the reviews in Google Maps or the Google SERPs before they know anything else about your business. That’s why it’s absolutely essential to deal with bad Google reviews and earn more positive ones.

yelp reviews

Yelp

Facebook and Google may have made their mark in the local review space, but Yelp reviews are king. Founded in 2007, the company now has 48 million reviews on its site and gets 142 million unique visitors per month. Its relationship with local businesses and its influence on the consumer mindset is well-documented, as are concerns about the validity of the review system. One of the reasons for Yelp’s continued dominance is the platform’s single-purpose use. Unlike Facebook or Google, which serve other purposes for the user, Yelp started as a review site and continues to adhere to that tight focus.

TripAdvisor

TripAdvisor’s audience is travelers and tourists, which is how it inadvertently became an important review platform for local businesses. Certain verticals, like hotels and restaurants, will find the platform more fitting than others. The platform is better suited to “hidden local gems” than to chains.

Nonetheless, with a little creative thinking, large multi-local chains can do quite well on TripAdvisor, too. Pay extra attention to your flagship location or main factory, which can serve as a tourist destination in its own right. Whether participating in factory tours at Jelly Belly in San Francisco or visiting Whole Foods’ flagship store in Austin, tourists love to see where it all started for their favorite brands.

Pay equal attention to any special locations with a unique twist or something newsworthy. Whatever helps the location to stand out among all the noise.

Angie’s List

Angie’s List hits the review space from a more niche angle than the bigger players. It focuses on service providers like electricians and landscapers rather than retailers. Businesses that provide a service should pay extra attention to this platform, and businesses that don’t should still create/claim their listing when it makes sense.

You may encounter examples of niche review sites within your own industry. It’s important to be active on these platforms – especially if you know your prospective customers use them.

Both local businesses and strictly-ecommerce businesses should also be aware of these other online review sites:

Better Business Bureau

People turn to the Better Business Bureau when they have issues with a company and they want to formalize their complaint. The BBB then acts as a facilitator between customer and business representative. They allow the representative to respond to the complaint and consider the case closed only when they are satisfied with the business’s resolution. Unresolved cases lower a business’s overall “grade,” and any dispute they facilitate is public on the website.

The BBB is enough of a household name for their grades to carry weight for the average consumer. So it’s important to respond to any BBB cases as helpfully and professionally as possible. There are no legal ramifications if you don’t. However, the consequences for your brand’s online reputation can be severe. And if you don’t have any complaints? Good! Claim your listing anyway and aim for that A+ business reputation.

Trustpilot

Trustpilot is a review site, much like Yelp, but they’ve expanded beyond local businesses to become a hub for consumers in general. That means customers can review their experiences with any business, including strictly-ecommerce websites.

consumer complaint websites damage company reputation

Consumer complaint websites

When consumers are really mad, they can turn to a number of online review sites to lodge a complaint. Two of the most popular are Ripoff Report and Complaints.com. If you Google “consumer complaint websites” you’ll find dozens of examples.

Unfortunately, many of those sites allow people to hide behind anonymity. As a result, they’re often flooded with countless fake reviews fabricated by competitors.

With sites like these, no news is good news: there’s no reason to be active on them except to respond to complaints. Should that happen, we’ve got you covered with some tips below. Otherwise, Google “[Your company name] reviews” regularly to see what comes up and do damage control as needed. It’s a good idea to monitor your brand mentions, too.

Glassdoor

Last but not least, Glassdoor is the go-to site for employees who want to review their employers. These reviews are important to your internal infrastructure as they affect your ability to recruit top talent. But they make an impact externally, too.

If negative employee reviews are highly visible in the search results, potential customers will take notice and may decide to shop elsewhere. The negativity will also impact the quality of applicants you receive for open positions, obviously. This is especially true if employees specifically mention anything that could impact product quality, like the cleanliness of the facilities.

Benefits of on-site reviews

On-site reviews matter just as much as off-site reviews. That’s because they help your website to rank high in Google for “review” related keywords. However, to be effective, you’ll need to properly optimize them.

Check out this post to brush up on your SEO for ecommerce product pages.

Each review generates additional long-tail keywords that your site can (and should) rank for. The reviews themselves also drastically boost conversions. That’s because customers love to read honest online business reviews from people just like them. In fact, it’s often the final piece of the puzzle before a purchase.

On-site reviews are a different animal from off-site reviews. So use them to showcase a great customer experience rather than overly promotional comments. Allow customers to upload photos and share other information that might provide relevant context for their experience. For example, a clothing company might ask the customer to volunteer their height and clothing size, since the clothing will fit differently on different body types.

You can also ask customers to rate the item on specific qualities they care about. For example, a bath and body company might ask customers about qualities like scent, feel and effectiveness. That way if a customer is especially interested one specific quality, they can zero in on similar highly-rated products.

Deleting on-site reviews

Many on-site platforms allow you to delete reviews. We recommend against doing this because the goal is to provide the customer with an accurate understanding of each product. It also looks fishy to display nothing but glowing reviews. So resist the temptation to delete that negative review (more on these later). Remember that over the long term, a customer who made an informed purchase decision is a happier customer.

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Wondering how to get positive online reviews?

Once you’ve set up your review platforms, it’s time to solicit positive reviews. This is an important step because most reviewers lean toward the extremes. In other words, a customer will be more motivated to leave a review if they had an extremely positive or extremely negative experience with the business. This leads to a skewed data set that only reflects those few “five-star” or “one-star” experiences.

Instead, you should aim to provide insight into the average customer experience. So, make sure your reviewers are more reflective of your customer base than that tiny but vocal minority that leave one-star ratings.

Just ask for them!

People will often oblige. However, they’re not going to do it without a call to action. You can make this ask in email blasts or on your website. Or on the “thank you” page post-checkout, or in a follow-up email after purchase. Be as specific as possible and point your customer directly to your priority platform. Share why you’re interested in the reviews. Simply explain why product reviews are important to you, as well as to customers just like them.

Just be sure to ask for honest feedback rather than positive reviews. Specifically requesting a good review is against the guidelines for all online review platforms.

You can also have customer-facing team members ask for reviews, especially if they have a customer with whom they’ve built an exceptional rapport. Customer service representatives, account managers, and sales people all might encounter customers who had an “above and beyond” experience with them. When this happens, have a protocol in place so team members can quickly and comfortably ask for a review.

If you want to offer discounts or incentives for a review, become familiar with the rules of your target platform first. On Yelp, for example, it’s against the rules to offer “bribes” in exchange for reviews. On some other platforms, including your own site, there’s more wiggle room.

You should never offer an incentive in exchange for positive reviews. But you may decide to offer a discount or reward loyalty points for any review. If the product is a recurring purchase, for example, you can offer a discount on the next purchase of that item if the customer reviews it.

When your customers do leave reviews, follow up on each one. Thank the customer for their review and take the time to carefully consider and respond to what they said. Address the negative reviews, but don’t forget to show your gratitude for the positive ones!

BAD REVIEWS? DON’T PANIC!

You’re already aware of how reviews help businesses, but do you know how much a bad review costs? Large companies can loose tens or hundreds of millions of dollars from customer complaints.

First of all, don’t panic. You absolutely can overcome this challenge and right the ship if you know how to approach the problem. We once took a retail client, for example, from a handful of negative reviews on Trustpilot.com to over 12,000 five-star reviews from happy customers. And all we had to do was mobilize the client’s entire customer base, not just those unhappy few.

Respond to negative reviews

When negative reviews happen, first you’re going to ask the same question we asked our client. Are those negative reviews reflective of your average customer experience? In most instances, the answer will probably be “no.” If that’s the case, then your strategy should be to mobilize your broader customer base to provide a more holistic, representative, and accurate view of customer satisfaction.

And if the reviews are warranted, take the feedback seriously and make strategic changes as needed. Pay close attention to patterns in complaints and address the cause.

Warranted or not, negative reviews deserve a thoughtful response. This will go a long way in helping smooth over the relationship with the individual customer. It will also provide full context for anyone who might be swayed by the review.

In your response, do:

  • Apologize for the customer’s negative experience
  • If the review is rooted in a misunderstanding, clear up the misconception and clarify your policies. But don’t invalidate the customer’s experience
  • When applicable, direct your customer to a different solution you offer that’s a better fit for them
  • If the feedback is warranted, explain what you are doing or will be doing to correct the problem moving forward
  • When applicable, offer a replacement or store credit
  • Be authentic, helpful and caring
  • Respond to reviews as quickly as possible

Do not:

  • Tell the customer they’re wrong. If there’s a misunderstanding, there are ways to clear the air without causing embarrassment. If you simply disagree with the customer’s opinion, thank them for the feedback and move on
  • Get defensive
  • Make the customer feel unheard. If you try to bury the problem by talking about all the great qualities your company has instead of addressing the complaint, you’ll only look tone-deaf
listen to customer feedback

Listen to customer feedback

The best way to handle negative reviews is to really listen to the feedback and then take the actions that show you’re listening. Domino’s, for example, famously implemented the “Pizza Turnaround” campaign after developing a reputation for sub-par pizza. They didn’t try to bury negative feedback. They transparently shared the feedback with the public, even showing a focus group on TV where one participant mentioned that the pizza tasted like cardboard.

And then they addressed each problem in turn.

By the time they were done, Domino’s hadn’t just turned their negative reviews to positive reviews. They also had a much better product and a customer base that felt respected and heard. And a brand that reflected integrity. The result? Dominos became the fastest-growing restaurant chain in the entire country (not just for pizza chains but across all chains). Honesty and transparency work!

Start an online reviews program

Tools such as ReviewPush and GatherUp can help you seamlessly turn reviews into part of your overall website strategy. They can help automate the process of soliciting reviews and turn feedback into actionable insight. You can combine tools like this with in-house loyalty points and rewards programs to mobilize your customers and inspire community at the same time.

Invest in reputation management

If bad reviews have overrun your brand’s online presence, you may need to partner with a reputation management (ORM) company to get back on track. Here’s a great article that explains how these services handle negative search results.

Since ORM is rooted in search engine optimization, it’s a natural extension of our expertise. That’s why Terakeet launched a dedicated reputation management division nearly a decade ago. We also include branded search in our enterprise SEO solution.

Whether you go it alone or partner with companies to help, keep your review strategy humming. Eventually, your website will have more and more “data points” to convince Google that your company is popular with — and trusted by — customers. And with the right approach to feedback, you can make sure that behind every data point there’s also a well-informed, satisfied customer.

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