Do Google Reviews Help SEO?

  ●   August 25, 2023 | SEO
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August 25, 2023 | SEO

It is no secret that in recent years Google has made increasing developments to become a people-focused platform that values word-of-mouth marketing and real user experience. One only needs to look as far back as the August 2022 Helpful Content Update (that gave a ranking preference to people-first content) and the recent Product Review Update (that gives preference to real reviews with verifiable evidence) to see this. With all this focus on people-first content, it would make sense that Google reviews help rankings, considering they are written by real people and not businesses themselves. Let’s take a look. 

In this article, we’ll discuss the below topics to help you determine whether Google reviews help SEO, starting first with local listings, before moving onto standard search results.

What are Google reviews?

Google reviews are reviews made for a Google Business Profile. These are submitted directly via the Google platform and show up next to your Business Profile in Google Maps and Search.

Do Google Reviews help Local SEO?

When we talk about local SEO, we’re referring to the process of making local business sites visible in local search results on Google. This is often in the form of a map pack (a map with 3 listings underneath it) that appears when a user searches for a query relevant to local businesses – for example, “Dentist near me” or “Italian restaurant London”. The ranking of local results primarily depends on three factors: relevance, distance, and prominence. Google’s algorithms will consider a combination of these factors to determine which results are the most relevant or “right” for your query. But what do these three factors mean and where do reviews factor in?

Relevance – Relevance refers to how well a local Business Profile matches what someone is searching for. For example, if I’m searching for an Italian restaurant near me, Google will understand that “Italian” restaurants are more relevant to my query than Thai restaurants for example, therefore will give a preference towards these results.

Distance – Distance considers the distance each potential search result is from the location term used in a search or the location provided by the user’s IP address or previous information. Therefore, if I’m searching from London, Google will give a preference to Italian restaurants in London, rather than Newcastle

Prominence – Prominence refers to the level of recognition a business has attained. This is partly influenced by the information available about a business across the web, including links, articles, directories, as well as sometimes “off-line” information (generally applicable to famous institutions). But what about reviews? Google, in its guidelines around local business ranking says “Google review count and review score factor into local search ranking. More reviews and positive ratings can improve your business’ local ranking”. 

Therefore, Google does consider the quantity and quality of online reviews in its ranking of local results. This means that businesses that receive a large number of high star ratings and reviews are more likely to get considered for the top results. A considerable number of five-star reviews suggests a high level of quality and trust of customers, and Google recognises this. Therefore, in summary, Google reviews do influence SEO, at least in local searches.

Does the recency of Google reviews help SEO?

In the previous section, we discussed how one of Google’s core parameters with ranking local business listings is relevance. However, what Google is less clear about in its guidance is the importance of recency. Naturally, we would assume that recency goes hand in hand with relevance. Taking the above example of searching for Italian restaurants – if one restaurant has three reviews made last week, surely this will be deemed as more relevant  than a restaurant with one review made two years ago. And this does indeed seem to be the case. While Google doesn’t explicitly say that recent or more frequent reviews impact rankings, experience suggests otherwise. In a recent case study by Sterling Sky, the author was able to show a direct correlation between generating recent and frequent reviews and ranking position. Therefore, it appears that recency of Google reviews does help SEO.

Does the number of Google reviews help SEO?

It’s confirmed that Google takes reviews into account when surfacing results. But what about the number of reviews?

Like most things in SEO, the answer is nuanced. In simple terms, Google’s algorithms consider content in ranking websites. Google reviews often contain relevant keywords, particularly long-tail keywords, that people use to express their opinions. Therefore, the more content (reviews) users produce, the more opportunities for keyword optimisation are provided. Therefore, the number of reviews does impact SEO and indeed we know for local SEO that “Google review count… factor(s) into local search ranking.” 

However, Google also looks at the quality of reviews. Firstly, Google will consider the review score, essentially a quality rating of the product/service. Google’s primary aim is to provide users with the best, most relevant results. Therefore, if a user searches for “best italian restaurant in London”, naturally Google will think a result with 10 five-star reviews is more relevant to that user’s search than a result with 20 one-star reviews. 

Secondly, Google evaluates the quality of reviews themselves. Google’s recent review update makes clear the importance of high quality reviews that enable readers to learn more about the products/services they are considering. While such updates are focused on review sites in organic search, these parameters may apply to Google reviews. This would suggest that a five-star review with a helpful one hundred word explanation is more valuable than a one-star review with an unhelpful two word explanation. After all, Google devalues thin content. However, this is not confirmed.

Do Google Reviews help SEO in standard results?

The relationship between organic rankings and Google reviews rests on the importance of user-generated content. User-Generated Content is essentially any content online created by users in the form of blog comments, ratings, reviews, and so forth. We’ve known for years that content on a website is a ranking factor but so is user-generated content. Indeed, back in 2020 John Mueller, Google Search Advocate, reported “Overall, Google doesn’t differentiate between content you wrote and content your users wrote.” Search engine crawlers pay attention to what people have to say about a business and not just what the business has to say about itself.

User Generated Content (UGC) in the form of Google reviews comes direct from consumers, giving the content credibility with search engines. Indeed, one of Google’s top considerations with ranking websites is E-E-A-T (Experience, Expertise, Authoritativeness, and Trustworthiness). Looking specifically at the trust element, having a high number of reviews and a high overall rating can increase the credibility and trustworthiness of your business. This can send the right signals to Google, as well as improve user trust, helping lead to increased traffic and conversions for your website. Essentially, the more trust signals Google can see and index about your website, the more likely it is to surface you in relevant results. And the more priority Google gives a website, the more consumers will trust, purchase and review. 

On a similar thread, a high number of genuine reviews from customers can help demonstrate to Google that a business holds an authority position in the market. The more perceived authority a site has by Google, the more likely it will surface in relevant results. This can lead to more traffic and conversions, which in turn Google will pick up on and consider for future rankings. Therefore, the relationship between user-generated Google reviews is not linear but nuanced and the process is full circle. 

Reviews also act as genuine, fresh content that search engine crawlers consider. Google’s algorithms prioritise fresh content and indeed review recency appears to be a local ranking factor. So a regular flow of reviews can help a website’s relevancy in results by providing new content.

Does responding to Google Reviews improve SEO?

We know Google’s algorithms consider recency, quantity, and quality of reviews. But what about responding to reviews? The Google Business Profile support page advises businesses to “interact with customers by responding to reviews that they leave about your business. Responding to reviews shows that you value your customers and the feedback that they leave about your business”.

While the relationship is not made explicit, this suggests that responding to reviews can improve a business’s search ranking. Therefore, when you actively respond to reviews, it could enhance your business’s Local SEO, increasing the likelihood of appearing in the map pack results.

While it is easier to respond to positive reviews and ignore negative ones, Google encourages responding to all reviews, and even has published guidance on responding to negative reviews. Therefore, when in doubt, respond to reviews.

Conclusion – Do Google Reviews Help SEO?

In this article, we’ve discussed the relationship between Google Reviews and rankings in the context of local listings and standard search results. Overall, the conclusion is pretty clear – Google Reviews do impact SEO and rankings. 

The goal of any business with respect to Google reviews should be to generate as many high quality, high-rated reviews as possible, and to do this frequently. Nevertheless, it is important to remember that Google reviews are only part of the story. SEO is a highly complex process with many factors at play.

For example, Core Web Vitals impact user experience, which in turn impacts search engine rankings. Understanding and optimising for your copy with the relevant keywords will help you surface for the right queries. Title tags play a major role in helping search engines understand your content. While backlinks are important in establishing a domain’s authoritativeness. Essentially, while Google reviews can help SEO, the work is not yet done!  SEO is a highly complex process with many factors at play.

Do you need support optimising your website for local SEO? Reach out today to find out how we can help!

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