If you’re trying to rank well in local SEO, then reviews are an important part of that mix.
But when you look at search results in Google, you’ll notice that review stars don’t always display in the way you would expect.
Both in Google My Business, and the rating stars in regular organic search results have changed a lot over time. We’ve covered those changes.
Here’s a table of contents that lets you skip to specific sections that answer questions on Google review star ratings.
Table of Contents
- Changes to Star Ratings in Organic Search Results (Sept. 2019 to now)
- Understanding Geo-Located Search Queries
- Why Does Google My Business Show a Lower Star Rating Than It Should?
- A Note on the Bayesian Average
- Sending Customers Your Review Link
- Getting To The Local Map Pack
- How Long Will It Take For My New Reviews To Be Added To My Review Score?
- Normal and Abnormal Review Patterns
- What Happens When You Get a Whole Bunch of Google Reviews All At Once?
- Do One Star Reviews Affect Rankings?
- What About Getting Star Ratings in Organic Search Results? (Not the Map)
- Final Advice
So, the way Google is set up now, if you’re searching for a service using the city as part of the search query (city + service), you’ll usually see the top three map results at the top. After these top three results (the Local Pack), the regular top ten organic results follow.
The stars from Google reviews only show on these map results now. A couple of years ago, you would see Google star ratings in the organic search results, but that isn’t the case now.
So the goal in local SEO is to get to the top three map results, and also get review stars to show. Customers are more likely to click on a result with rating stars, as opposed to a result without stars. The better your click-through rate, the more confidence Google has in placing your business higher in results.
So, in Google Maps, and in the Local Pack on Page 1, you’ll only see rating stars if you have one or more Google reviews.
This used to have a threshold of three reviews, but it dropped to a threshold of one review around March of 2017.
So, that’s the first thing you need to know. You need at least one review for the yellow stars to be visible.
We often see businesses try to get a lot of reviews immediately after getting a negative review. Many businesses aren’t going after positive reviews until they get a one-star review, and they need to bring their score up.
As you’ll see in the comments section below, when you get a sudden rush of reviews, these don’t get added into your review score right away.
What we are seeing is it takes about a week to add in new reviews to your total score. This could be because Google sees it as an abnormal pattern when you have very few reviews over the course of several years, then all of a sudden, you get seven or eight reviews in a week.
The best course of action is to be proactive about collecting reviews from customers. If you get a ton of positive reviews, the occasional mediocre review will not be as damaging to your cumulative score.
Interestingly enough, up until Spring of 2017, you would also not be able to get a 5.0 rating until you got ten reviews (though now your score is not adjusted). This had to do with something called the Bayesian average.
For a long time, Google would extrapolate what your score might look like if you had more reviews. (This ended around March of 2017).
Since five reviews is a pretty small sample size to have perfect confidence in the rating, Google used to factors in for error until you got to ten reviews. (It no longer does this).
There’s a lot of statistical mathematics involved in the Google algorithm, but the concept of extrapolating the results is known as a Bayesian average. Basically, once you got to ten reviews, Google had more confidence in the data around your business when it came to ratings. You can read more about the theory at LocalU.org.
For customers to leave a review for your business, you must to send them to Google Maps, your Google My Business page, or send them a custom link (found in your Google My Business dashboard).
One way that almost always works is to Google the name of your business, with the address from the regular Google page. On desktop, you should see your Google My Business profile show up in the right hand column.
There should be a link that either says Be the first to review or Write a review, depending on whether you have reviews or not yet. If you have reviews, you can also click the link that shows how many reviews you have.
Clicking these links will trigger a modal window that allows the user to write a review.
Copy the URL in your browser’s address bar and send that to your customer. Or use it as a link on your site, so people don’t have to figure this out on their own.
There are two ways you can get to a Google business review link on mobile.
One way is to go into Google Maps and search for the business you want to review. Click on the link at the bottom left that shows how many reviews the business has.
Notice the text link at the bottom left of the screen? This will either say No Reviews or the number of reviews the business has.
You’ll open up the Google Maps/Google My Business profile for that business. Scroll to the bottom of the profile, and the review link will be at the bottom.
The second way to leave a Google review for a business on mobile is to go to regular Google search, and search for that business using the business name, and the city or address.
The Google Map result should be the first result in search. At the bottom of this result will be a link for More Info.
See that blue button with the downward facing arrow, and More info about…? Click this, and you should see the whole Google profile. The Google review link will be at the bottom of the profile, just like in the example we showed above.
Google has made it easier to create a shareable link to review your business. Here’s how to create that link.
1. Go to https://developers.google.com/places/place-id, which is the Google Place API page.
2. Type in your business name and address in the “Enter your location” field.
3. Click on your business name as it appears on the map.
4. You’ll see a string of characters under your business name, labelled Place ID. Copy that ID.
5. Add your Places ID to this URL pattern:
If your Places ID is Abc123, then your shareable review link would be
6. You can now share this review link with your customers.
Getting to the top three (Local Map Pack) seems to be an elusive target.
Obviously, this is where everyone wants to be. The things that seem to influence what goes here most are the local organic search results. Geo-location (GPS) seems to play a small role as well.
Reviews alone won’t get you to the three pack local map results. To get there, you’ll need better content, more local links and local mentions, better links from reputable sources, more link diversity (more than one type of link source), link velocity, social shares, stronger brand signals, and local relevance.
Let’s say you’ve done a lot of work on your site, and you feel like you have a really strong site that should be ranking above other sites that have weaker profiles. You might want to check out this Moz Whiteboard Friday that discusses why you might be losing rank to sites with weaker profiles.
Many businesses wonder how long it takes for Google to calculate new reviews and add them to your score.
It usually takes between two to seven days to add new reviews to your score. But…
Recently, I have seen many people asking why their review scores aren’t being updated when they get a whole bunch of reviews in a short amount of time.
Usually this happens if a business is trying to do “reputation management” or if an SEO consultant is trying to “fix” their score.
My advice is: be wary of how you go about this.
Google appears to cracking down more and more on suspicious looking reviews, and flagging them for manual review by the Web Spam team.
Google looks at the patterns that are normal for both your business, and similar for other businesses in your category.
If a business normally gets one review every four months or so, then suddenly gets a dozen reviews in the span of a few days, that can flag those reviews for the Google Web Spam team.
All sites like Google, Thumbtack, and Yelp are able to track the IP addresses of the people leaving reviews. If there are patterns that don’t look normal, that can flag the reviews for manual inspection.
Your score is calculated from user ratings and a variety of other signals to ensure that the overall score best reflects the quality of the establishment.
Many SEO consultants and people who work with programing algorithms feel that the part about a variety of other signals means that Google uses what is called a Bayesian average to look not just at the raw numbers, but incorporating other factors that may cause deviation in the formula.
A Bayesian average is a method of estimating the mean of a population consistent with Bayesian interpretation, where instead of estimating the mean strictly from any or all available data set, other existing information related to that data set may also be incorporated into the calculation in order to minimize the impact of large deviations, or to assert a default value when the data set is small.
This is the reason you cannot get a 5.0 rating before you get a certain number 5-star ratings. Google uses the Bayesian average to extrapolate information until it has a large enough data set (the number of reviews) to make an accurate calculation.
Google is getting serious about looking for abnormal patterns in businesses that get reviews.
If you have a previous pattern of not getting many reviews, and your score is a bit low, then all of a sudden, you get a ton of five-star reviews, Google is going to take a closer look.
If your new reviews all have Google+ profiles with no photo, no profile information, and nearly no history of reviews — that can be a problem.
It is probable that Google is flagging these to see if they are fake reviews.
In the past, Google has been very lax about letting fake reviews in, and adding them to the review average. But I have seen increasing evidence that reviews that are flagged as fake may be getting tossed out from the final review score.
You will still see the number of reviews, but reviews that are flagged as fraudulent may not count towards the final review score.
Again, this is just what I’ve seen recently.
Google announced on September 16th, 2019 that they would only show rich snippet ratings stars in search results for certain types of Schema types. The biggest changes that are still rolling out, affect rich snippet star ratings for the
Organization Schema types. These will no longer show ratings stars if the Structured Data markup for the entity (business) is embedded on on the business website itself, either manually or via a third-party widget.
This will eventually affect sites that are adding Schema data for
LocalBusiness, adding rating stars manually for the
Google representative John Mueller also confirmed that this will also affect third-party widgets that embed review markup, that have up to now, provided ratings stars in organic search results.
I double-checked to make sure 🙂 — that's incorrect. Regardless of how the reviews are embedded on your site (widget or not), if it's for your own LocalBusiness/Organization, they would be considered self-serving and not be shown.
— 🍌 John 🍌 (@JohnMu) September 17, 2019
As of September 22nd, 2019 this is still rolling out, as I see rating stars for numerous sites still using both manual Schema markup or Google reviews and embedded third-party review widgets.
Google said that third-party sites that collect reviews independently (think Facebook, Yelp, HomeAdvisor) would be unaffected by this change. Only review markup embedded on the site of the business being reviewed would be considered “self-serving”, or an attempt to manipulate click-through rate using rating stars.
This has no effect on your regular Google My Business listing. Leaving the Schema review markup in place will not earn you a manual penalty from Google, the stars will simply not be shown, once the changes finish rolling out.
Never, ever ask someone to review your business if they haven’t been an actual customer or client. That goes for Google, Yelp, or any other platform that collects reviews and delivers a star rating.
Do ask your happy customers for reviews on Google (and other platforms). Google has made it more difficult to get reviews, so the effort is worth it. Your competitors will have the same challenges.
Remember that customer service will always be the biggest differentiation between you and your competition. Make sure service and integrity is at the center of everything you do.