Blog: SEO
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How Reviews and Reputation Affect Local SEO

Avatar for John Locke

John Locke is a SEO consultant from Sacramento, CA. He helps manufacturing businesses rank higher through his web agency, Lockedown Design & SEO.

Reviews, and the reputation of your business, play a huge role in your SEO.

For local SEO in particular, Google reviews, Yelp reviews, and industry specific reviews affect your rankings in your city.

Some of you that I’ve talked to were surprised to hear that your Yelp reviews have a direct influence on your Google rankings. Yes, Google and Yelp are still rivals.

But why wouldn’t Google use the second most popular review platform for evaluating what businesses are best in a local market?

Google wants to deliver the best possible search results, so they look at the reviews, and overall reputation of a business. Not just Google reviews, but reviews on Yelp, the BBB, YP.com, Facebook, and industry specific platforms.

In Local SEO, Industry-Specific Reviews Carry More Weight

The top two places you should be getting reviews are Google, and if your business qualifies, Yelp.

(Professional services and anywhere with retail space should qualify for Yelp, i.e. if you have a showroom floor. Most straight-up manufacturing plants, like a Original Equipment Manufacturer, won’t qualify for a listing there, so this wouldn’t apply to you. If you have a showroom floor, you might qualify under the Shopping category.)

What are some examples of industry-specific review platforms?

Lawyers should get reviews on Avvo. Medical offices need to get reviews on Health Grades. Contractors should look for reviews on Angie’s List and HomeAdvisor. If you’re a magician or DJ, get reviews on Thumbtack. And wedding photographers or vendors should get reviews on WeddingWire and The Knot.

These industry specific reviews play a big part in how Google ranks your website.

What the Reviews Mention Makes a Difference

Google and Yelp both look at the words in reviews, not just the star rating.

In many local searches, (think: city + service), Yelp has landing pages that are at the top of the search results. These landing pages rank the best, or most highly rated, results for those city + service searches. Google ranks these Yelp pages well, because they satisfy searcher intent. In most cases, the searcher intent is to comparison shop, and find the best vendor for a service. Yelp does a good job at organizing this information, therefore, those pages are usually near the top of the Search Engine Results Pages (SERPs).

Getting More Traffic From Yelp Without Buying Yelp Ads

Here’s what I’ve noticed. For a given search term, Yelp tends to favor businesses profiles with these three characteristics:

  • Lots of reviews, with a aggregate score of at least 4.0
  • Reviews mention the service being searched for
  • The company profile on Yelp also mentions the service by name

For most local SEO cases, ranking high on these Yelp pages for particular searches will be a way to get more leads. The first few results in Google get the majority of the clicks. Many times, these are Yelp landing pages. Therefore, ranking high on these Yelp landing pages is in your best interest.

An Important Note About Yelp Reviews

Even if you see your competition doing this, do not, I repeat, do not have people fill out a Yelp review while they are on your premises. Instead, give them a printed handout that tells them how to leave a review. Here’s why.

Yelp uses IP tracking, and if they see the reviews coming from your customer lobby, or from your customers phone while they are in your lobby, that review is probably going to get kicked out of their system, and sent to the “Not Recommended” wasteland. Those reviews won’t end up helping you at all.

We wrote a whole article on why Yelp kicks certain reviews out of their system a few years ago. Definitely worth checking out if you have problems getting your Yelp reviews to “stick”.

Google Also Looks At Words In Reviews

Similarly, Google also seems to favor businesses in local rankings and Google Maps where customer reviews explicitly mention the services being searched.

In other words, if you’re a heating and cooling company, it is beneficial to you to have customers mention phrases like “air conditioning”, “heating unit”, “heating and cooling”, “ac”, “or “hvac” in their reviews.

The same principle applies to all types of businesses. You are more likely to rank for certain terms when customers mention in a review that you helped them with that specific service.

Make Sure Your Reputation is Stellar

Google not only looks at reviews, but they examine the sentiment that customers have about your brand.

They are serious enough about this to have several patents aimed at evaluating brand sentiment. How do people feel about your business? Negative or positive?

Now, not every patent they have goes into the ranking algorithm. But if you were trying to serve up the best results for a search query, you would probably send people to a business that people seem to love, and not hate.

By examining the words that people use to describe a brand, the search engines can get an approximation of whether a business satisfies their customers or not.

Does Negative Sentiment Have An Effect on SEO?

To be honest, I see brands out there that have — how would I describe it? At best, a neutral sentiment, and at worst, a negative sentiment around their brand, and some of them seem to rank pretty decently for a long time.

Usually, these brands with a downward-trending sentiment, that still rank, have a thoroughly padded “black hat” link profile. This helps balance out the negative connotations around a brand. So, Google is not infallible when it comes to evaluating the “best” companies.

But another thing I’ve noticed from observing companies over the long term, is when they do start to slip in the Google rankings, whether that’s due to negative reputation, or bad product reviews, or lawsuits, or complaints — is that they usually don’t make a rankings recovery.

To put it bluntly, once Google starts down-ranking your site due to poor reputation, you’re probably not going to ever get back your momentum back.

It seems to take a lot to sway Google to decide that you are a company they should not recommend to customers. So if it all possible, keep people from filling out complaints on Ripoff Report or the BBB. Make sure that customers are happy with their experience with your company.

The One Thing SEO Can’t Fix: Company Culture

As we talked about above, SEO can’t fix a broken company culture, poor customer service, or inferior products.

Those things can only be fixed be a unflinching, soul-searching look inward at your company.

If you are constantly on the receiving end of negative reviews, customer complaints, or other derision, it’s time to make some sweeping change from the inside out. Until you do that, your SEO company can make improvements from dawn to dusk, but it’s unlikely to help you achieve your ultimate goal: cultivating a legion of customers who sing your praises to the heavens, who refer friends and family to do business with you.

Summing It Up

If you are serious about local SEO, be proactive about getting reviews on Google, Yelp, and industry specific review platforms. Work on improving your customer service, and make sure people have a positive experience with your brand, even if they don’t buy anything that day. Building a solid reputation online is the same as it is in the physical world — people recommend who they know, like, and trust. Build trust by building up a bastion of glowing reviews, and being a company that others aspire to emulate.

Avatar for John Locke

John Locke is a SEO consultant from Sacramento, CA. He helps manufacturing businesses rank higher through his web agency, Lockedown Design & SEO.

2 comments on “How Reviews and Reputation Affect Local SEO

  1. Thank you for these blogs and your hard work on them…they are fantastic and have been incredibly helpful in understanding some of how SEO works. Keep the blogs coming!

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