The way that consumers search for information online has changed. Not only do they want to know what it is, they also want to know where it is and what’s nearby. That’s why local search is making a big impact on the marketing strategies of business owners today. If you own a local business, you’ll want your information and your content to appear on the search engine results of queries made by people who are in your area (or are visiting soon).
SEO software company Moz recently released the results of its annual study on local search. Entitled “The 2014 Local Search Ranking Factors,” it provides comprehensive information and analysis on what exactly influences local search, as well as how your business can drive local search performance and connect with your most relevant customer segments.
The Influence of Online Reviews on Local Search
Here at ReviewTrackers we were particularly interested in how online reviews impact local search rankings. Why? Because reviews don’t merely shape your online business reputation; they also affect the order and manner in which your business information appears on search engines.
According to Moz’s study, which was organized by industry expert David Mihm, review signals (number/quantity, velocity, diversity, etc. of reviews) are 1 of the 5 most important ranking factors – along with business signals, external location signals, on-page signals, and link signals. The study even goes so far as to assert that, when it comes to local search rankings, reviews are more important than social signals (Google+ authority, Facebook likes, Twitter follower count, etc.).
What does this mean? Well, for starters, it seems that the industry has embraced the fact that online reviews are playing an increasingly important role in consumers’ purchase decisions. This is why Google is placing more emphasis on reviews in terms of how they appear in local search results: it’s the kind of information that users find most useful, and it’s the kind of information that influences their decision on where to eat, stay, go to, check out, and check into.
The study also includes some great commentary and tips from a group of local search experts. Let’s check out what they have to say about online reviews and their impact.
Phil Rozek, Local Visibility System
Google is obsessed with reviews. Last year (2013) they relaxed the filter, put reviews front-and-center in the carousel, launched the “City Experts” program, started telling reviewers when their reviews have been filtered, and rolled out the “reviews dashboard” in the Google My Business interface, to name just a few highlights.
In 2014 so far, Google has pushed reviews in the SERPs even more. They’ve started showing snippets of reviews in the Knowledge Graph panel. Reviews pop out even more in the layout that Google has been testing as a possible replacement for the carousel, where even basic info like phone numbers and website URLs have been stripped out of the SERPs, but Google still shows those golden review stars.
Thomas Ballantyne, Bulwark Exterminating
When asked, “which factors would you focus on most in a competitive market?” I must confess, the factors I rank most important many not be the most weighted SEO factors. “Positive Sentiment in Reviews” probably ranks well below many of the SEO factors.
However, when it comes to conversions online, having a positive sentiment is a must. What would a business profit to rank 1st if they have a 1 star rating? Further, if a business focuses on their reviews and improving and acquiring more reviews, conversions will happen on those 3rd party sites, outside of the search realm.
And so long as a competent effort has been put into monitoring and managing those profiles and the reviews that go with them, then the citations and in-bound links should occur naturally.
Matthew Hunt, Powered by Search
Get reviews. No really knows if it’s truly a ranking factor. I think it is (a small one), but if you get five or more reviews on your Google Local Listing you get those golden stars next to your listing, which will make it pop above all the others who don’t have 5 or more reviews. It ain’t brain surgery that getting those golden stars next to your listing will bring more traffic and phone calls. What kills me is when a client has 4 reviews for months and months… bite the bullet and bloody well beg for a review from the client!
Caleb Donegan, Balihoo
With review sites and citations taking on this increased attention in the algorithm, I am anxious to see what happens with authority reviewers both in Yelp and, even more so, with Foursquare. Hopefully Google cleans up these convoluted, Yelp dominated, SERP’s sooner than later, but I could see this trend of expert reviewers growing and becoming a more influential factor.
Adam Dorfman, SIM Partners
Google continues to emphasize time sensitive ranking factors. Fresh reviews, links, shares and content can all help move the needle when it comes to rankings.
(Image credit: Moz)