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Online reviews on websites like Google, Facebook, Yelp, and TripAdvisor can make or break your company’s brand reputation.

According to research, 9 out of 10 consumers believe that reviews are more important than any type of information provided by a salesperson; if a company’s reviews are negative, 4 in 5 will reverse their purchase decisions and take their money elsewhere.

Online reviews are also a major factor in determining where a business ranks in local search results. As consumers continue to use their devices and search not only for great businesses, but great businesses nearby, it has become critical for marketers — regardless of whether they’re managing a small business location or an enterprise-level organization with hundreds or thousands of locations — to understand the relationship between online reviews and local search performance.

How Online Reviews Affect Local Search

Star Ratings

Star ratings matter to local search users. According to the 2017 Online Reviews Survey, only 39 percent of local search users actively use rating filters. But this doesn’t stop consumers from assessing businesses based on rating scores.

In fact, approximately 63 percent of consumers say they trust only businesses with overall ratings of 4.0 or 4.5 stars out of 5, while only 2.5 percent trust low-rated businesses with average ratings of 2.0 stars or less.

These findings suggest that high local search rankings are no guarantee that your business will convert visitors into customers. Even if you rank at the top of the local search engine results pages, star ratings ultimately affect your powers of persuasion — particularly since they serve as a useful, easily understandable, and convenient source of information for consumers researching a local business they’re not familiar with.

Third-Party Reviews

Search results with reviews are extremely crucial for shoppers. Another interesting finding from the 2017 Online Reviews Survey is how local search users look out for specific parts of search results as part of their research process.

For 36.4 percent of consumers, Google reviews, reviews on other websites, and local search rankings are the most important factors when looking for a business.

The presence of reviews — that is, as it’s tied to your local listings — can be a truly powerful differentiator. With Google now displaying review data (including overall rating scores and review snippets) in search results, Knowledge Panels, and Maps results, you must be able to drive engagement with consumers by leveraging third-party reviews on Google as well as on other review sites.

Need to build out your reviews on Google? Download this free customizable handout, which comes with easy instructions for your customers on how to leave reviews of your business on Google.

Velocity and Recency

Consumers have an eye for new reviews. You’re in the mood for the best poke bowl in town, and a quick Google search delivers a couple of interesting results from your review-writing peers. Which one would you choose: Poke Bowl X with a 5-star review posted 3 years ago or Poke Bowl Y with a 5-star review posted only last week?

When it comes to online reviews, velocity (the pace at which a business generates new reviews) and recency (the freshness of the reviews) matter.

  • According to Search Engine Land, 69 percent of consumers believe that reviews older than 3 months are no longer relevant. And 15 percent say that the only relevant reviews are the ones written within 2 weeks.

To maintain or improve your performance on local search, you must be able to proactively ask for customer feedback and consistently generate great new reviews. Velocity and freshness also improve the density and quality of content around your brand, especially if you’re already incorporating online reviews into your website and digital properties.

Photos

Visual content impacts the path to purchase. To be clear, we’re not referring to the photos that you and your marketing team upload to your business listings and review website profiles. Rather, we’re talking about the photos that consumers add to accompany their reviews of your business: think restaurant #foodstagrams, cocktail shots at your bar, hotel lobby photo check-ins, dealership showroom selfies.

According to a study by PowerReviews, 88 percent of consumers look for photos and videos submitted by other consumers prior to making a purchase. Sites like TripAdvisor and Yelp have also published research describing how visual content can make an impact on customer engagement and local search performance.

When it comes to user-generated photos, you might ask, “What’s the best business practice?” While the amount and kind of photos that your customers submit along with their reviews may be out of your control, it makes sense to remain proactive and regularly ask for feedback. And it doesn’t hurt either to tidy up and make your business location more photo-friendly. (We love the tips outlined here.)

Review Responses

Getting back to customers ASAP fosters loyalty and wins over critics. 52 percent of customers who review your business expect to hear back from you within 7 days. Also, 78 percent believe that a business cares more about them if they see management respond to their reviews.

Always remember: how your respond to what customers are saying online will have a greater impact than what’s being said in the first place.

More than its effectiveness in protecting your brand reputation, the act of responding to reviews also leads to other big wins for your business. For one, your replies can mean a huge chunk of fresh content for your business page or listing, which search engines will reward with higher search results.

A Cornell study even found that revenue increases (and overall ratings improve) as the number of review responses increases. Failure to respond, on the other hand, leads to lower review scores and revenue.

The impact that online reviews have on local search is undeniable. Monitored closely and managed properly, your reviews can help engage potential consumers, improve your local SEO performance, drive in-store traffic, boost your brand reputation, and make a positive impact on your bottom line.

Migs Bassig

Migs is the Content Manager for ReviewTrackers. He’s a creative writer who has helped numerous companies communicate more effectively online, and he loves sharing his local marketing knowledge to help brands and business succeed.

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