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How Online Reviews Impact Marketing and Local SEO

Building your company's reputation use to be based on how well you could sell yourself. You would network, go to events, conventions, trade shows, and contribute to society.  Sort of like the movie Tommy Boy.

Nowadays, it isn't so common that you meet a customer and get to 'wow' them before they decide which company to use. And while a great personality and quality service are still huge contributors, your new customers are hearing about it through online reviews.

A surprising amount of small business owners tell us that they don't care about reviews. Some even go as far as asking not to be listed on review sites because they're afraid of getting bad ones. Unfortunately, you can't hide from reviews; and even if you don't add yourself to a review site, a customer still can.

Instead of sticking your head in the sand like an ostrich, it's better to tackle the review culture head on and use it to  your benefit.

91% of consumers read reviews

According to the BrightLocal consumer review study, 91% of consumers say that they read reviews to decide whether a business is good or bad. Whether you like it or not, thousands of people are going to be reading reviews about your business.

However, it is possible to take control of the situation to ensure that the best of your business is being showcased. With a review strategy put in place and a proactive approach to reputation management, you can save your company from unfair scrutiny

Google and Reviews

Whenever you search for a company or service on Google, you'll see that the local business listings show a star rating. Not only does this star rating draw your attention to the listing, but it also helps consumers make quick buying decisions about which business is better, and which will most likely get their phone call. For example, when I search 'dog groomer', these are the results that I see:
Local Reviews

I'm not a crazy dog-mom, but at a glance, I can tell you right now that I am not calling Business #1. Business #2 isn't so bad, but considering that Business #3 has a website and more reviews, it's likely that they will be getting called before anyone else.

It's even harder to escape the reviews, because once you click on a listing for more info, the majority of the space is inhabited by review related information:

Google Listing and Reviews

Google shows consumers your star rating, reviews from other industry related sites (Facebook, HomeAdvisor, etc.), and highlighted snippets of the reviews that are directly on your Google listing.

Not only that, but Google is always rolling out new search advancements. A few cities have already received an update that allows searchers to filter results by their star rating.

Star Rating Filter

Once this update goes live for all cities, this change will strongly impact the importance of reviews. Consumers will most likely never choose to see low scoring listings. When polled, 87% of consumers say that businesses need to have at least 3 stars before they will consider using them. Potential customers need a reason to call you over your competitors, and star ratings can give you an advantage.

Local SEO and Reviews

Google thinks that reviews are important. I am not using this article to go into detail about the Google ranking algorithm, and what we do and don't know. However, we do know that reviews impact ranking placement. Period.

Local Search Ranking Factors

In the Moz local search ranking factor study from 2015, we see that reviews make up 8.4% of the top ranking factors. While that may not seem like a lot, it's actually a huge number considering that there are 50+ known factors involved. Since then, there have been multiple huge algorithm updates that suggest that reviews are an even higher priority in the ranking placement decision.

Now that you know how important reviews are for Google and ranking placement, please keep these things in mind:

When judging a local business on its reviews, which of these factors do you pay most attention to?

  1. The graph above shows that people primarily look for star rating. If you don't have a star rating, you could be losing those customers.
  2. Also, the graph shows that you need to make sure that your reviews are real and recent. Reviews that are over 3 months old are considered irrelevant to 73% of consumers.
  3. You can't offer discounts or free items for reviews. If review sites find out,  you'll be heavily penalized.
  4. Try to space out the frequency. Too many reviews in one day can look fake to customers and Google.
  5. Don't restrict customers to leaving you reviews on specific sites. Google takes all reviews into consideration, and you get extra points for diversity.

You and Reviews

Your online presence is working overtime, and it needs to be properly nourished. Consumers can find information about your company every day, at any hour. That's why it's so important that the information they find tells them how awesome you are. Otherwise, they'll make a quick decision and move on to a competitor who has better (or more) reviews.

How to get reviews

  • Let your clients know where to find you online. 7 out of 10 people are likely to leave a review.
  • Make a handout or flyer to give your customers letting them know where to find you online. That way it goes home with them as a reminder. WhiteSpark has a free handout generator that you can use.
  • Send out emails to clients after you finish working with them, or email blasts if you have a list of repeat customers.
  • Use social media. The easier it is for someone to leave you a review, the more likely they are to do it. You can link people directly to the site that you want reviews on. 
  • Put up signage that requests reviews. Near the register, on your work truck, the door... anywhere!
  • Put a review badge on your website. We have a nifty review badge that links customers to any review site you're listed on. That way, they can choose a site that they're already comfortable with and will be more likely to leave a review.

How to manage reviews

Right off the bat, I can almost guarantee you that you will not succeed in getting negative reviews removed from any site. That is why cultivating good reviews is so important.  First, lets get in the right mindset. Take a deep breath and....

Don't take it personal. Most of the time, customers are upset by a situation or event in their life that has nothing to do with you. It's unfortunate that a bad mood can impact your entire business, but lashing out at an upset customer does not fix anything.

Appreciate the feedback. Even if the review is negative, it's extremely important that we listen to customer feedback and adjust our business around it. If something you're doing, or not doing, is causing your customers to have a less than stellar experience, you should want to fix it.

Don't ignore the good. It's easy to get lost in negative vibes and forget to be happy about the good reviews people leave you.

Now you're ready to plan your review strategy.

  1. Offer outstanding customer service. This is where it all starts. You can't offer low quality service and expect to get great reviews.
  2. Get reviews. Use some of the steps that were mentioned earlier in this article.
  3. Track your reviews. There are so many review sites out there that you probably have reviews that you don't even know about. We have a neat review management tool that notifies us whenever a new review is left anywhere.
  4. Respond to your reviews in a polite and professional manner. Not just the negative ones. We all like to be recognized, and customers are more likely to leave you a review if they see that previous ones were appreciated.
  5. Correct negative experiences. When possible, contact the customer who left you the review and see how you can make things right. You can't ask them to adjust their review, but they just might on their own. And either way, customers who had bad experiences fixed, often become repeat customers.
  6. Watch for inaccuracies. There are some situations where reviews are left for the wrong  business, or even fake reviews are left by competitors. You can flag these types of reviews and attempt to get them removed. If that doesn't work, you should always respond to them to let readers know.


I hope that you have a new appreciation for reviews now that you know how important they are to your ranking placement and your potential customers. The key takeaway from this article is that reviews matter. Customers are using reviews as a deciding factor for whether or not they will do business with you. Therefore, you should be actively asking for new reviews and managing incoming ones to ensure that you are not losing customers.

Sarah Nelson

After years of studying literature, Sarah discovered her true love; marketing. She is a firm believer that educating small business owners about marketing empowers them to make smart business decisions. When she's not busy saving people from marketing faux pas, you can find her reading or slaying pixel demons in far off lands.

We build small business websites

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