Why does Google care if your business has online reviews in 2019?
Over the last decade we’ve come to expect handy guidance from ratings and reviews anytime we go online. Now Google expects them, too.
Maybe it’s because Amazon taught us to rely on ratings and reviews, or maybe it’s because we’ve always been social creatures, eager to hear about what others did when faced with similar decisions.
Maybe it’s because Google tends to show us search results that feature reviews and ratings.
Whatever the root cause, there’s no question that ratings and reviews help shoppers on their quest for the perfect purchase, or that they work wonders for businesses of just about any size.
Whether you need to improve your online reputation, create a feedback loop with your customers, step up your user-generated content game, or boost on-site conversions — a review strategy can help with all of that.
But perhaps the most underrated benefit of collecting reviews is that, when implemented properly, reviews can help Google better understand your site. That’s a huge win for organic SEO.
Between more and more businesses emerging each day (who are, to say the least, also trying to stand out in organic search), and paid advertising becoming less effective in saturated markets, ranking well in organic search results is a true asset for any business.
When your potential customers are off consulting the internet for help making their next purchase, wouldn’t you want to put yourself right where they can see you?
Reviews can help you rank higher in organic search results
Unlike paid advertising campaigns, which don't always delight consumers, doing what you can to improve your organic Search Engine Results Page (SERP) ranking can really move the needle — with less risk of potential customers getting fed up with your brand.
If we had to quantify the importance of your organic search ranking, a staggering 91.5% of organic traffic share goes to sites listed on the first page of results. Don’t shoot the messenger, but if you’re not ranking anywhere near the first page of results, you’re probably not getting seen in organic search.
Make no mistake. Ranking on the first page in Google SERPs is a challenge for businesses of all shapes and sizes, and it certainly doesn’t happen overnight. The good news is that other aspects of your broader marketing strategy, like review collection, can do double duty to help you with organic SEO.
But how do we know that reviews and ratings are meaningful to the powers that be at Google in 2019?
According to Moz's 2018 Local Search Ranking Factors, review signals like quantity, velocity, and diversity came in as the 3rd most important factor in how Google ranks local businesses in its “Local Pack” SERP. Some sources consider review signals to be even more important in 2019. That’s a pretty big deal, especially if you do a lot of local business.
And if you’re not a brick and mortar business, the SEO community believes you’ll still see serious SEO benefits from gathering reviews. Common understanding is that Google uses them to derive brand signals, which can boost your site’s domain authority and eventually your position in search.
Because Google’s goal is to serve up high quality and reputable results, they’re on the lookout brand signals that can help them separate the “brands” (who, among other indicators, have proof of a satisfied customer base) from the “generics” (the sites that Google classifies as having a poor user experience).
Simply put, Google appreciates when some of the guesswork around a website’s quality is done for them, so it’s a good idea to use independent (read: trusted) online platforms to gather reviews.
The role of reviews in off-page SEO
In answering why Google cares about online reviews, we have to touch on the role reviews play in off-page SEO. As the name suggests, off-page SEO (also called off-site SEO) refers to the actions you take outside of your actual website to impact your rankings in organic search.
This is a high level look at how it works:
By incorporating some off-page SEO techniques into your overall strategy — like building a presence on social media and third-party review platforms — you signal to Google that you’re a brand.
Most businesses have an on-page SEO strategy to help with organic search, but fewer are spending significant energy on off-page opportunities. Pulling some key levers for off-page SEO could be the competitive advantage your business needs to rise to the top of organic search results.
Google changes. Reviews are likely here to stay.
According to Moz, off-site SEO-related factors like third-party reviews carry more than 50% of the ranking factor weight. Though search engines are constantly evolving, factors like relevance, trustworthiness, and authority will likely always play a role in a page’s ability to rank, and building up your online presence with reviews can help businesses crush all three of those criteria.
At the end of the day, you want both your customers and Google to think of you as a brand. You can make all the on-page SEO optimizations you want, but Google will still be looking out for your brand’s reputation on third-party platforms.
Google prefers up-to-date and trustworthy information
On top of building your brand reputation in the eyes of almighty search engines, reviews of your business help Google gain a deeper understanding about who you are and what you do.
That’s because generally, reviews are marked up with structured data such as schema markup.
Schema markup is how your website communicates its content (like important metadata) to search engines. Basically, search engines use this markup to extract information from each page and serve up the best results.
In other words, using schema markup strategically on your website is another powerful signal you can send to Google to enhance your performance in organic search results.
On top of serving as a direct line of communication with Google, schema markup can also help you generate eye-catching rich search results. Before schema markup really started catching on as a way for businesses to create more engaging search results, all the organic links in the SERP looked exactly the same: 10 blue links.
Nowadays there’s no limit to the ways you can implement schema markup to help you visually differentiate yourself in search and ultimately capture attention with rich results.
And perhaps most importantly, schema markup is what you need to make sure Google sees your reviews, and that your rich snippet star ratings are displaying in search.
Setting up your site for rich snippets isn’t hard — all you have to do is mark up certain pages using code to communicate the AggregateRating schema property to Google.
To make sure you’re doing this correctly, you can refer to these rich snippets best practices — the article also covers some common mistakes you’ll want to avoid.
All of that said, it’s worth pointing out that rich snippets and the benefits gained from them are entirely up to Google’s discretion. Even if you’ve satisfied all of their criteria, it’s still Google who decides whether they display rich snippets in SERPs.
Rich snippet stars help you stand out in search
At this point it’s widely believed that rich snippets lead to a higher click-through rate — just ask LensDirect, who saw an impressive 45% increase in organic CTR thanks to their rich snippet stars becoming visible in search.
A significant jump in organic CTR like that can also further boost your overall SEO efforts. There’s been some evidence that pages rank even higher in organic search when the CTR of a listing’s position is high and the bounce rate is low, which over time tells Google that this particular result is high quality and likely to provide a good user experience.
For example, this study from Ignite Visibility found strong correlation between CTR and visibility in search results:
Collecting customer feedback is always a good idea, but if your core goals are SEO-related then it’s a flat out great idea. Why not consider using your customer feedback to get rich snippets in Google?
An ever-improving brand reputation
Most businesses spend a lot of time optimizing their websites for what they think Google wants to see, but what your customers want to see is still incredibly important. When a person searches for reviews of your company, they’re looking for a neutral third-party source of information.
Profiles on third-party review sites like Trustpilot tend to rank highly thanks to their strong domain authority, helping them stand out in organic search. They’re a great way to highlight your reputation to potential customers.
Choosing to build your online presence on a platform that’s likely to appear at the top of search is an advantage. But choosing a review platform known for transparency and openness is the fast track to a brand reputation that consumers can not only easily find, but also easily trust.
If you want to learn more, here are some other useful links that will help you get started improving your organic search performance with online reviews.
- Google’s structured data guides are the best way to make sure your implementation stays up to date with Google’s policies.
- Google’s structured data reference pages are also worth bookmarking to ensure that your implementation stays up to date.
- Google’s structured data testing tool is perfect for previewing and troubleshooting your implementation. You can learn more about it here.
- Our guide to getting rich snippets for SEO with TrustBoxes walks through FAQs and best practices.
- Last but not least, this article shows you how to avoid a penalty for spammy structured data and outlines what you can do to recover.
Trustpilot is the world’s most powerful review platform. Ready to start showing off your reputation with shiny gold stars in search results? Click the banner below to learn more about the many ways we can help.