When it comes to ranking businesses with the local search results, the goal of Google’s has always been to attempt to model the real world as much as possible. The search engine’s aim is to reward the most prominent and popular companies within their own local markets – those that customers most highly regard, and those that are considered to be the best at what they provide or do and that are generally patronized, talked about well and recommended to friends by customers. Those local businesses are the ones that Google would like to show at the top of its local search results.
It is also what searchers would like to see in the results as well! After all, nobody wants to get so-so or bad service if they can instead use a business with a history of making customers really happy. Whether customers think you do a poor or great job, these days there’s no way of hiding from your reputation any longer. Prospective buyers now are able to see a business’s collective history in how well it is able to keep its customers happy by having access to online reviews 24 hours per day.
Why reviews are so important
According to surveys, anywhere from 75% up to 90% of customers check out online reviews when they are considering making a purchase. And a slightly smaller percentage of people trust online reviews just as much as they trust recommendations given to them from individuals they personally know.
That might sound crazy at first, that our trust is actually developed through reading various opinions on different websites from a diverse group of individuals who have differing tastes and standards. When considering the overall opinion that the public has of a business, we then take into account those factors that we feel are most important for us.
For instance, a light sleeper might be more concerned about how noisy a hotel is than whether or not it has a clean pool or serves a hot breakfast, while a traveler who has an early flight might want to look at other guests’ opinions regarding how reliable the hotel’s shuttle service is compared to all other amenities.
Moving past reputation management
For quite some time now, marketers have been using the phrase reputation management when referring to the efforts that a company makes to influence what prospective customers are able to see online about them. Managing a company’s online reputation has consisted mainly of being able to respond to reviews on multiple sites as a form of damage control, owing first page SERP results for brand name searches, and obtaining more good reviews to drown out the bad ones.
However, these days, less emphasis needs to be placed on appropriate reactions to bad opinions and attempting to reduce bad online reviews visibility. Instead we need to be concentrating on reputation development.
How to develop a better reputation
It wasn’t that difficult in the past for small businesses to survive and maybe even thrive while they are providing mediocre or poor services and products. As long as a store, office or shop had enough foot traffic, or was in a great location, or did a sufficient amount of advertising in those places that customers used for finding that kind of business, then new customers would continue coming in and purchasing from the business – despite the fact that it might actually be bad. Although customer may have shared their experiences with those people from their social circles, these circles were fairly small and in terms of word of mouth it didn’t tend to travel although far unless there were extreme measures taken.
However, in this Internet age, businesses cannot hide any longer from its customers opinions. All of us are connected to one another online in ways that in the past were not possible. Most consumers these days have one mobile device at least that is always with them. We carry around our smartphones in our purses and pockets. They are right next to use while we are sleeping. When we are driving we use them to be educated and entertained. We use them to gather information, get directions, communicate and to locate businesses to buy from and to learn about what others experiences with them have been. People are able to read opinions about local enterprises from other just about anywhere and anytime.
Reviews as an important ranking factor
Reviews weren’t an important ranking factor during the early years of local search. However, in 2009 this changed when Yelp rejected being acquired by Google. At that point the search engine giant incorporated reviews as a significant factor within its local algorithm so that small businesses would be encourage to have more online reviews with Google.
This resulted in lots of fake reviews, which forced Google to take steps in order to get these reduced. Among the measures that were introduced were reducing the impact that reviews had on rankings, developing a Yelp-like reviewer algorithm, and Google+ requiring a legitimate-looking profile to be allowed to leave reviews.
As of 2015, reviews have an impact still on ranking in the local pack results and Google Maps. However, local search practitioners view it being less than 9%. Rating stars can still be shown within some of the SERPS after you have 5-6 Google reviews. It is also believed that 10 reviews on Google does provide you with a small ranking boost. Google might also be attempting to incorporate review sentiment within its ranking algorithms. Google would come very close to reaching its goal being able to model the real world if that ever does become a reality.