Local SEO is one of the few things traditional offline businesses can use to optimize their locations online. Online reviews are just as important. When you combine the two, you’re left with a powerful marketing strategy that’ll put your business ahead of your fiercest competition.
In this post, we’re going to cover what local SEO is and why it’s important in 2019 and beyond. We’ll also cover the importance of online reviews. Once you understand the basics of why these two aspects of online marketing are important, you’ll be ready for the main event.
We’re going to go over six different ways online reviews can help you establish and optimize a presence in local search. We’ll wrap up after that. Let’s start at the top for now.
What is Local SEO?
SEO, or search engine optimization, is the practice of structuring your business and website in a way that increases its ranking in search engine results. There are multiple ways you can optimize your site and blog to receive more of what’s known as “organic traffic” from search engines. Organic traffic is traffic that reaches your website by finding it via search results on a search engine.
However, this traffic can come from anywhere in the world, which won’t help you if you operate locally. That’s where local SEO comes into play. It’s the practice of increasing your search ranking specifically for users and search queries located in and related to your area.
Search engines use geotargeting to pinpoint a user’s general location. They’ll then serve location-based content when relevant based on the user’s search query. This is why you’ll receive results featuring local restaurants when you search for “italian food” as opposed to the top pages worldwide that rank for that particular phrase.
Why is Local SEO Important?
Consumers rely on smart devices more and more with each passing year. This includes using them to find and research local businesses. In fact, 97% of consumers searched for local businesses online in 2017, according to BrightLocal’s Local Consumer Review Survey.
You don’t necessarily need to move your entire business online to succeed in the digital era. You do, however, need to find ways to market your business online if you want to stay relevant in today’s increasingly connected world.
This is why local SEO is important. Businesses used to rely on TV commercials, press releases, and word-of-mouth testimonials to bring more attention to your business. Now, you can reach more customers while spending less by tweaking and optimizing your business in ways that affect local SEO.
One of those ways is through the use of online reviews.
Why are Online Reviews Important?
Online reviews are important for many reasons, but it all boils down to one: social proof. Social proof occurs when the behavior of others affects our own opinions and actions, especially where we choose to spend our money.
When it comes to online marketing, reviews are one of the most powerful ways you can obtain social proof. Why? According to the 2018 edition of BrightLocal’s survey, 91% of consumers between the ages of 18 and 34 trust online reviews as much as personal recommendations. With 86% of consumers reading online reviews for local businesses, you can’t afford to not grow your own collection.
Still, you’re probably wondering, how does this relate to local SEO? It mainly has to do with the fact that Google inserts reviews directly into its search results. If you don’t have enough reviews or your scores are too low, you may wind up driving away potential customers and making a bad impression with Google.
Now that you understand local SEO and why reviews are so important, let’s get into the meat of this post to examine how online reviews impact local SEO even further.
How Online Reviews Help Local SEO
When we use search engines, we look for results most relevant to the search terms we used. Google behaves in a similar way when it comes to local SEO. It looks at a user’s geographic location and uses it to serve results most relevant to the search terms the user entered. It’ll also take locations featured in search queries into consideration. You can see this in the way Google uses bold type to highlight your search terms.
When it thinks you may be interested in a product or service, it goes one step further by serving business results you may be interested in. Reviews are included in those results, and they even have an impact on them. This leads us to our top two examples of how online reviews help local SEO.
Reviews are Part of Google’s Knowledge Graph
Google’s search results have evolved quite a bit over the years. In its early days, it simply displayed a list of web pages it felt were most relevant to your search query. Today, your results are filled with business listings, YouTube videos, products, news articles and more.
These are part of Google’s Knowledge Graph. It’s a collection of information and data Google uses to enhance the results you’re given. Naturally, reviews are included in business listings. The social proof aspect of them helps Google determine which businesses consumers trust most.
The score, quantity, and frequency of reviews are considered as well, which leads us to our next point.
Reviews as a Google Ranking Factor
According to Moz’s Local Search Ranking Factors Study of 2018, review signals make up 6% of the eight ranking factors Google uses for local SEO. These signals include the number of reviews you have, the frequency at which they’re published and the diversity within them.
Furthermore, Google My Business has a guide on improving your local ranking in which managing and responding to reviews is listed as a suggestion. In Google’s own words…
“High-quality, positive reviews from your customers will improve your business’s visibility and increase the likelihood that a potential customer will visit your location.”
Google even recommends asking customers to leave reviews directly, which is something our plugin, Starfish Reviews can help you with.
In short, the more high-quality reviews you have, the higher your business is likely to rank in local search results.
Review Scores and Quantity Demonstrate Authority
Google’s guide states there are three major factors that determine local search results. They are relevance, distance and prominence. Let’s talk about the latter factor. Prominence, according to Google, is “how well-known a business is.” Some local businesses have a larger presence offline, and Google uses different factors to reflect that in local search results.
Reviews are part of those factors. When your reviews are mostly positive and coming in frequently, you’re clearly an authority in your area in Google’s eyes. It uses social proof in the form of your customers’ testimonials to determine how prominent your business is, and (along with other factors) ranks it accordingly.
Reviews Add Relevant Content to Your Site
Remember earlier when we demonstrated how Google highlights your search terms in results? To do this, Googlebot, Google’s search engine bot, crawls your website in search of keywords that will help it determine what your business is about. When other ranking factors are taken into consideration, these keywords can help you appear in search results most relevant to the search terms your customers use to find businesses like yours.
There’s a niche collection of WordPress review plugins that allow you to display reviews from various platforms on your site. Once they’re on your site, they provide more content for Googlebot to crawl. Certain words customers leave in these reviews will act as keywords.
Over time, having these reviews on your site can help it rank for keywords your customers are using in local search.
Reviews Increase Click-Through Rates
Having customers publish reviews directly to your site can be beneficial. However, earning reviews across multiple, authoritative platforms is a far more effective way of enhancing your local SEO efforts. Plus, reviews on your own website are controlled by you, so Google and other search engines give them far less credence than reviews on third-party platforms where you have no control.
Consumers rely on platforms like Google Reviews, Yelp, and Facebook to determine which businesses deserve their hard-earned cash most. You can earn a lot of additional traffic from these platforms due to how widely popular they are. You’ll earn more click-through rates as a result, increasing your domain authority overall.
Reviews Increase Link Quality
A backlink is a link from another website, to your website. Backlinks are the “secret sauce” that first separated Google from other search engines: Google looked at how many other pages and websites linked to a particular site or page, and what that link said, when determining the rank of a site or page. That means that backlinks are a powerful SEO tool. They require a lot of time and hard work to earn without cheating. However, the more backlinks your site has, the more authority it’ll gain. This is especially true if those backlinks come from authoritative sites.
Review platforms allow you to place links that lead to your site on pages that belong to your business. Because these platforms are so dominant in search engines, receiving backlinks from them helps your site earn more authority.
For example, your Facebook page should have a link to your website. If so, it passes a little bit of Facebook’s rank “juice” on to your website. Put another way, a tiny bit of Facebook’s authority gets passed on to your website. The more popular your Facebook page is, the more “juice” it can pass on to your website.
When it comes down to it, becoming a more authoritative presence is the most effective way to increase your rankings in search engines. When it comes to local SEO, reviews offer one of the most effective ways to increase your authority. We offered several examples of how reviews allow you to do just that, but if you’re looking for more “actionable” ways of improving your local SEO efforts, check out our guide on creating your very own online review marketing strategy.
Once again, if you want to increase the amount of reviews your business receives, give Starfish Reviews a try. Our plugin allows you to create funnels that encourage customers to leave reviews or provide feedback privately based on their responses. It’s an essential tool for your local review marketing strategy.