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Reviews: The Understated Variable in Local SEO

For some reason reviews don’t get a lot of credit when it comes to local SEO. People talk about backlinking, citation building, on page optimization, map embeds, youtube videos but one of the highest impact things that can be done is harvesting reviews for a business.

It’s important to have a well rounded approach, so I don’t suggest ignoring any of those things mentioned, however, it seems that a large part of the SEO community and consultants providing services to businesses are in fact ignoring the power of reviews.

What you’ll learn in this blog post:

  • Why reviews carry a lot of weight
  • The algorithm nobody talks about
  • How to encourage more reviews
  • Why you should harvest reviews for your own website
  • and MORE


Reviews and Their Importance in Local SEO Rankings

Some of you reading this may need a little convincing. I’m pretty sure that most people doing SEO undervalue the power of reviews.

My last blog post, was breaking down the Moz yearly survey results of “Local SEO Experts” or authorities. One of the ranking factors that wasn’t discussed much and not much value was placed upon was native reviews.

Seeing that a lot of the big shots in the industry have ignored this, I’m sure a lot of everyday SEOs are also not placing a big focus on reviews. Couple this with the announcement of Google discontinuing reviews on Google+ pages and on the surface it’s easy to think that reviews aren’t a factor or at the very least, aren’t an important factor.

However, if you keep up with Linda Buquet over on the Local Search Forum you will see her breakdown of the announcement as well as why it won’t impact rankings, and is merely a cosmetic change, not an algorithm change.

It’s important to break this down at first because without doing so, you’re open to interpretation from other people. Just Google removing reviews from + pages started a fire of misinformation and assumption. That’s why it’s important to stop the fire.

Now that we know the industry as a whole has understated the power of reviews, and that some recent news caused misinformation to be spread let’s get to examples of reviews in action.

This example is in my friend Luis’s Niche. Luis has a pressure washing company in Houston TX called Revitalize. Some of you remember him from the Friday Night Webinars. His company is ranking #3 in the short stack and while #2 is in sight, #1 is probably forever out of reach.



As you can see, Luis’s company is solid in the 3 spot but who wouldn’t want to move up? His competitor in the B spot has the benefit of the business name being an exact match as well as the domain name being an exact match. While it would be tough, he can still overtake #2 but #1 is where is gets tricky.

The big difference between these companies and the big thing that prevents Luis from moving up to #1 is pretty simple. Reviews. Citations are pretty much the same, backlinks, optimization, etc. I will say that #1 benefits from additional on page, having landing pages for each city like how I discussed in my post about ranking in multiple cities for multiple keywords. However, that isn’t the reason they’re in #1… the reason is reviews. If I remember correctly they also have over 700+ reviews on AngiesList.

This isn’t the only example of a listing ranking above the competition because of their reviews, you can see examples in my “Why it’s Ranking” breakdowns. Some are only ranking BECAUSE of the reviews, even with bad category listings, awful on page, etc.

Here are a few more examples:

This is for pest control in Miami.


There’s not many other reviews in the top 3, but what’s notable is that there are sites in the top 6-7 that should be above New Era if it weren’t for their reviews.

This next example is for Chiropractor NYC


I can’t say that reviews is the only reason for Dr. Shoshany ranking in the #1 spot. The fact is the guy is ahead of the game and has been for years. He’s been in the #1 spot before local was even a big thing, before local even existed actually! I remember doing tiered link building for him a while back and he was still dominating then.

His line of thinking is what every business should have. Even when things are going well,  you continue to be open for improvement and stability. He wouldn’t continue to be ranking if he didn’t stay on top of things.

I assume he also wanted to make sure his “reputation presence” was also on point, and as you can see, with over 100 more reviews than #2, he succeeded.

So what you can take away from this so far, is that reviews are indeed important. I’ve given you just a few examples where reviews can be a game changing factor in competitive markets.

Next… we’re going to discuss the algorithm or filtering process behind reviews.

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The Algorithm Nobody Talks About

We all hear about algorithm updates, and often we’ll hear about cosmetic changes that some people incorrectly believe are an algorithm change.

What I’m about to talk about is different from organic and local… it’s all about reviews.

First, let me expand on this before people take it the wrong way. It’s not part of the main algorithm, it’s not part of local, it is entirely separate. Just like PageRank is an algorithm by itself and included as a factor in the main algorithm, the review algorithm is also a separate algorithm that is included in local.

Since this is something not talked about much, and since I don’t see all the inner workings of Google, I can just make assumptions based on my data and knowledge. Maybe there isn’t an algorithm for it, but… I think we can all make an educated decision and assume there is. After all, if yelp has an algorithm for reviews, we can bet that Google does.

What we have to consider now, is what actually makes up the algorithm? What do we need to look for?

1.) Number of reviews

It’s easy to look at a few examples and think that the number of reviews is the most important thing but that’s not the case. Obviously you want quantity, but what is factored in the algorithm from what I can tell isn’t about how many reviews necessarily but the average reviews for a company in the same industry.

For example, if the average number of reviews for a pest control company is 5 and the top 3 results have 7, 6, and 5 reviews then it isn’t much of a difference. However, if the average is 5 reviews but a company has 35, that would give the reviews exponentially higher weight than if the average was 25.

When trying to get more reviews, keep in mind what the industry average may be. This is why occasionally you will see a company with a lot of reviews NOT ranking #1, because the average number of reviews is higher, causing the amount of reviews to have less of an impact.

2.) Quality of reviews

I know most of you are sick of it…. backlinks, citations, everything is “quality not quantity” but I’m not one to ignore quantity. However, ignoring the fact that quality is what makes a big difference, wouldn’t get us very far would it?

Quality is often left in limbo though, who defines quality especially when it comes to reviews? What you should be looking for includes word length of the review, mention of keywords or relevant services that the company provided or a description of the problem they had. Another thing is co-occurrence or co-citations that tie that business owner or employees to the company.

3.) Rating of reviews

A few years back a couple companies were perfectly fine with bad reviews because it helped them rank! Google has now prevented that from happening.

It’s not just the quality, or quantity of the reviews you have, but also the rating of your reviews. It would be a bit silly to have someone with 100+ reviews ranking in the top 3 spots if they had 1 star ratings when you can take someone with 20 reviews at a 4.5 rating.

Rating of reviews matter.

4.) Velocity of reviews

Just like link velocity, review velocity also makes a difference. What is review velocity? The speed that reviews come in for a listing.

If a listing was created in 2009 and has 2 reviews, all of a sudden making a big push for reviews next month and getting 50 reviews looks a bit fishy. Not only is it historically inaccurate when keeping pace with the existing review velocity but it likely is also abnormally out of pace with the industry average.

Your review velocity should be at the same ratio whether above or below the industry average with quantity. For example, if the average listing has 10 reviews and has been in existence for 12 months, that’s a little under 1 review a month. If you have 1 review and have had the listing for 2 months, you don’t want to solicit for 10 reviews in the following month since it is grossly inaccurate when you consider the industry average along with your current volume of reviews.

How many reviews do you need? How fast? You want to be above the industry average, but you can’t do it at an outrageous pace.

A brand new listing gives you more flexibility since you don’t have to compete against your own historical data.

5.) Review history of the person giving the review!

I believe Google also considers the history of the account giving the review. We know Yelp does it, so it’s fair to believe Google uses something similar as well, especially with the amount of data they have at their disposal. It would be crazy if they DIDN’T use it to their advantage.

I think this is more about filtering out fake reviews than it is factoring it into rankings, but I thought I’d include it anyway.

Things I expect Google to look for include; how recently the account was created, where their location is/was, if they have an android phone is their history of the GPS coordinates matching that of the business they’re reviewing? What is their average review length, how frequent, average rating, etc.

These are the things you need to look for in reviews.

How To Get More Reviews For Your Clients or Yourself

To be honest, I don’t know about the laws in regards to reviews or what you can or can’t offer as an incentive and whether you have to disclose whether you offered an incentive.

Offering an incentive is one of the most effective ways to get some reviews for your listing. If you or your client is an HVAC company or lawn care company or something that offers some sort of recurring service you can give a % off of a future service.

To put it simply though, you usually don’t even need to give an incentive to get a review from someone. You can just ask!

Asking for reviews… let me phrase that differently… Personally asking for reviews, in a one on one conversation will usually get you a review.

It’s kind of like sales, you will NEVER get a sale if you don’t ask for the sale. You aren’t likely to get a review unless you ask for a review. Of course, negative reviews are the type you don’t need to ask for but positive reviews need to be asked for.

So how do you get reviews? Ask! Make sure you ask over the phone or in person. After the conversation, send an email with a link they can leave a review, and let them know you appreciate their feedback and their business.

Harvesting Reviews for Your Own Website

One thing I’ve always liked to do for clients is to harvest reviews for them from around the web. Yelp, Google, TripAdvisor, YellowPages, Manta, wherever.

I like to do this for multiple reasons.

The first reason is an obvious one, it gives social proof, it’s good for conversions. Having a page on your website dedicated to reviews allows potential customers to see reviews and experiences from previous customers. It builds trust.

Another reason is a not so obvious one. If you believe co-occurrence is a thing of the future then it makes sense to want to use those reviews as well since it strengthens the ties of your website, business, listing and citations together.

Here’s what you do, add a menu item on the website for testimonials or reviews, copy the reviews from whichever third party site they’re located on and add them into your site. At the end of the review, use the user name or person’s name as well as a link to the review.

I like doing this so people can see the reviews on a third party site instead of thinking you’re making things up! I also like it because it passes a bit of authority to those other properties, and it ties your site to them and business information to them and back to yourself.

The concept is similar to creating an optimized youtube video, embedding it on a landing page that is also optimized for the same thing as the video. When you’re taking those reviews, you’re adding relevance to everywhere you’re taking the reviews from which is also adding relevance to your business.

At the very least, you will benefit from the added “proof” to the website.

Final Thoughts

Reviews are an important factor when it comes to local SEO, and in business in general. There are new statistics each day about how many people look at reviews online before coming to a decision about who to use or what to buy.

Even if reviews weren’t a factor in rankings, they are a factor in sales you generate online so you shouldn’t be ignoring them any longer.

If you’re in a competitive field, reviews can certainly be a difference maker for your business or client’s business. Hopefully after this post, you have a better understanding and idea about reviews and how to use them.

What are your thoughts? Let me know in the comments below!

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