Local Reviews, Testimonials and Local SEO
More than 90% of users surveyed admit they check reviews before buying a product or selecting a service. This fact, combined with the knowledge that search engines use reviews for determining SERP rankings, is why you need to factor reviews and testimonials into your local SEO strategy. But how can you use reviews and testimonials to improve your site's local search engine optimization?
Using Reviews to Improve SEO
When customer reviews refer to the location of your business, the review adds to the local references to the company; this improves its local search results ranking in addition to improving the company's rating on the review site where it is located. When the reviews discuss where customers went for entertainment before having dinner at your place or watching the local team at the sports bar, the local profile of your content improves even more without affecting your own local search keyword density.
Something many don’t realize about Google reviews is that Google assumes a five point scale where five is the best and one is the worst. Using one star as your top rating instead of five on a one to five scale hurts you ratings when translated by Google to its on five star rating system.
Reviews should be for specific items, not entire categories of items, though this increases the work associated with collecting reviews. You want separate reviews for each product for maximum impact, such as a doctor's office with an adjoining spa seeking reviews for each service. This also ensures that your company's offerings show up as having a good review no matter which product or service is queried.
In the fall of 2016, Google's “Reviews from Around” feature was released. “Reviews from Around” shows aggregated review summaries in the Knowledge Panel. Rich snippets get priority when the search engine determines which reviews to include. The review schema reward original reviews that only appear on your site. Those sourced directly from users get priority.
Critic reviews also get priority, and the snippets from those reviews may be pre-selected by the editor of that site. (Note that snippets can’t be more than 200 characters.)
Why does Google give priority to critic reviews? This is because you can’t make up critic reviews. Critic reviews have to come from a critic who has domain authority the search engine recognizes. Google's documentation states that critic reviews have to have the critic’s name, organization and publisher icon. This means that businesses will have to seek out reviews by critics for local businesses for reviews like those regularly sought for books and movies. Reviews by local newspapers and magazines have the secondary benefit of generating back-links to your site from high authority domains. Google Reviewer reviews have the benefit of being prioritized by the search engine.
Another reason to seek out legitimate reviewers is that business directories are starting to crack down on the fake ones. Yelp has started to shame those who break their guidelines publicly. Business review sites are also starting to punish businesses that have negative reviews taken down by shaming them on the review site. Yelp’s warning stays up for 90 days.
Reviews with locally known personalities are a great way to improve both local SEO and credibility. Their endorsements on your site carry more weight than signatories who may or may not actually exist. Their profiles in and of themselves help local search engine optimization by referring to local sports teams, radio stations and the surrounding metropolitan area.
Using Testimonials to Improve Local SEO
Testimonials are usually considered less trustworthy than reviews but still have SEO value. Testimonials have the benefit of being under the editorial control of the business owner, so potential customers and search engines give them less weight than reviews, since reviews are more likely to include the honest, negative feedback searchers want.
You don’t have to abandon testimonials while search engines are shifting to user reviews. Adopting website based applications that let people leave reviews on your website, in essence leaving their own testimonials, can be a great upgrade from suspect testimonials. Testimonials from real people with details generic five star reviews don't offer will improve your site’s trustworthiness.
Your company choosing to respond to the testimonials whether thanking customers for good reviews or reaching out to those with negative reviews provides quality content either way while demonstrating company involvement with the customer base.