It is quite obvious that Google is beginning to put more importance on the use of reviews. It is all about trying to narrow that gap between the social web and ecommerce, where sales themselves are becoming more and more social in themselves. Just look at the regularity of community selling on sites like Amazon.
But will that be a factor when it comes to rankings?
Will SEO have to adapt to be more ratings inclusive, a new addition after already changing to make way for both video and social results?
Given the high priority granted to review communities like Yelp and CitySearch, and the way that Google is encouraging its users to review local businesses by accessing search result data for suggestion customization, it has already begun.
Reviews and SEO: NOW
Exactly how much customer reviews impact your business’s search presence remains unclear. We do know that Google offers Product Schema which allows business owners to bring their customer reviews right into Google SERPs.
While structured markup is not going to improve your rankings, it will for sure help your click-through (and click-through does help organic rankings, if only temporally).
You do need to follow Google’s guidelines to be granted a rich snippet. You can only use it on a single product page (no category pages!). And you can only markup reviews that you generated on your site.
Further reading: What creators should know about Google's product reviews update
Customer Reviews and Local Rankings
Customer reviews are key to local SEO.
Google is pretty open about their local ranking algorithm and they mention reviews not once on that page, and reviews have been recognized as the most important local ranking factor.
Google has been continuously experimenting with collecting and moderating local business reviews which also proves that the search giant is taking customer reviews very seriously. Most recently Google was trying to implement third-party reviews to their maps:
Google offers best practices for businesses on how to get reviewed on Google cautioning Google against offering incentives to customers in exchange for reviews. Additionally, Google takes review moderation very seriously
“Reviews are automatically processed to detect inappropriate content like fake reviews and spam. We may take down reviews that are flagged in order to comply with Google policies or legal obligations.”
What This Means For Ecommerce
Local businesses are well used to seeking out reviews from customers. Along with social media and online shopping carts, they are the only way to establish a viable web presence. It is the typical ecommerce business that has to really focus on this change and the way it is certain to adapt over time.
External reviews are important, and many small companies encourage their customers to hop onto sites like Yelp or ResellerRatings for their opinion on the service/product.
This is a good idea for small businesses, as customers are more likely to comment when they have positive experiences, unlike many large corporations that find themselves with reviews only when the customer is unhappy.
Sites like Amazon also offer a great service for those who are selling a tangible product. It is a selling community, and reviewing for many people who buy there is second nature. Especially when they are happy with what they have bought. Google seems to also favor these pages, showing the star rating right there in the results.
The Risks of Fake Reviews
Some people reading this are already tempted to begin what many companies do, which is purchase fake reviews. This is a mistake, as Google is working overtime to quell this phenomenon, as are the third party sites reviews are hosted on.
If you are suspected of review spamming, all ratings can be wiped off of the account. Sometimes sites will even ban the company entirely, though most of the time this is for multiple offenses after getting a warning.
Plus, most customers are now web-savvy enough (and jaded enough) to recognize fake reviews, and to be leery of even positive ones if they don’t appear to be genuine. There are plenty of signs that they can follow to come to this conclusion, so don’t underestimate them.
For those who are struggling to get customer reviews, you can always meet in the middle. Offer someone a free sample of your product or service in exchange for an honest, well written review. Many bloggers will do this on their sites, which are great to link to, and social users who are following your page will jump on the opportunity if you offer it. As long as you are not soliciting positive reviews, or running it as a contest, this is not against any TOS.
Reviews Through Surveys
There are websites that are choosing to use third-party surveys in order to find out about customer experience. Which can help when trying to improve for better public reviews that will come up in a Google search. Usually, they are done using a service like TrustPilot or Foresee.
But these are controversial, and many small business owners in particular see them as a risk to their brand loyalty, not a help. Customers don’t usually like seeing these popups at the end of a purchase or while browsing a site. They are an eyesore, annoying and completely unsolicited. So the customer opinion of a site can go down drastically for nothing more than the survey request.
When looking at a large company, this doesn’t make much of a difference; they aren’t likely to stop using it or shopping there. However, smaller businesses have to work harder to prove themselves against the competition. At the very least, a more creative and less invasive way should be found to find out the information from a survey. Even a single email a few days later, while not ideal, is better than a popup.
Reviews are a big deal on Google now, and user experience data is crucial for the average ecommerce site.
But there is a right way and a wrong way to use this tool, and you should take care that you don’t make a misstep. Luckily, the ranking benefits far outweigh the risks.