Not all reviews are created equal. Yet, good, bad or indifferent, Google and other search engines rely on reviews to help the algorithms understand the relationship of brands to their audience.
Marketers keen to see how well their content fares turn to search engine results pages, known as SERPs for short. From knowledge panels they can gauge what posts work and which ones need better optimization.
For expert analysis of the roles reviews play in search engine optimization and business overall, turn to Jason Barnard, the Brand SERP Guy. The digital marketer specializes in Brand SERP optimization and knowledge panel management, and owns Kalicube, a digital marketing agency.
Barnard has been studying, tracking and analyzing Brand SERPs since 2013. His software-as-a-service platform is dedicated to helping marketers with optimization.
More than ever, he sees online reviews as a powerful tool in digital marketing toolboxes.
“Reviews are increasingly important,” Barnard said. “That’s from an expertise, authoritativeness and trustworthiness page-quality perspective. Reviews also help Google understand you, your offers and your audience.
“In my pet strategy approach using understanding, credibility and deliverability as the three pillars, you need to serve with your SEO tactics,” Barnard said. “Reviews serve both understanding and credibility. Plus, they might actually help a person make a decision.”
Specifically for SEO, online reviews impact search rankings.
“They affect expertise, authoritativeness and trustworthiness,” Barnard said. “Google is getting a bit over excited about that. Assuming Google has understood your entity and can make the connection with the reviews, it is safe to assume a review helps.
“Review platforms are great for prettying up your Brand SERP,” he said. “Like social profiles, they rank easily.”
Steps for Quick Fixes
Barnard listed three actionable ways to counteract negative reviews:
- A negative becomes a positive. A negative review corrected by the client to become positive is arguably a more positive signal than a positive review to the platform, to Google and to people. It shows you sorted out the problem.
- Time heals. Negative reviews lose importance in most algorithms as they get older. I had a chat with the people at Trustpilot about this.
- Reply with a helpful answer or solution. Accept the lesson and change your ways—if the criticism is justified. Up your game and get 20 positive reviews for every negative one. Drown them with love.
“If you can get the client to change that negative review into a positive one, it sends a very strong signal to the algorithms and to people,” Barnard said.
Another option to correct an issue is to be honest with yourself, which is easier said than done.
“Being honest with yourself is very hard to do,” Barnard said. “I built 100 interactive games for kids. They are a great audience for practicing being self-critical since they are unforgiving of your mess-ups.”
There is an added challenge when trying to remove bad reviews left by disgruntled employees.
“I’ve done this for clients before,” Barnard said. “There is client support for you behind Google My Business. Ironically, the fastest responses are on Facebook.
“It ain’t easy, though,” he said. “Google has some pretty rubbish justifications for refusing. Yet, my experience has generally been that they take a sensible approach.”
Power to the People
Google reviews are not necessarily the gold standard. People have the final say.
“To see which sources people are looking at and which matter in Google’s ‘mind,’ look at your Brand SERP,” Barnard said. “If they rank for your brand name, they are important. Go through to Page 5 of the report.
“Then look at the competition,” he said. “Look at which review platforms rank on their Brand SERP. Those are potentially great places to focus if you have the client base. At Kalicube, we have this data for each industry.”
Outside of possible SEO impact, a business or brand still ought to put effort into online reviews.
“They increase conversion rates,” Barnard said. “Business owners learn from their client feedback. Brands get more exposure. Reviews pretty up their Brand SERP. The list goes on and on and on.”
Enticing people to post favorable online reviews starts with tact.
“Encourage, don’t bully,” Barnard said. “When asking for a review, don’t ask questions that get ‘Yes’ or ‘No’ answers. Don’t filter out clients you think will give a bad review. Fix the problem. Choose your targets carefully—the platforms your audience are looking at.”
He added that businesses should have an incentive to monitor reviews even if they are small and short-handed.
“They ought to look at the platforms that rank on their Brand SERP, then those that rank on their competitors’ report,” Barnard said. “I love Brand SERPs. I do admit that they aren’t the solution to every problem or answer to every question.”
A call to action or sense of urgency through email or an app also might prompt people to post reviews.
“Being quick is important,” Barnard said. “Then it is all still fresh and they still love you.”