Do you trust online reviews?

Recent studies show increased importance of website reviews for local SEO, we discuss this trend & investigate incorporating reviews into your digital strategy.

An often overlooked ranking factor for local search is the growing importance of online reviews. There’s a reason why that company whose product you purchased has been chasing you up for feedback on the service you received, it’s not just for improving customer service in future, there’s an immediate SEO benefit to it that is growing in importance every year.

Online reviews have been a known ranking factor for many years now. This year’s survey conducted by Moz into Local Search Ranking Factors attributed 8.4% of a site’s search visibility on Google search to online reviews. It might not sound like much, but in the increasingly competitive local search market, every little counts. Getting a good review can be the difference between being the top promoted business in your area, verses wallowing in obscurity.

So why are Google taking online reviews more seriously? Simply put, it’s because the user is. A recent study has shown that more customers are taking the time to read online reviews than ever before.

In 2015, 92% of customers read online reviews, compared to just 88% last year, and of those that read them, only 13% say that they would still consider buying from a business that had received just a 1 or 2 star rating. With stats like these we can only assume that reviews will have a greater influence in coming years. Could we see that 8.4% grow to double figures next year?

We can only assume that this increase in review readership is as a result of users becoming savvier, with a greater appreciation of the inherent biases found on official websites and a need for a better understanding of a company’s offering before purchase.

However, before every small business owner runs out and starts accosting customers into giving them a ‘star rating’, recent studies have shown that, despite a greater readership, consumer trust in online reviews has actually been waning.

The increased online awareness amongst customers that caused a migration of trust from official websites to online reviews now appears to be moving away from there too. In fact, 44% of users will only consider an online review relevant if it has been written in the past month, and even then only 68% of users will trust a positive review, a decrease from 72% last year. The abundance of fake reviews may have been a contributing factor, but the message is clear, not even a glowing review of your business is enough to guarantee conversions.

The lessons to take from this are simple.

Online reviews are read more widely than ever before, and more customers are taking them into account before they purchase or visit your site. This trend has prompted Google and other search engines to attribute greater ranking power to online reviews, with this trend expected to continue in the next few years. However, the quality and abundance of reviews is becoming more relevant to attracting business too.

Businesses can no longer rest easy with a few old ‘5 star reviews’ under their belt. Future proofing your SEO strategy on local search requires the active promotion of reviews from in-store and on-site. Only through cooperation between the in-store management and their digital marketing team can we all benefit from the feedback given from satisfied customers.

For more updates on how to improve your digital strategy, and for all things marketing, check out our marketing blog here.

By Jonathan Boyle, SEO Executive