User Reviews & Search - In Pursuit of the Stars

Posted by Steve Wanczyk

User-generated reviews are an inescapable element of the online reputation space. With our deep background in search engine optimization, we tend to be brought into situations that require management of search results themselves. But almost every single B2C presence online is impacted by user reviews, and the pretty little stars that accompany them – so we’ve become experts on this front as well.

In the SEO world, we’ve always known that position is everything. A compelling title or description tag can earn you CTRs much higher than your SERP spot might dictate. This impacts everything from reputation-related searches, to e-commerce, to advocacy. You want your content to catch the most eyes.

As Google’s ongoing experimentation with layout and search result types evolves, the concept of rich snippets seems to be here to stay. The star rating, ubiquitous now for most restaurants, and many other types of retail outlets, is probably the most prominent type of rich snippet. But what impact does it have on SEO and CTR?

We can now put numbers on it, thanks to a recent study from our friends at BrightLocal. They put together a consumer panel of over 6,000 users to test behavior based on a number of variables, including the presence – or lack thereof – of user reviews in search results. What they found is both compelling and, at some level, unsurprising:

This chart shows the tremendous – and linearly correlated – impact of starred reviews. It tracks actual CTR versus expected CTR based on SERP position (i.e., how much did you over- or under-perform traffic expectations in the #1 spot, the #5 spot, etc.). What we see here is that a 5-star rating can deliver a 28% increase in organic traffic. Even a 3-star rating can provide a slight boost. Clearly, reviews influence behavior.

Combine that with a few other things we know about user reviews, and the message is even clearer:

  • 91% of users read online reviews when searching for local businesses

  • 84% of consumers trust online reviews as much as personal recommendations

  • 56% of consumers are more likely to select a business if it has positive reviews/ratings displayed

You’ve got to chase those stars.

We can help – we’ve done this now with a wide variety of clients, and have had success across all verticals. The tactics are straightforward, but do require some attentive discipline:

  • Identify and claim your profile on all relevant review sites.

  • Respond to customer reviews! 78% of consumers think businesses who respond to reviews care more about their customers than those who don’t.

  • Assemble a plan to encourage your happy customers to leave positive reviews. This is an outcome of proper customer relationship management and is something that can be managed via various tools.

  • Provide a way for customers to complain right on your own website – this might seem counter-intuitive, but if you provide a ready outlet for unhappy customers, and respond, they are less likely to migrate to other online locales.

Elements of this process can be tedious, but the payoff – as supported by the data – is well worth it.