Managing Your Online Reputation: Why Google Reviews Matter for Small Businesses

Reading online reviews is the “new normal” for consumers, even for offline purchases. Online reviews influence the purchases of about 68% of consumers, and each negative review in the first page of search results is estimated to drive away about 10% to 20% of potential new customers. The good news is that about 83% of online reviews are actually positive in nature, and positive reviews make a major contribution to brand awareness and sales.

It’s therefore critical for any business that is listed online to understand how these reviews work and what they can do to maintain their online reputation. And in the world of online reviews, Google is the behemoth. That’s natural, as consumers are overwhelmingly using their search engine as their primary means of locating businesses, and Google reviews are now displayed along with the other elements of their business listings.

What is surprising is how much Google outpaces other online review sources. When looking for a review of a business, people are over five times more likely to look to Google than they are to the two other major players, Yelp and Tripadvisor. That doesn’t mean that these other sites can be discounted, however, as Google incorporates reviews from both of these sites into their business pages.

In today’s post we’ll unpack what you need to know about how Google+ reviews work and how you can expect them to affect your small business.

Where Are Google Reviews Displayed?

For most businesses, when consumers see your business name in their search results, they’ll get a “snapshot” of your current average review score on a five-point scale once you have at least five reviews. They can click through this text link to see the actual text content of each review. For larger businesses with a significant amount of reviews, some one-sentence text snippets of select reviews will additionally appear beneath this in the business listing sidebar.

So if you’ve reached the point where Google is including snips of reviews in your business listing, how does it decide which ones to display? There are two basic factors — how high-quality Google determines the review to be, and its use of keywords that are relevant to how Google recognizes the business in terms of search results. The actual score of the review doesn’t really seem to play a role, though it is possible that extreme reviews (one- or five-stars) might face greater scrutiny of their quality from Google’s algorithm.

Can I Have Negative Reviews Removed From Google?

If they violate Google’s review content policies, then yes, you can flag them for potential removal. They can’t be removed simply because you don’t like them, however.

Even if you are able to remove a review, it actually isn’t always a sound business strategy. Consumers become suspicious of censorship when there are no negative reviews, or when there is a marked imbalance between positive and negative reviews.

Do Google Reviews Influence My Page Rank?

Google’s page rank algorithm is a carefully protected trade secret that no one outside the organization can ever claim to fully understand. However, from anecdotal evidence, we do know that while review score probably does play some role in where you rank it is just one component of the larger formula. There are numerous cases of businesses with lower aggregate review scores outranking those with higher scores with a comparable number of total reviews. The total amount of reviews most likely has more to do with page rank than what the actual average score is.

Do I Need To Worry About Competitors / Trolls / Disgruntled Customers Flooding Me With Negative Reviews?

While this isn’t impossible, Google makes it so difficult it usually isn’t worth anyone’s time. Reviewers need to have a valid Google+ account set up. These can be faked, of course, but they would need to set up a new account for each individual review, and Google has a filter that looks for things like someone posting multiple reviews from the same location and IP address. You will see some anonymous Google reviews in existing business listings here and there, but these were grandfathered in prior to 2012 — they’re no longer allowed.

Google does sometimes include Yelp and Tripadvisor results in these reviews, though they’ve recently been de-emphasizing these heavily in favor of reviews by Google+ users. It is important to note that Yelp and Tripadvisor review policies may not line up with those of Google, and if you want a questionable review from one of those sources removed you’ll have to go directly to them about it.

Does Google Ever Remove Reviews On Their Own?

Yes, but the terms are not entirely clear. Since this gets into their proprietary algorithm territory again, we have to guess based on collected anecdotes. For example, it does appear that reviews that are a few years old are subject to being culled or filtered out, but they don’t automatically disappear after any specific amount of time. Reviews have also been known to inexplicably disappear for a time and then reappear with no explanation. For these reasons it’s important to continually encourage new reviews from customers.

Can I Feature Good Google Reviews On My Website?

Yes, but this part gets a little tricky. Basically, you need to take a screenshot of the reviews you feature and show them as an image. If you copy the text directly, Google may view this as plagiarized content and penalize you in their search rankings.

Keep up with the blog for more tips on managing your reputation online, and feel free to contact us with any questions or to learn more about our design and marketing services.