Improving Your Google Ranking With Online Reviews

Search engine optimization (SEO) can be one of the most complex disciplines in marketing. Between sophisticated ranking algorithms, web crawlers, keywords, tagging, backlinks, and so on, it might seem impossible for a local business to move their way to the top of Google search. Yet, as you know, if you’re not on the first page of a search, you don’t exist. With so much complexity, how can you get to the top?


In this piece, we’ll help you understand a little bit about how Google’s algorithm works, so you can use it to your advantage. We’ll also explore some strategies that will help you improve your rankings, all on your own. You’ll be surprised how easy it is to boost your rankings using some of these approaches. Let’s get to it!

Understanding Google’s Algorithm

Google has become just about everybody’s go-to source of information, but how is it that Google can answer just about any question you ask it? They’ve mastered the art of cataloguing a ridiculous amount of data and they do it using a sophisticated, proprietary algorithm that’s routinely changing and adapting—there were approximately 3,234 update in 2018 alone.

Google algorithm updates

This constantly improving technology helps Google match a relevant website with the search term you just typed in. Google also factors in the context of your search. Your location matters because it gives you localized results, which are super important to local businesses. If I search “Mexican restaurants near me,” Google will use my search term and the context of the search (where I’m at), to match me with me a stellar place for tacos (Lonestar Tacos FTW).

And while the nitty gritty details of Google’s algorithms are kept behind closed doors, they have released information on the kinds of things that matter to them. Since Google’s customer is any consumer, their goal is to give people accurate information quickly, so consumers can make informed decisions. In order to do that, Google looks for things like relevance (is this the right business?), domain authority (is this a popular, trustworthy source for this information, product, or service?), and context (where and when did someone search?) to help them determine where a site ranks.

Why does this matter to you? Your goal is to make sure your website and online business listings are relevant to the people who want to find you. This way, when they search for the kinds of things you provide, they’ll find you. But how do you make sure Google’s algorithm pays attention? And how do you make sure you rank higher than your competition up the road?

The Basics of Ranking Higher

Your business should be the answer to the question customers are asking: “who is the best [insert business/service category] near me?”  You need to help Google understand why your business is the answer to this question. It seems intimidating but improving your ranking actually doesn’t require a lot of skill or resources. It does, however, require some elbow grease and some new thinking. Here are the first steps you should take.

Update Your Website

First, let’s take a look at your website. Here are a few of the main things Google wants to see from your website, and what you can do to improve:

Website essentials for SEO
  • Website Relevance – When Google crawls your website (basically, scanning your website content to index information), it’s trying to understand who you are and what you do so they know where you fit. Be sure the content on your website is relevant to what you provide and be sure to call out any niche specialties if you have them. For instance, an endodontist shouldn’t list themselves a dentist. Be accurate and be relevant.
  • Content Quality – Google prioritizes trustworthy, authoritative websites. Be sure content on your website—from the home page to a blog post—is true, accurate, and high-quality. This will also lead to other websites linking to your website (these are called backlinks and the juice your domain authority), which helps boost your ranking even more. Note also that instead of heavy-handed sales and marketing messages (which Google tends to deprioritize in things like blog articles), your content should aim to be helpful and informative to your users.  
  • Website Usability – Your website should be easy to use, quick to load, and perhaps most importantly, it must work on mobile devices. These days, over half the world’s internet traffic is through a mobile device, and that matters a ton to Google. If your website isn’t mobile responsive today, you may consider rebuilding or updating to meet the demands of the modern customer—it’s that important.

Update Your Google My Business Listing

Most businesses have a Google My Business listing in addition to their website. If you don’t have one, create one or claim yours. Since these listings help Google provide relevant information, setting one up will often help you rank higher in search and give you more visibility. If you already have a listing, now is a great time to make sure all the information is up to date.

business listing example
Google My Business is where the magic happens

You may also want to add some images and other relevant content to your business listing, just to make your business look more appealing. Last, you’ll want to become familiar with the reviews people leave your business. Do you have a decent number? What’s your star rating?  What are people actually saying? Understanding these things is one of the first steps in building a review collection and online reputation strategy, which leads us to the next section.

Using the Power of Reviews to Boost Your Search Ranking  

Getting reviews is one of the easiest ways for your business to improve its search rankings. As we noted, Google wants to provide consumers with an easy way to make a good decision. Because of that, Google places a lot of trust in reviews your customers leave you. Positive reviews say to Google that people trust you and that you’re an expert in your field (more domain authority, baby). With more great reviews, you’ll often see higher search rankings.

But before we get to how, there are some fundamental things you should know about online reviews and your online reputation in general.  

  • A few negative reviews are a good thing – Negative reviews help you understand how to improve as a business and give you an opportunity to prove you can make things right when you make a mistake. If you’re doing almost everything right, you’ll balance the negatives with way more positives.
  • A perfect review score can be a bad thing – According to Spiegel Research Center, customers can be suspicious of a perfect review score. An average rating between 4.5 and 4.7 or so helps you avoid looking too good to be true. This is yet another reason why a few negative reviews actually help you—they can bring you score down just slightly, which reinforces that your reviews are genuine.
  • Authenticity trumps all – Honest, authentic online reviews are what matter most. They’re key for two reasons. One is Google will try to detect and remove fraudulent reviews. Two is that if you’re getting lots of positive, honest reviews, you’re doing a great job as a business. Providing great goods and services is a goal for business, and it’s one Google rewards you for.
earn great reviews graphic
  • You don’t get great reviews, you earn them – Having a great online reputation involves constantly improving the quality of the products and services you provide. You need to be awesome to get awesome reviews. Make sure you’re giving it your all.


Building a Review Strategy That Works


While SEO might be difficult to understand, reviews are not. Successful brands are making online review collection and management a significant focus of their brand’s outreach. As a result, they’re improving their online reputation, improving search rankings, and getting tons of new customers. Below are the steps in a review strategy that not only gets you tons more reviews, but helps you supercharge your customer experience and sets you on a path to exponential growth. Remember, you don’t just get great reviews. You earn great reviews.


Discover Ways to Improve

First, you need to find out what customers really think. Scary concept, right? Some businesses worry that asking for feedback might sting or make them look bad online. But as we’ve discussed, you’ll do a lot more good than harm if you take the right approach. Plus, if you do find that you’re getting more negative feedback than you anticipated, there’s probably something you need to fix. Reviews are great because they can alert you to problems you may not know your customers are having. But how do you get more feedback and reviews? Businesses usually take one of two approaches:


  • Asking for reviews in person – Some businesses will simply ask their customers to leave them a review when they come to visit. This is an easy, free way to solicit for reviews, but it’s not the most effective. Few customers will want to leave a review on the spot, and fewer still will remember to leave a review later on—they’re busy people with many things on their minds.
ask for reviews graphic
  • Soliciting reviews by text message – Instead of asking in person, try texting your customers an invite to leave you a review. Since so many people are glued to their phones, most will see your text and, if they’ve just had a great experience with you, they’re likely to leave you a review if the process is easy. In fact, BrightLocal reports that 68% of people will leave a review if you just ask—that’s pretty great! If you’re not sure how to text customers or send review invites, consider a solution like Swell Review, which makes the whole process automatic. After a quick set-up, the app will automatically send your customers a review invite after a triggering event, such as a recent transaction, appointment, or what have you.

Note that while it’s tempting to offer an incentive like a gift card or discount to customers if they leave a review, it’s actually not a wise approach. You’re better off getting authentic reviews than reviews written for a reward. Instead of incentives, just make it super easy for customers to leave you a review.


Connect With Customers

Soliciting reviews might be automatic, but it shouldn’t be done with a “set it and forget it” attitude. Your goal is to collect feedback and open the doors of communication, so you can provide more of what your customers love and less of what they don’t. So, as you begin collecting more reviews, be ready to reply to reviews good and bad. Negative reviews give you an opportunity to show the public that you can own up to mistakes and fix them fast, and that makes you appear more trustworthy and dependable.

fix negative experience graphic

Actively engaging with customers that leave one and two stars can show goodwill to others. And according to Inc.com, fixing a negative experience can help you build trust with customers. For a primer on how to reply to negative reviews, check out this post.


Note also that customer engagement shouldn’t be limited to soliciting and responding to reviews. You may want to rethink your entire communication strategy. If you can’t text message customers directly and chat with them on your website, you need to modernize your approach because your customers expect both. For more info on how to make this easy, check out Swell Message.  


Grow Your Business

Local business growth should be easy. When you think about it, you need to do two things: provide a fantastic customer experience then make sure everyone knows about it. If you follow the advice above, you’re not getting more reviews—you’re creating a marketing machine that harnesses the power of your customers—their reviews are literally raising your Google ranking.

Swell growth flywheel

You’ll constantly have a way to improve your business, because you’ll always have new feedback. That same feedback is publicly visible on a Google search, which bumps up your ranking, gives your website and listing more traffic, and helps prove to potential customers that you’re a great business to work with. From there, prospects become your next customers, and the whole cycle repeats itself. Pretty neat, right? If you’re curious about how the discover, connect, grow flywheel might work for your business, check out this page.

Conclusion

There’s an investment of time and effort when it comes to a review strategy, and it will take time to do some basic search engine optimization. But once you’ve developed a process, you get an incredibly effective, super-low-maintenance way to rank higher in search and earn tons of new customers. Do it right and you’ll get that coveted top-five slot, which can be worth of tens of thousands of dollars in free advertising each month.

Swell review graphic

And if you’re looking for an easy way to both solicit online reviews and reply to new reviews across multiple platforms, Swell Review is your huckleberry. It automatically texts your customers review invites and makes it a snap to reply to reviews over a variety of platforms. Plus, it comes with tools that help you survey customers, engage with them through text or WebChat, and even make it super easy for them to pay their bills. Get your custom demo today.