The Power of Google Reviews for Small Businesses
Updated: Feb 1
Google reviews can make or break a small business’s online presence
Imagine the last time you were looking for a new plumber, barber, or real estate agent. Maybe you got a recommendation from a friend or family member. But what if you had no recommendations from people you already trust? If you are like most people, you likely don’t want to take a chance on a local business or contractor without some validation that they are reliable and trustworthy. When you can validate from someone you already know, you will likely take their recommendation, but if that isn’t available, you likely go online.
There are many online resources dedicated to validating and reviewing businesses- Yelp, the Better Business Bureau, and Facebook to name a few- but no organization dominates the world of online business reviews right now like Google. According to a 2022 study from BrightLocal, 81% of all consumers in the United States use Google to evaluate local businesses. 73% of all online business reviews are on Google, with Yelp coming in second with only 6%. Young people are the most likely to go online for reviews, with 91% of 18-34 year olds saying they trust online reviews as much as personal recommendations according to Qualtrics.
While Google reviews are the number one online resource to establish trust and rapport with potential customers, they also have a less widely-known positive impact. Reviews for businesses on Google play a meaningful role in Google’s search algorithm in deciding where your business shows up in relevant Google search results.
Google Reviews and Google’s Search Algorithm
The top spots in a Google search result are extremely valuable, and the average clickthrough rate from a Google search is directly impacted by how high up in the results that website is. The top spot generates more website visitors than the second spot, which in turn generates more visitors than the third spot, and so on. Less than 1% of Google searches make it to the second page. With that in mind, knowing how to show up near the top of relevant search results is extremely valuable for small businesses looking to generate organic leads through Google.
If someone searches on Google for “Electrician in Orlando, FL” on Google, how is it decided what the order of the results will be? Google has a complex algorithm with hundreds of factors that are considered when ordering websites. While the exact algorithm is not publicly shared, many of the variables that go into this algorithm are known through a combination of official Google communications and large-scale observational studies from third-party companies.
One of the most powerful variables that goes into Google’s current algorithm are reviews specifically on Google. One of the algorithm’s “considerations” in scoring websites is evaluating trustworthiness and authority, and Google reviews are a major factor in Google’s “scoring” of a website’s trustworthiness and legitimacy.
There are two primary considerations in the algorithm’s consideration of trustworthiness and authority as it relates to Google reviews. The first is the average review score, which is on a 1-5 scale. If all else is the same between two competitors, but one competitor has an average rating of 4.7 and the other has an average rating of 3.4, Google will reward the business with a 4.7 rating with a higher search placement. The second consideration is the number of reviews. The more reviews a business has on Google, the higher of an authority score it will be given in Google’s algorithm.
These two factors tie very tightly together. Having only 3 reviews but with a 5-star rating or having 100 reviews but with a 2-star rating will both be scored poorly by Google. Having both a high average rating and a large quantity of reviews is the key to being rewarded by the algorithm. While it varies based on local competition, a small business should realistically strive to have at least 50 Google reviews with a 4.5+ star rating to expect to be competitive.
Another component to consider is local search, also known as Google Maps. You might notice that many Google searches related to local businesses automatically include Google Maps at the top of the results, and this can be an important element of a business’s organic search traffic.
The order of websites on the Google Maps results can be closely tied to the order of websites on the traditional search results list, but there are some minor differences. Google Maps does not only take into account the number of reviews and average score; it also takes into account where reviews are coming from geographically. A business or website will show up higher in geographic areas that contain concentrations of users who wrote reviews in that area. It isn’t only your own business’s address that impacts how Google determines your service area!
Google Reviews’ Impact on Google Ads
Google reviews have no impact on the search result placement of traditional Google Ads for a business, but there is a measurable impact on people’s likelihood of interacting with an ad based on reviews. If a user searches for a term, sees an ad, then scrolls down to see that business appear again organically- with reviews showing- the user is more likely to trust that brand.
There is a natural skepticism for many users who see Google Ads knowing that the business paid to be there. Seeing the ad followed by strong Google review ratings can alleviate some of that skepticism. As a result, a high Google review rating can increase Google Ads clickthrough rate and even conversion rate. In addition to establishing trust for a business that is promoting itself on Google through paid channels, it also provides users with double exposure of that brand, which subconsciously makes users more comfortable with that business.
While traditional Google Ads are not impacted by Google reviews in terms of search placement, this is not necessarily the case with Google’s Local Service Ads. Local Service Ads are a unique type of search result ad that is managed by an entirely different team at Google. Their ads appear at the top of the search result and appear distinctly different from normal search results. Only certain industries are allowed to use Local Service Ads to promote their business, but if your business qualifies, this ad type can often lead to a better return on investment than traditional Google Ads. Local Service Ads only charge per phone call or form submission, and businesses are allowed to dispute leads for a refund for a number of reasons.
Local Service Ads are unique in that only three businesses appear within the search result, and any other businesses using Local Service Ads can only be found if the user decides to browse for “more” of those businesses. Those top three spots are invaluable, as the clickthrough rate to the “More” button is extremely low. As a result, businesses using Local Service Ads can really make or break their success entirely based on getting one of those top spots.
Unlike Google Ads, Local Service Ads do take Google reviews into account in terms of search placement. In fact, both the quality and quantity of Google reviews are a major part of Local Service Ads’ algorithm. But not all Google reviews are equal within Local Service Ads. Customers booked through Local Service Ads can be sent review requests, and reviews that are submitted by these customers are considered “verified” reviews. These “verified” reviews are weighted heavier than normal Google reviews, and have an outsized impact within the Local Service Ads algorithm. Even 2-3 verified reviews can be enough to push a business to the top three of a Local Service search result in a competitive market.
Getting Started and Maximizing Google Reviews
The value of a strong Google profile with a large quantity of high-rated reviews is clear. There is no cost, and the impact on your growth potential can be extremely powerful. If you are starting from scratch, the first thing you need to do is set up a free Google my Business account. This will take less than 30 minutes, and you need a Google my Business account in order to collect reviews on Google.
Your Google my Business account should include details about your business, including services offered, images, contact information, and a link to your website. In the initial set up process, Google my Business may require that you validate your physical location if you want to show up in Google Maps as well.
Once your Google my Business account is set up and validated, the next step is to generate as many 5-star reviews as possible to generate some momentum. Getting those first 20-30 5-star reviews are critical to your success. Start off by reaching out to existing past or present customers who you know will be positive brand champions for your business. There is no shame in reaching out to family and friends as well! As an initial goal, try to see if your network of past customers and trusted loved ones can get you 50 reviews.
It isn’t enough to get a one-time boost of reviews and call it a day. Collecting Google reviews needs to be part of your business process when dealing with new customers moving forward as well. Ask clients at the time of service to write a Google review; this is the point in time when someone is most likely to provide a review. Wait too long after the sales transaction, and the customer is less likely to follow through. You need to get them while your service is still fresh in their minds.
Please note that you cannot pay for reviews. This is against Google’s rules of service. If caught, your account will get suspended by Google, and your organic search placement will be even worse than it was before. There is no short-cut to organically growing your quality and quantity of reviews.
Building a strong, steady supply of reviews on Google will help many of your customer acquisition channels both directly and indirectly, especially organic search. To learn more about building a diversified customer acquisition strategy and how organic search fits within that strategy, give this article a read!