If you’re a brick and mortar or have a local focus online, you want to boost search results to customers in the areas you serve. So you’ve worked on onsite and offsite SEO, you’ve got a great blog going, and you’ve started producing videos to improve your rankings. But what about online reviews? Do those Yelp reviews actually have any impact on how high you appear on Google?

Reviews and Local SEO go hand-in-hand for a variety of reasons. Consider:

That’s all great, but maybe your business doesn’t want to risk putting yourself out there and getting negative sentiment from a few bad apples. And considering all the time it takes to solicit, monitor and respond to reviews, is it really worth all the effort if your focus is on SEO?

Yes – and here’s why.

If You Want Your Business on Google, You Need Google Local Search

When your prospective customers type in a local search term, like “Italian food Denver” into a search engine, they’re greeted with a map of their area and three local results that come complete with a starred rating, price and photos. The rating is the average rating of the Google reviews that have been posted for that business.

Do Reviews Actually Matter to Local SEO

An in-depth review of nearly 6,000 search result pages, more than 54,000 local listings and more than 1.3 million local reviews by online reputation software company RevenueJump found that the quantity of reviews and ratings of reviews combine to make the most impact regarding what local businesses pop up in searches.

  • The highest-ranked listings have an average of 38 reviews, compared to the lowest-ranked listings with an average of 14 reviews
  • The top-ranked listings have an average of 3.7 stars, while 10th-ranked listings have an average of 3 stars

Your business might not even be showing up at all in Google local results. The search engine wrote a post on how to fix local search results, and one of its tips is to manage and respond to reviews. Google suggests creating a link to share with customers to review your business on Google. Businesses can share this in email newsletters, when they receive positive feedback from a customer, on their websites, on social media channels and more.

Do Reviews Actually Matter to Local SEOWhat About All the Other Sites Like Yelp, TripAdvisor, Etc.?

Google’s creation of its own reviews system (and its ownership of review site Zagat) has angered other sites like Yelp and TripAdvisor, whose prominence in results is now always lower than Google’s. However, Moz reports review signals still account for at least 7 percent of localized organic ranking factors. Before you discount other review sites that have pull in your industry, consider this:

  • Any user typing in “[product name review site]” won’t have access to your site unless your business is on there. While Google My Business gets the most amount of monthly traffic out of any review website, Facebook, Amazon, Yelp, TripAdvisor and YP (yellowpages) are all still formidable contenders in the local search world. They total an average of 248 million visits a month, compared to Google My Business’ 158 million average visits a month, local business platform Vendasta reports. For users who search local businesses straight in their apps, you need to have a presence there, and your SEO will suffer if someone typing in the name of the review site and the category in a search engine doesn’t see your business in results.
  • Results from other review sites still show up on Google. Just because they’re not above the fold doesn’t mean non-Google review sites are excluded from Google. Many times, searchers typing in “review + [category]” will be served reviews from sites like Angie’s List or the Better Business Bureau.
  • Searchers read lots of reviews before purchasing. Google’s reviews are usually not the only ones searchers trust when considering purchases. For the travel industry, for example, travelers visit an average of 38 websites before booking a trip, according to research by travel site Expedia. Even if you don’t notch a top-three result, for shoppers making significant purchasing decisions and who want to read lots of reviews before pulling the trigger, having a presence among the organic results can make you the winner.

An additional benefit of having a presence among online reviews is that as people discover you through reviews and come to love your brand, they might write about you on their websites or cover you in publications. This further benefits your SEO efforts as you gain more organic press.

Plus, reviews help your brand rank for longtail keywords. Those very specific phrases that have to do with your brand can pop up in search results when they’re part of reviews.

Think Beyond Traditional Review Sites

Today’s online review credibility isn’t limited to sites that focus on them. As we cover in our work on influencer marketing, online reviews can take many forms, from YouTube video testimonials, to guest blog articles that mention your product. All of this helps SEO.

To garner more positive reviews for your business among all channels, follow these best practices:

  • Ask for a review right after a positive interaction. Your great service is fresh in the mind of the customer, so they can be detailed in their review.
  • Feature links to the review sites you’re on throughout your website, social media and email marketing. People may love your brand but may have never thought about reviewing it. A gentle reminder with prominent icons or a friendly call to action can help.
  • Reach out to loyal customers for a review. Send repeat customers an email thanking them for their business and asking them for a review. You could also pair an ask with an offer, such as displaying a reminder to leave a review on a free coupon you send out.
  • Interact on review sites. Respond to reviews you get, both good and bad. Remember the “customer is always right” mantra, and be friendly and empathetic when you read about people’s experiences. Respectfully responding is a way to show the public that you value customer feedback and want to hear what customers have to say. This can incentivize other customers to review your business, as well.

If you have limited resources, prioritizing your presence on Google reviews should be your first priority to help your local SEO. Ask for reviews, optimize your listing, and respond to feedback appropriately. Don’t neglect what others are saying about you elsewhere online, either. Even if you’re a strictly brick and mortar business, interacting in the online world with your customers today is just as important as talking with them face-to-face.