Search engine optimization is a constantly changing endeavor. One of the growing points of emphasis in search algorithms is the weight placed on reviews, especially for websites for small businesses. Search engines have realized that reviews are often a strong signal for the reputation that a business has and in turn, how a searcher may benefit from the business. In an attempt to provide the best and most relevant results, it makes sense to make reputation part of the equation and to use reviews, a simple proxy for reputation, as the primary way to gauge it.
This is especially important for small businesses which are mostly competing in local SEO– fighting for search result rankings that are limited to searches in the town or region in which they operate. In order to differentiate yourself from you competition one thing you can and should do is try to encourage your customers (especially satisfied ones) to leave reviews for your business on websites like Yelp, the Yellow Pages, and even directly on Google. A strong base of good reviews can increase your rankings and move you towards the coveted top three which are displayed prominently in most Google local searches. Customer ratings play a big roll into which sites get those three spots.
Better ratings also mean customers are more likely to actually click the link and visit your page- which is really the end goal of ranking well. In turn, you can use this to drive your business by enticing them to take whatever action you are aiming for once they are on your website.
There are many strategies you can take to increase customer engagement online. Providing contests with prizes for leaving reviews can be a good nudge. Try to aim for a diverse online presence in terms of reviews- Yelp, Google, Yellow Pages, Citysearch, and Foursquare are a good few to focus on. From there, your online presence will likely trickle down into other less known review sites and Google will certainly take notice.
Reviews are a potent and very important part of any business’ SEO strategy in today’s environment. It is important to remember of course that reviews should be one component of a multi-faceted approach to better rankings. At the end of the day it is just as important to have other positive SEO factors if you want the best results including strong content on your website, hopefully a decent backlink profile, other social signals (presence on sites like Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram), and a well-functioning and easy-to-navigate website. Work on all of those components and add in some strong reviews and you are bound for success especially if you are in a retail-based business or one that is centered around user or consumer experience (online stores fall under this as well). Keep following Google to see what they are looking for and continue to build your strategies and business around that and the consumer experience and you are likely to see great results.