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Someone recently asked what separates the good from the great in terms of local SEO.

The answer is reviews.

Reviews are only one of ten local SEO ranking factors. However, it is the one that will push your search rankings over the top.

Google seeks to connect users to the best and most reliable answer for their query using a search algorithm that grades websites on their “authority” or trustworthiness. Links from other websites are a big part of authority. Google sees these as “votes” from other websites vouching for the information on your site. When you get a link from a very authoritative website, like the New York Times, Google gives those links even more authoritative weight.

In the case of local search, however, the traditional Google ranking algorithm goes out the window. It would be asking too much of small local businesses to expect them to amass thousands of high quality links.

Google looks to a lot of factors in this new algorithm, but reviews – like links in the normal algorithm – are the factor that Google uses to separate the wheat from the chaff.

Types of Reviews                                                       

Google Reviews

Google would obviously prefer Google reviews for businesses above all others. That’s why Google reviews are featured in the local three pack. Typically, businesses with more and better Google reviews have a better chance of being featured in the local three pack at the top of local search results.

The Local Three Pack typically displays results with the best Google reviews.

Yelp Reviews

While it is very important to get Google reviews, Yelp reviews are also very important to local search. That is because Yelp shows up on page one of virtually every local search. Whether you get into the local pack or not, a strong Yelp profile will still help many customers find your business.

Yelp shows up on page one of almost every local search.

By creating services schema for each service that your business provides, and then adding aggregate rating schema to each services page, you can show your ratings stars in your search results.

Use aggregate rating schema to add stars to your Google listings.

Other Reviews

Other reviews from websites like Facebook and TripAdvisor will become more important if a customer knows your business by name. When someone searches for your business by name, all of those reviews from various sites will show up in the page one results, so make sure you have positive reviews all around.

You can use the “same as” schema markup to tell search engines that your Facebook business page and other listings are all related to the same entity. It will help Google make connections between all of the different listings for your brand.

Make Reviews a Priority

If you have fully optimized your website for local SEO, you now need to focus on reviews to put your site over the top in rankings. Nellie Akalp offers these six tips for getting more online business reviews:

  1. Set up profiles on multiple review sites. Check out all of the major review sites including Yelp, Angie’s List, TripAdvisor, Yahoo Local and Citysearch. Make sure there is a profile created for your business on each site and make sure that your business name, phone number and web address are correct in each listing. By claiming your business profile, you can make sure that your business always appears the way you want it to look.
  2.  Ask your customers, good or bad. You don’t get if you don’t ask. Disgruntled customers are much more likely to leave a review than happy customers. Make sure to engage all customers and ask them to leave you a review. Even negative reviews offer an opportunity for learning and improved customers service.
  3. Make it easy. Put links on your site and email. Add a Yelp link to your homepage so customers can easily read your reviews and leave one of their own. Include Yelp links on your emails and invoices.
  4.  Incentivize, but don’t buy. When ending a transaction, offer a coupon with the request (but not requirement) that the customer write a review. It shows that you value their input and are concerned about your business image.
  5.  Thank or respond to each person who writes a review. As mentioned before, bad reviews are a great opportunity for customer service. By engaging negative reviewers with a response and an offer to correct the problem you can turn haters into brand advocates.Also, don’t let positive reviews go unnoticed. The squeaky wheel often gets the grease, so we spend our time attending to dissatisfied customers while ignoring our fans. Respond to positive reviews as well, letting those reviewers know that you appreciate their business and the time that they took reviewing your business.
  6.  Make reviews part of your work process. I recently had a handyman work on my closet door. When he was finished, he asked if everything was satisfactory and, if so, if I would write a Yelp review and mention his name.That says that this company, which has great Yelp reviews (which is how I found them) has made getting reviews a part of their work process and may incentivize employees to get mentions in positive reviews.After that, I received my invoice and a thank you email, both of which also had a request for a Yelp review and a link to their Yelp page. After I wrote my review (which was very positive), they sent me an email thanking me for my review.This brand (Fix It People) has created a culture and process around soliciting and responding to reviews, and I would have to think it is paying big dividends for them in rankings and in new business.

Get Over the Hump

Now that you have started optimizing for local SEO, rev up your review game. This is the element that separates the good from the great, and will move you to the upper echelons in your local search market.

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