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What does Google’s Increasing Focus on User Reviews Mean for Small Businesses?

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A recent article on Search Engine Land uncovered an interesting discovery: a new “Best” filter in the local pack of search results.

 

The “local pack” refers to the “pack” of results that shows the business’ name, address, and phone number, along with their location on the map. For example, the screenshot below shows the local pack of results for the search term “restaurants in Portland.”

 

 

 

In the above photo, you can find an option to filter the results by “Rating,” “Cuisine,” “Price,” or “Hours” depending on your needs.

 

However, a recent article on Search Engine Land revealed a new “Best” filter that automatically filters the results in the local pack.

 

Instead of being a manual filter, this feature automatically filtered businesses with a rating of four stars or more when the words “best,” “great,” and even “outstanding” were used. In the example below, you can see how this filter was applied when the user searched for “best Atlanta personal injury attorney.”

 

 

We decided to put this filter to the test, but were unable to duplicate the results. It seems as though this may have been a temporary move by Google to determine which results best matched what the user was looking for. That being said, we may expect to see this filter and others make another appearance in the future. If that is the case, this may have several implications, especially for small businesses.

 

It is clear that this filter is beneficial for businesses that have a lot of positive reviews. It could be that extra boost that pushes that business to the top of the results, as opposed to the business that has the best SEO strategy, etc. If this filter is any indication, Google is continuing to emphasize user reviews as a possible ranking factor in search results.

 

Tim Milios was one such business owner that benefitted from this temporary filter (and hopes it comes back). Due to his many positive reviews, his law firm showed up in the local pack for the 4.0 and up rating.

 

 

 

"I work very hard to provide the best possible service for my clients. This feature not only helps people avoid spammy or low rated listings, but it helps them find quality attorneys and get the help they need," Tim said. Ultimately, this filter shows users that his firm is a reputable business and is well-regarded by Google.

 

Larger businesses are more likely to have a greater number of reviews than smaller businesses if simply due to the fact that they have more customers/clients. A small law firm may only take a few cases per month, compared to hundreds by a much larger firm. Unless Google is able to take this into consideration, this filter may actually work against smaller businesses.

With this filter, Google is showing that the number of positive reviews a business has is a measure of their overall quality. This measurement makes sense, but it makes ranking well more difficult for smaller businesses in more competitive industries.

 

 

For example, a business with only two (or even zero) reviews doesn’t give Google enough information to accurately assess their user rating. Even if those reviews are 5 stars, it pales in comparison to a business with 30+ positive reviews.

 

We talked to Joe Schwab at Calbom & Schwab, P.S.C. regarding his feelings about the “best” filter in Google’s local pack.

 

"We are a workers' compensation and personal injury law firm located in Eastern Washington. Since our area of practice often involves sensitive topics, it's difficult to gather Google reviews from our clients," Joe said. Due to the nature of their practice, Joe found that it is often difficult to get clients to write about their experience at the firm.

 

 

At the same time, he saw this filter as encouraging, as it helps clients find a firm that best meets their needs. "This new filter is an incentive for us to get more client feedback so we can have that positive ranking in Google."

 

Even if this was simply a temporary move by Google, it should inspire businesses to focus on user reviews, if they aren’t already. We highly suggest that business owners and their marketing teams follow up with previous clients/customers to encourage them to write positive reviews about their experience.

 

 

Making user reviews part of your marketing strategy is essential as Google continues to emphasize ratings in their search results. If your business depends on traffic from search engines, it will become increasingly important to prove to your potential clients that your business is reputable and offers an exceptional level of service.

What Can Small Businesses Do to Encourage More User Reviews?

 

We suspect that Google will continue to emphasize the importance of user reviews as a ranking factor in local search results. If you are a small business with a low number of reviews, we encourage you to be proactive in encouraging reviews from your customers. Although the filter we discussed above is exclusive to Google reviews, increasing importance is being placed on reviews from a variety of sites.

 

Where to Find Your Reviews

 

A good place to start is to first find out where your reviews are likely to show up online. This will show you whether you have reviews, where they are, and where you may want to consider getting reviews.

 

The most common places are:

 

  • Google

  • Yelp

  • Facebook

  • Bing

  • Foursquare

  • Yellow Pages

 

Others may include the Better Business Bureau or industry-specific sites like Avvo for lawyers or Zagat for restaurants. Take some time to find where you are already ranking, or where you may want to rank based on your industry. Make a note of these and create profiles on these sites so your business is able to be reviewed by your customers.

 

Follow Up with Current and Previous Customers

 

If you have a positive experience with a customer, follow up with them and see if they would be willing to write a review about your business. Perhaps you may want to follow up with them in person after their purchase, over the phone, or via e-mail. Some businesses hand out a business card with information on how to leave a review of their business. Customers are likely to leave a positive review if you show that their opinion is important to you.

 

You may want to seek out technology that will aid this process. There is review software that will follow up with previous customers and encourage them to review a product or service they recently purchased. This helps prevent customers from falling through the cracks. It can also make it easier for them to a leave a review, say, via a link, versus following directions on your business card or searching for a review site online.

 

Respond to Positive and Negative Reviews

 

Just as important as gathering reviews is showing that you are attentive to your customers online - both happy and unhappy. Be sure to thank your customers for positive reviews so that they feel appreciated. Respond to negative reviews appropriately, so that those customers feel that their concerns were received. This also shows potential customers that you are considerate and responsive. This may encourage more positive reviews in the future.

 

In Summary

 

Even if the “best filter” feature we discussed was a temporary test by Google, it highlights the increasing importance of having positive user reviews associated with your Google My Business Listing.

 

Providing a great product and service to your customers is the best way to encourage positive reviews. We encourage you to follow up with customers to review your business online. We expect that Google will continue to emphasize the importance of reviews when it comes to ranking in local search. As a small business, gaining user reviews should be part of your marketing strategy in order to rank well and gain new business.

 

 

Mockingbird
Mockingbird Marketing is an online agency that focuses exclusively on serving the legal industry. Mockingbird helps attorneys measure their ROI, increase leads, improve conversions, and most importantly, get more clients.
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