Managing your brand's SEO (search engine optimization) often feels like trying to catch cats in the dark. You know what success looks like, but getting there is chaotic and difficult. Everyone has their own strategies, but no one can give you a game plan with a 100% success rate.
Of all the moving parts involved in SEO, reviews are one piece we don't spend a lot of time talking about, since you have no direct control over what people say about your business. Despite our lack of control over reviews, they are a factor in SEO. It's worth taking a look at the relationship between negative reviews and SEO.
The role of reviews in SEO
SEO is based on a diverse collection of information from a wide variety of sources. While secrecy from search engines makes it impossible to pinpoint exactly what determines their rankings, we do know the basic parts of the equation. We know that reviews do affect SEO, and we've been learning over the years that their impact is growing steadily.
According to a 2018 survey by Darren Shaw, online reviews make up around 15% of the factors that go into local rankings on Google. Keep in mind that this applies to local search only, not broad search. However, local search may be a big part of your SEO strategy, and much of what we know about local SEO factors and techniques has some useful application in broad search as well.
Whether positive, negative or somewhere in the middle, reviews can boost your SEO by adding to the mix of your engagement and brand interest.
Positive effects of negative reviews on SEO
Negative reviews of your business aren't always a force of evil against your SEO efforts. There are a few distinct ways that bad reviews may actually benefit you at the end of the day. Here are some of the things reviews do for you that can positively impact your SEO:
1. Boosting your total number of reviews
The more reviews you have, the better it tends to be for your business. Negative reviews add to the total number of reviews listed for your business. Google tends to place businesses with a larger number of reviews closer to the top of the list, assuming the average rating is high enough.
If your negative reviews outweigh your positive or neutral reviews, of course, this can start to be a problem. However, a few negative reviews mixed into your others won't be the end for you.
2. Giving you more authenticity in consumers' eyes
People don't trust companies that only have five-star reviews. In the eyes of many, this is too good to be true. It's better to have a mix of reviews, because this makes you appear more authentic and genuine to people, and it shows you aren't using shady practices like buying good reviews and finding ways to hide bad reviews. This can drive more clicks and interest in your company, which improves your ranking.
3. Boosting your engagement numbers
It's better to have people interacting with your business with negative comments than to have no engagement at all. Reviews give customers a way to engage with your brand and give you an avenue to respond. Engagement plays a role in SEO, so the more engagement you have, the better it will be for you in the future.
By engaging with negative reviews, you also have a chance to show potential consumers how you handle a bad experience. Do you try to make things right for the consumer? Do you promise to take steps to rectify the situation? People who are interested in your product or service will see your reply, and that can reassure them that you take care of your customers.
4. Connecting related keywords to your brand
Reviews, even negative ones, tend to contain keywords that are relevant to your business. Keywords in reviews are great for your overall SEO, as they point to what your company is doing and support your own SEO efforts by prompting industry-specific keywords. As long as the reviews are on Google Verified Review Partner sites and software, the keywords within those reviews will help you.
5. Giving you personal insights
No one will tell you what they think of your brand more honestly than customers writing reviews online. Customer surveys and anonymous critiques won't necessarily provide the same level of honest feedback. Reviews give you a glimpse at some of the problems and honest frustrations people have had when interacting with your business.
Imagine if a business like McDonald's were to go and read through all the reviews people post about them. Although some of the reviews would be bitter and angry without much wiggle room for resolution, others could present legitimate problems that the company should know about. This is a valuable source of information for you to learn about what people like and don't like without a filter affecting their responses.
Should you remove or respond to negative reviews?
The only negative reviews you should remove, if possible, are spam reviews or fake negative reviews. You can try to have these removed or disputed, if you can identify them. However, responding to reviews is never a bad idea. You can gain a lot from the engagement with your customers on third-party review sites. It's not a requirement, but it can be beneficial to respond to all types of reviews from your customers. [Read related article: Why Responding to All Your Online Reviews Is Critical]
Google My Business is a different story. Google has confirmed that responding to reviews left on your Google My Business account will help your page. Responding to reviews, both negative and positive, is a sign of the credibility of your business and your engagement with your customers. If your goal is to outrank other businesses in your specific section, you should respond to every review of your business, whether negative, positive or neutral. Never remove reviews.
Another indirect benefit of responding to negative reviews is the chance to get the person to change or modify their review in response to you. If you give an apology and offer to rectify the situation, that person may change their review to something more positive, remove their negative comment, or leave a separate positive comment.
Reviews undoubtedly affect SEO. If you're not already paying attention to reviews and working to manage them, take this as your wake-up call and start today. No matter where you're at with review management or monitoring, don't be afraid of a few bad words. Negative reviews in SEO aren't the end of the world, and they could even be beneficial to you if you play your cards right. [Looking for help managing your online reviews? Check out our review of Podium, our best pick among online reputation management services for review management.]
The presence of negative reviews can help your business or product appear more authentic and credible. It also gives you a chance to share your brand's voice by responding to criticisms, showing that you care about your customers and are dedicated to improving your products or services. By allowing negative reviews to remain tied to your business and taking steps to address them, you can turn them into an overall positive for your business.