Search Engine Watch calls them “an SEO weapon with a massive amount of firepower.” Business.com says they’re an “opportunity to provide additional SEO value for your business.” Moz describes them as “free advertising” that simultaneously functions like “public relations media,” “social media,” and “customer service.” And Forbes points out that they “can influence how your business listings appear on the SERPs.”
What are they all referring to? Online reviews from your customers — and, just as critically, the way your business replies to them.
These replies, or owner responses, are an integral part of any successful SEO strategy in 2021. But what is SEO? What are the SERPs referenced in Forbes? Why do they matter for your business? And how, exactly, do owner responses to online reviews tie into the picture?
We’re glad you asked. Those are crucial questions for business owners to be asking themselves, and this article will provide the answers, taking a closer look at some recent statistical data — plus a few direct quotes from Google My Business (GMB) — that shed more light on this important subject. Let’s start by reviewing what SEO is and explaining why it’s so essential for business owners.
What is SEO?
For now, what you need to know is that SEO is the process of making your website more search engine-friendly in order to outrank your competitors and drive more traffic to your desktop and/or mobile site. The challenge is that your Google rankings are determined by highly complex algorithms, which can change hundreds of times each year — potentially, in ways that cause your initial rankings to slip. As Search Engine Land has acknowledged, these algorithm changes, or “Google core updates,” have consequences that “are often unknown,” though various tracking tools are available to help businesses check and monitor their rankings for various keywords.
The good news is that, despite Google’s frequent (and often unpredictable) updates, there are still some SEO best practices your business can — and should — follow in order to rank higher in search results. For example, you should:
- Publish original, relevant, informative content that will satisfy the user’s search query, such as a company blog and/or a variety of informational or resource pages. Checking the results under “People Also Ask” is a great way to see what types of products, services, or issues your customer base is Googling.
- Use internal links, or links from one page on your site to another. According to SEMRush, “An SEO best practice is to add internal links from top-ranking pages on your site to pages that need a boost.” For example, you might consider interlinking from your high-ranking Page A to your poorly-ranking Page B in order to help Page B rank better and become more visible.
- Make sure your site loads as quickly, and is as easy for users to navigate, as possible. It’s a good idea to test both mobile and desktop versions of your site to ensure that both look and perform as expected. There are numerous free speed tests available online, including Speedtest by Ookla, Pingdom Tools, and PageSpeed Insights, which was created by Google developers.
These are all examples of on-page SEO, which deals with optimizing and improving your own website in order to rank better. As the name suggests, off-page SEO deals with promoting your website by alternate means, such as link-building. For instance, if a high-ranking and widely-trusted website links to your website (which is called “backlinking” as opposed to “internal linking”), your website can receive a rankings boost.
In addition to building backlinks, responding to reviews is another effective — yet often overlooked — strategy for improving your SEO, without actually having to change or update your website. However, before we discuss the value of a review response strategy, let’s look at some revealing statistics that demonstrate why SEO is so vital for your business.
Why is SEO Important for Your Business?
For the answer to this question, you need only look at the data on the business impacts of SEO. Here are a few eye-catching statistics you may want to consider:
- According to Moz, “SEO has ~20X more traffic opportunity than PPC on both mobile and desktop.” The acronym PPC refers to “pay-per-click” advertising, which is a type of paid advertising — and unfortunately, as Moz also points out, less than 3% of people in the U.S. actually “click on paid advertisements.” Effective SEO can help increase your “organic,” or unpaid, traffic — especially if you follow the SEO best practices we suggested earlier, such as internally linking and publishing quality content.
- According to Search Engine Journal, “The first organic result in Google Search has an average click-through rate of 28.5%,” where the “click-through rate” (CTR) refers to the percentage of “impressions” (ad views) that resulted in a user clicking on the ad. This data comes from a 2020 Sistrix study — which also found that CTR was “determined by the SERP layout.” The acronym “SERP” refers to “Search Engine Page Ranking,” which, as Sistrix explained, means “the specific composition of a Google results page” for a given search (e.g. “car wash Youngstown,” “best thin crust pizza”).
- According to Agency Jet, roughly 1.6 billion of the 3.6 billion Google searches conducted daily are local searches (such as “BBQ takeout near me”), which amounts to approximately 46% of the total. Having a strong SEO strategy is essential if you want to rank in the top three local results for searches related to your business, which is known as the “local pack.” So why does your business need to be part of it? Here are just a few reasons:
- – According to HubSpot, “88% of searches for local businesses on a mobile device either call or visit the business within 24 hours.”
- – One Google study showed that “18% of local smartphone searches led to a purchase” in 24 hours, compared to just 7% of generalized searches.
- – Perhaps most astoundingly, HubSpot also revealed searches for terms like “near me” increased “by more than 900% over two years” (italics our emphasis).
Can Responding to Reviews Help Improve Your SEO?
Put simply: yes! Providing your reviewers with owner responses is an effective and cost-efficient way to rank better on Google, especially if you’ve fallen behind your competitors in local rankings. In fact, one GMB help page explicitly recommends that you “manage and respond to [your] reviews” as a way to improve your local Google rankings. As GMB explains, “When you reply to reviews, it shows that you value your customers and their feedback.” The page continues, “High-quality, positive reviews from your customers can improve your business visibility and increase the likelihood that a shopper will visit your location” — a reality you can see reflected in the statistics we shared a little earlier.
That’s partly due to a factor called “social proof,” a psychology concept pioneered by author and professor Robert Cialdini during the 1980s. In the context we’re discussing today, social proof refers to the phenomenon of positive reviews or endorsements having the effect of encouraging other consumers to support your business — without you having to actively engage in traditional (and expensive) means of advertising. As seo.co explains, “Rather than trusting an unknown business, [consumers] look to other people who are like them and then act based on the information they receive” — that is, based on the reviews (and owner responses) they read.
By showing that your business is trustworthy and credible, positive reviews offer a form of social proof, which is invaluable for attracting new customers. After all, a recent survey by BrightLocal showed that “79% of consumers say they trust online reviews as much as personal recommendations from friends or family,” meaning ratings and responses have a substantial impact on consumer behavior.
Of course, positive reviews aren’t the only ones worth responding to, as we discussed at length in a previous article. Even exceptionally negative reviews, such as 1-star ratings or comments, can benefit your business by giving you an opportunity to leave a courteous and helpful reply.
GMB supplies a step-by-step, technical explanation of how to reply to your Google reviews, a process which begins by verifying your business. However, there’s no need to waste valuable time dealing with Google — or publishing responses to reviews — when you could be serving your customers. Instead, let Shout About Us provide the review reply and management services your business needs. Our software pulls all of your reviews into a single, secure management system, eliminating the need to constantly monitor multiple sites and apps. And with our scribes composing owner responses for you, you don’t even have to worry about deciding what to write. Simply share your messaging guidelines with us, and we’ll take care of the rest. And of course, you’ll always have the option to review each response before publication, providing an added layer of confidence that each reply is on-brand.
Want to Rank Higher on Google? Ask About Our Review Response Service for Agencies and Brands
If this seems like a little more jargon than you have time to learn, don’t worry — let our team handle the technical work for you, so that you can focus on running a successful business. Through our response scribe service and online review management system, we make SEO simpler and more streamlined. Our response scribes ensure that each of your reviews receive timely, on-brand replies, while our review management software makes it easy and intuitive to organize, sort, and monitor your data. With our team and technology at your disposal, you can improve your rankings and drive more traffic to your business. Contact us today to learn more about increasing your organic traffic, or schedule a demo of our review reply service.
Emily Homrok is a freelance copywriter with more than seven years of writing experience. She joined the Shout About Us team as a content strategist in 2020.