What Matters in Online Reviews?
All online reviews are valuable (both good and bad) but not all reviews are created equally. Today’s consumers exhibit a high level of review awareness, with almost 8 in 10 consumers always or regularly factoring reviews into their search for a local business.
What’s more, research shows that reviews can directly influence a shopper’s decision to purchase when displayed alongside product information — but, it’s not enough to simply have a lot of reviews. Consumers (and Google’s local SEO algorithm) look for specific elements within a review to aid them in their assessment of a local business.
The Average Star Rating
It should come as no surprise that a high star rating is one of the top three most important review factors for local consumers.
The average star rating a local business has on a review platform is an important metric, as it speaks to the quality of the product or service being offered.
Average ratings tend to appear very prominently at the top of a business profile, meaning it could be all too easy for a consumer to make a snap judgement about the quality of your local business if you have a low average rating. As review averages are based on a crowdsourced metric, a low average rating can paint a very bad picture of your business.
A higher average rating immediately suggests that the consumer won’t be disappointed in their choice. It suggests that the business offers a great customer experience and high-quality products or services.
Correspondingly, too many negative experiences result in a low average star rating, which indicates that the business perhaps doesn’t prioritize customer care or delivering value. Naturally, if you have a much lower star rating than a rival, a local consumer will question whether they should use your business and risk a bad experience or opt for the higher-rated alternative. Our research confirms this, with just 3% of consumers saying they would consider using a business that has a two-star or lower average review rating.
Overall Review Sentiment: Positive or Negative
Much like the average star rating, the overall sentiment of a review (whether positive or negative) is an important factor that speaks to the quality of the consumer experience.
Many review platforms provide a snippet of text from the review alongside the star rating, so having a positive overall sentiment can reinforce the impact of the star rating. 75% of consumers say a positive overall sentiment matters to them when reading a review, so this is an important factor to keep in mind.
As consumers have grown more accustomed to factoring reviews into their research and decision-making processes, so too has their awareness of fake reviews. Many consumers are now confident in their ability to sniff out illegitimate or inauthentic reviews; so much so that 62% of consumers now believe they’ve seen a fake review within the last 12 months on platforms such as Facebook, Amazon, and Google.
In 2020, 79% of local consumers said they trusted online reviews as much as personal recommendations, but this figure has since dropped to 48%. Factors such as a review being too gushing in its praise for a local business, too many anonymous reviewers, lacking text to back up star ratings, and overly negative comments all erode consumer trust.
Authenticity matters — not just for consumers to build those vital levels of trust, but to review platforms and search engines, too. While review site guidelines vary from site to site, they all regulate against fake reviews and most have policies in place to report fake reviews, including Google.
Review Recency Matters, Too
Given the proliferation of reviews, older reviews can easily be judged to be less relevant to local consumers, as they don’t speak to current local consumer experiences. 49% of local consumers say that a review left within the last month would help them to feel positive about a local business — and just 7% say that the recency of a review is irrelevant to how they feel about a local business.
Many platforms also allow users to filter reviews to show the newest first, meaning it’s important to have a steady stream of new reviews being published for your business.
Business Response to Reviews
Responding to reviews matters to consumers and Google alike, so this is a core component of building a strong review profile. 55% of consumers say that a business responding to reviews matters to them and seeing a response is likely to leave them feeling good about that business.
Google too makes it clear that responses are a core component of local business reviews, saying that responses from a business can help to build consumer trust. Review responses additionally form part of local search ranking signals and can impact search visibility.
From a business perspective, responding to the review can allow you to give additional context to the comments, such as in the example below, and showcase your appreciation for your reviewer’s time and feedback.
Reviews with Photos
User-generated content such as imagery is proven to be an important aid for shoppers when deciding whether to go ahead with a purchase. As a multi-media format, it adds rich detail to text-based information and can help consumers visualize the experience they’re likely to receive.
For local businesses with brick-and-mortar locations open to customers, such as bars and restaurants, images within reviews can be especially useful.
This is underlined by data confirming that 40% of local consumers consider images to be an important part of a review.
Quantity of Reviews
If you think of reviews as a form of crowdsourced recommendations, it’s easy to see why the number of reviews you have matters. Having just one or two reviews may not give a local consumer the level of confidence they need to choose your business, as it could be that there simply isn’t enough opinion there to base a decision on.
By contrast, a large number of reviews demonstrates a broader depth of sentiment. This means that a strong average star rating from a large number of reviews can be taken as a measure that many people find your offering to be of good quality, thereby increasing trust.
Visibility Across a Number of Review Sites
Having a good level of diversity in your review profile, with reviews across a number of different review sites, also matters. With 78% of consumers going online to research local business information at least once per week, the more points of reference you can offer to those consumers, the better.
Not all consumers will feel comfortable with every site, so having a good spread of reviews across a number of different platforms means that consumers aren’t missing out on reviews of your business. If, for example, a consumer doesn’t have a Facebook account and wouldn’t use the social network for research, but may well go to Google, Yelp or Tripadvisor, you’ll want to have reviews in those places in order to be visible to that consumer. Focusing purely on Facebook would mean that you miss out on traffic across those other platforms.