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The Complete Guide to Google Reviews and SEO

When marketing a local business, there's no question that online customer reviews are essential. Not only do they provide valuable feedback about your business from a customer's perspective, but reviews also have a significant impact on your SEO strategy and SERP ranking.

In this guide, we'll take a comprehensive look at how Google reviews affect SEO efforts and how you can leverage them to improve your ranking in Google's search engines.

Local Map Pack vs. Organic Search Listings

When managing online reviews for local SEO, many marketers don't realize they need to optimize for not one, but two Google search engines. Both the map pack and organic search results influence your SERP ranking.

The Map Pack

The map pack is a section of the SERP that appears at the top of the page and displays local businesses based on their geographic location. You'll recognize it as the three "boxed" listings at the top of the page. The results include a star rating, map location, address, snippets of customer reviews, and other business information. 

Below is the map pack generated when we search "New York Delis":

Google Reviews Map pack listing of New York Delis

Map pack listings are generated from the Google My Business Directory, rather than the general Google Search engine.

Businesses that want to appear in the map pack must first claim their business listing on Google, ensure their profile is complete (hours, contact info, etc), and verify their business address. The more information about your local business that appears in Google Maps, the better chances you have at ranking.

Map pack listing example showing complete profile

On average, listings in the Google Map pack receive 30% or more of total clicks per search, which makes the map pack invaluable for SEO marketing local businesses.

Organic Search Listings

Organic search is what first comes to mind when most marketers and business owners think of SEO. For many marketers, search engine optimization is directly tied to optimizing their website to rank in Google web search results exclusively (rather than other search engines).

Organic search results are the linked web pages under Google's map pack.

Example of Google’s Organic Web Listings

The top search results generate 27.4% of total clicks, making these spots valuable SERP real estate.

Oftentimes, the top web listing or two will be taken by a business review/data aggregator site like Yelp or TripAdvisor. Aggregator sites use programmatic SEO to automatically rank for listings and appearing on their "Top 10" lists requires a separate platform-specific strategy.

However, beneath them, your local business can vie for organic listing spots. In the example above, you'll see that ProofFitness and WorkoutAnytime gyms are dominating the web listing SERP in Lexington, KY despite not being listed in the map pack.

The Importance of a Hybrid Approach

When optimizing SEO for your local businesses, consider both the map pack and web listing results through a hybrid approach.

When searching for local listings, a composite view of both search results appears. Let's take a look at a mobile results page for coffee shops in Waterford, Ireland.

Mobile Results page 1 showing map pack
Mobile Results page 2 showing top web listings

When viewing results on mobile, there are eight valuable pieces of "real estate" on this page that users can see without having to scroll more than once: the four map pack listings, and top four Google web results. To view any results ranking lower, the user will have to scroll two times.

Think of these eight spots as your local SERP "winner's circle", and prioritize taking as much real estate here as possible. A business can rank both in the map pack and web listings, and appearing in both increases click-through rates to over 45%.

Accounting for the fact that the top map pack listing is a paid ad and search results often include 1-2 data aggregator sites, there are approximately 5-6 organic SERP spots here that local listings can compete for.

How do Google My Business reviews play a role here?

Reviews play a significant role in signaling to Google's directory and search engine the value of your business. According to a 2018 Moz study, reviews account for over 15% of your business's total map pack/web ranking factors. If you want to rank well on Google results for your business (which there's no question that you should), developing a clear Google reviews strategy can help you get there.

Let's take a closer look at the key ways that Google evaluates local search criteria, to get a better understanding of how Google reviews play a role in establishing business prominence.

Google's Local Search Criteria: Relevance, Distance, and Prominence.

According to Google, there are three main factors taken into account when ranking local businesses.

Relevance: How well the business profile matches what the user is looking for. A BBQ joint will rank extremely poorly if a user searches for local pet grooming. While relevance can seem like an obvious factor at play, you can increase your listing's chances by providing Google with as much information as possible on your business profile. Ensure that you include hours, location, descriptions, photos, and more.

Distance: How close the business is to the user. If a user adds location marketing to their search, Google will automatically factor in distance when displaying results: the closer the better. Without a user-provided location, Google will generate results based on contextual information from the user's location, previous searches, etc.

Prominence: How well-known and respected the business is in its industry or community. Prominence is determined based on a collection of information across the web: web links, press articles, directories, and more. This is where reviews are key! Google explains the importance of reviews here:

“Google reviews count and review score factor into local search ranking. More reviews and positive ratings can improve your business' local ranking”

While Google remains famously tight-lipped on the exact specifications of their ranking algorithm, we know that these three factors play a critical role. By implementing a strong Google Review strategy, businesses can increase prominence markers for their business and strengthen local search optimization.

Knowing that Google Reviews heavily impact search engine ranking, what are best practices for reviews optimization?

Google Review Components that Influence SEO 

There are a handful of factors that play a role in your Google Reviews strategy (and, surprisingly, star rating may matter less than you think!). Let’s take a look. 

Overall Rating

Overall rating is simple: make sure you're doing everything in your power to maintain a high rating. Google will rank a 4.6-star business far more favorably than a 3.8, and consumers will be more willing to frequent businesses with higher star ratings. On average, customers read 7 reviews before choosing a business to engage with, and up to 42% of consumers will not engage with a business that has below a 4-star rating.

A recent SEMRush study revealed that positive ratings are important up to about 4.1 stars in map pack results. After 4.1, however, the correlation diminishes and other factors, such as review volume, take precedence.

In short? Try to encourage positive reviews to maintain a star rating of 4.1 or above for your listing.

Volume of Reviews

In many cases, the volume of reviews, or total number of reviews, is even more important than the star rating. The more Google reviews, the better.

Results from SEMRush's study showed that, among the top three map pack results, so long as every result had a star rating over 4.1 the total Google review count was the strongest determining factor in listing rank. The top map pack position almost always had the greatest number of reviews, the second position had the second greatest number, and so on.

How many reviews should you aim for? Well, it depends.

According to a 2020 study, the average business has about 73 Google reviews. If you've collected more than 73, great! You're already ahead of the curve, though actual review benchmarks can vary widely by industry and location.

For instance, bookstores in San Francisco need above 30 Google reviews to organically rank in the top SERP spots (though the top result has over 2.8k!). But if you're a barber in Livingston, Montana? About 20 online reviews should do it.

Map pack listing for San Francisco Bookstores showing review counts
Map pack listing for Livingston MT Barbers, showing review counts

To set an effective Google reviews benchmark for your company, best to conduct research into your local competitors. Analyze who's currently ranking at the top of search results, and see how many online reviews they have. Aim to exceed the top result!

Age of Content

The freshness of content has a significant impact on SEO ranking. A recent study concluded that pages with updated content rank significantly higher than those without updates.

The same concept applies to Google reviews. Even if you have a highly competitive amount of reviews for your local business, you may get outranked in SERP if the online reviews are not recent. Google labels this concept "review velocity": the number of Google reviews paired with the timeframe they were published.

Conducting a one-off online customer reviews campaign isn't enough: to maintain high ranking, obtaining new Google reviews should be an ongoing business KPI. Try to set a benchmark to reach every month.

Traffic Increase

To little surprise, Google reviews play a large role in consumer traffic behavior. As mentioned previously, if a business ranks in both map pack and web listings (where reviews play a large role in ranking), click rates can exceed 45%.

72% of consumers report that positive reviews increase their trust in a local business, making them more likely to click to your business listing.

Additionally, if a company visits your map pack listing and clicks your website, it will increase website traffic and improve web listing rank.

More business traffic leads to better SERP rankings. The better your website or listing performs as compared to expected CTR (click-through ratio) for your rank, your rank will improve. If your listing achieves a CTR of 3% above average rates for your rank, your SERP ranking will improve.

Keyword Strategy

Local listing keyword strategy goes beyond website copy: keywords within reviews help inform Google's local search results about your business and the services you offer.

The more Google reviews you receive, the greater variety and amount of keywords these reviews will "report" back to Google.

For example, if enough reviews from a local winery mention their "rosé tasting flights", those keywords will begin to rank under google searches for "rosé tasting near me". Keywords can also appear in bold under your star rating in the map pack.

Here's the map pack listing for a search on "California Wine tastings". Take a look at the keywords in bold under each business.

Map pack listing for California wine tastings, showing keywords like “tasting” in bold

When expanding the local pack listing for the top result, even more keywords appear in bold:

Google My Business listing for California winery, showing reviews and keywords in bold

While you can't control which specific keywords a customer includes in their review, you can mention keywords in your response! Avoid boilerplate responses, and reply to reviews with engaging copy that mentions your top keywords.

Instead of:

"Thanks for your review! Looking forward to seeing you again soon!"


"Thanks for the great review and for letting us know how we're doing! We always appreciate feedback from our customers and I'm pleased to hear you and your friends enjoyed our rosé tasting flight. We try to offer the best Napa Valley rosé tasting available for an affordable price. Hope to see you again soon!"

The above review incorporates keywords like "rosé tasting flight" and "napa valley rose tasting".

Know what keywords are important to your business's SEO goals, then smoothly incorporate them in review replies to appear in relevant searches.

Install a Reviews Widget

Consider installing a Google Reviews widget on your website to strengthen the link between your Google My Business listing and marketing website. 

As customers create new business reviews, they are live-fed to widgets on your company website. This refreshes the content on your site and signals to Google that your marketing site  is current and frequently updated. 

Reviews widgets also  increase the amount of time a user spends on your site, boosting dwell time metrics valuable for SEO ranking. 

TrustMetric’s Google Reviews Widgets

How do Negative Reviews Affect SEO?

It's inevitable that you'll get a less-than-positive review at some point. And while it might sting, try to see it as an opportunity. How you respond to a negative review says a lot about your business and these reviews don't have as drastic SEO consequences as you might think. Negative reviews still contribute to overall Google reviews count, which is more impactful than star rating.

As backward as it may sound, the occasional negative review may actually increase trust between you and your target buyer. The Journal of Vacation Marketing found that consumers tend to think negative reviews have more credibility than positive ones, particularly in a day and age where a "black market" of fake reviews exists. The occasional less-than-perfect review, if anything, reflects that you're a business with a real, engaged customer base. Responding to reviews shows that you care about your customers and value their experience.

Negative Google reviews also give you a golden opportunity to develop relationships with customers and show a willingness to respond to problems. When replying to a negative review: use a positive tone, thank the reviewer for their feedback, and offer solutions.

Google is well aware that negative reviews happen, and won't penalize you dramatically for the occasional negative review. According to Google's Search Quality Evaluator Guidelines:

"When interpreting customer reviews, try to find as many as possible. Any store or website can get a few negative reviews. This is completely normal and expected. Large stores and companies have thousands of reviews and most receive some negative ones.”

When you get a negative review, don't panic. It won't impact your ranking perilously and gives you a unique opportunity to develop trust with your target audience. Because the velocity of reviews is more important than overall star rating, don't let the fear of a negative review hinder your review-collecting efforts.


Google reviews are a powerful free marketing tool for improving overall SEO strategy for your business's local ranking. By understanding how Google reviews influence both local pack and organic web listings, you can generate more organic traffic to your business.

Strive to occupy 1-2 of the top eight SERP results in your area by focusing on review velocity, star rating, keywords, and responding to all online reviews. Doing so will optimize your local SEO efforts and improve your ranking, leading to more organic traffic leads overall.

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