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No. 749
December 3rd, 2010

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Old News: For Rankings, Review Quantity Matters More than Quality

Seems like everyone is talking about the New York Times story over the weekend about Vitaly Borker and his shortsighted PR strategy to garner a bunch of bad publicity, partly in order to rank at Google.

Everyone from Danny Sullivan to Jessica Lee to Greg Sterling to Google itself has weighed in on the controversy.

Thing is, Local Search experts have long speculated that the valence of reviews has had an extremely low, if any, impact on rankings, whereas the volume of reviews has always been considered one of the strongest factors.  Many of us have noted how puzzled we were that this was the case but this bias (or lack thereof, I suppose) has been pretty obvious for awhile.

Here’s a look at the comparative importance of review volume vs. review quality from each of the past three Local Search Ranking Factors surveys:

Year Review Volume Positive Ratings
2008 9 24
2009 7 35
2010 9 42

(the lower the number, the more important the factor)

In 2010, I asked for the first time about a concept I first heard proposed by Ian Lurie that Ian termed “review velocity,” namely, how consistently is your business accumulating new review.  In the first year, this came in at #17…behind volume but well ahead of rating quality.

Google announced it has updated its algorithm as a result of all this negative publicity, to take into account some of its sentiment analysis capabilities, prompting outcry from various corners of the web that Google was becoming a further moral arbiter of how to do business, rather than returning relevant results.  It’s a fine line, but frankly as a searcher in this case, I’d side with Google on this update.

What will be truly interesting to me is whether, or more likely WHEN, this decision to look more closely at the valence of sentiment on an organic level will filter down to Local.

  • Yeah, this is old news as far as I am concerned. We’ve been hip to this for sometime now. Reviews are going to be the new link, so get ready for spam review sites.

  • I have been pushing one client to actively seek reviews by giving away $50 gift cards in monthly drawings. We have since moved up one spot.

    The bigger things is when people search, they will see many positive reviews and then will want to click just to see why. This also gives us another marketing pitch.


  • Jason

    Just a further indication that the fragmented local search atmosphere still needs to be optimized and tapped for those vertical and niche review sites.

  • Their answer in local will be around hotpot. The lat- longitude blog has a nice look inside review ranking factors (shocking I know) that talks about custom local place results based on reviews left from friends in your hotpot network. While not a fan of hotpot yet, I do think this is good data as I trust close friends reviews much more than others.

    My question on any of this is how do you stop competitors and crazy customers from negatively effecting your business based on reviews? I think this will be the next huge problem as this rolls out.

  • very interesting David…and when I add in what you’ve stated here, to what Ross wrote at his own blog here — — on Dannys’ recent posting on social media “counting” for SEO rankings…it’s research worth noting — and living by too!

    sad thing is, it’s only Monday am, and already I’ve added hours and hours to our normal SEO campaign tactical reviews….sigh….aint’ SEO fun!



  • Ian

    It’s amazing to me the mainstream press only just caught on to this. There’s no way to filter it accurately via algorithm, so Google et al are stuck doing it by hand.

    I’m going to go out and launch 10 review sites now.

  • You don’t even need to give away a $50 certificate to get your good customers to review you. I’ve encouraged business owners to be passionate and connect with their customers to inspire reviews, and make it part of their process. eg. At the time of paying the bill. Even a mere $5 discount can encourage both participation and retention.

    I’m so curious as to how Google plans on addressing review spam. I’m quite annoyed with Yelp’s methods (whatever they are) both as a marketer and as a user. So many genuine reviews are filtered out, and business owners sometimes feel as if they’ve wasted their time directing people to Yelp for reviews.

  • FYI – we recently launched a free local business review widget called ReviewBiz – i mentioned this when i spoke to David on the phone a couple of weeks back (David – I hope you don’t mind me posting here).

    In case you guys haven’t seen it you can here –

    I’m keen to get some feedback on it and improve/extend it to help local businesses generate reviews in an easy and ethical way. I’d love to hear your thoughts. Thanks

  • My experience with reviews is that rating does matter. If you sit down and talk to new customers for brick and motor businesses (especially in hospitality) the number one referral is other people and two is the internet. Consumers listen to their friends. When consumers don’t know who to ask they go online (often directly to Yelp) and see what other people say. Yes review quantity gets SERPs, but of the many customers I have talked to they actually read reviews.

    Just think about how you act when you go to a new business.

  • Robin

    That is a very interesting idea about offering a discount in return for a review. This would definately generate a decent ‘review velocity’. Is there any concensus on what are the recommended review sites to suggest customers use? (I guess Google Maps is a good one to start with.)

  • I have heard of health practitioners putting a laptop in one of their treatment rooms, then after the appointment – suggesting people write a review right there. The laptop has a tab for each – Google, Yahoo, Yelp, Citysearch….and the patient gets to choose. And it works!

    David, do you have any thoughts on the theory of Google not showing reviews if posted from the same IP Address? Is there any official word on the problems with Google Reviews or is it just a bug?


  • Yelp is probably not going to like being a part of that. I’m not sure the other ones would have an opinion one way or the other. If there would be a way to flush the IP information after each review, that’s obviously best. But I would imagine there’d be a fair number of restaurants with free wi-fi that accumulate reviews in much the same way.