No. 749
December 3rd, 2010

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.