Poor Criticism: The Impact of Negative Reviews on SEO

SEO impacts

Back when I was still in high school, I peruse Wikipedia a lot when it comes to school assignments. No matter if it’s a biology project or for a history paper, I would usually check Wikipedia first in one way or another. This attitude persists throughout my early college days until I enrolled in a class where the professor practically outlawed us from using Wikipedia source. The reason? Because Wikipedia, and other similar wiki sites, crowdsource their information.

The basic gist is this, anything you see written in Wikipedia is put there by a dedicated member of community who may or may not be an authoritative figure in their field. Crowdsourced information has been the hallmarks of modern internet, with platforms like Yelp and Trip Advisor allowing members of the public to submit reviews on businesses. How these reviews affect SEO is a question SEO services and marketers have been struggling to answer.

21st century internet and the wisdom of the crowd

For the most part, giving the public more input in how companies are viewed is an excellent idea. Giving center stage to vox populi, the voice of the people, is the foundation of a democracy and customer and/or user reviews are simply another outlet for that idea. Every business these days have to contend with reviews in one way or another, as all anyone needs is an internet connected device to either badmouth or praise your business.

The old marketing adage states that any publicity is good publicity. What this saying means is that bad reviews could still be good for you as long as they spell your name right. In terms of SEO, where the goal is to increase traffic to your business’ website by raising your presence on the internet, that adage would seem to be true. The truth however is slightly more complicated than that and we’ll now discuss just how exactly could negative reviews impact your SEO efforts.

They could actually improve your credibility

This might sound strange but a couple of negative reviews could actually improve how your business is viewed. It’s statistically impossible for your business to garner nothing but glowing praises and people tend to look at businesses like that with a skeptic eye. I look at a restaurant with a rating of let’s say a 4.6 out of 5 and I would usually think to myself that it might be a good idea to eat there at some point.

On the other hand, when I see another restaurant with the same number of reviews but with a rating of 5 out of 5, I would immediately grow skeptical. Nothing could ever be that perfect and when I see something like this, I tend to suspect that there’s some funny business going in the background. The only time that unanimous praise like that is allowed is when you’re at a funeral.

They could give you some ideas on marketing

Here’s one nugget of truth when it comes to reviews, they are rarely, if ever, objective. People tend to judge products and/or services not based on their inherent qualities, but based on how a certain product fulfills their own expectations, no matter how misguided those expectations actually are. And it’s these expectations that you could manipulate, for a lack of a better word, with how you market your products.

For example, let’s say you run an omakase restaurant, the Japanese tradition of letting the chef choose what to serve you, and you received a scathing review from a customer complaining that the food that was served to them was different from what they expected. You could for example write a post explaining just how omakase works and that what the chef serves you is completely up to the chef’s discretion and what ingredients are available on any given day.

It’s not just about the reviews; it’s how you respond to them

A 2017 survey shows that online reviews make up about 13% on how Google handle local search results but Google implies that it’s not just about the reviews themselves, it’s about how you respond to them. If your customers could take time out of their day to perfectly explain to the world where exactly your business is falling short, the least you could do is to reciprocate and respond to their reviews.

If the complaint is something that you could immediately check for yourself and rectify, like if one of your employees is behaving irresponsibly, state what have you or are you going to do to fix this. If it’s something that would need further work behind the scenes, acknowledge that there are things that need improving and that you are working on them. Sometimes, all people want is the simple knowledge that their inputs are being heard.

The impact of reviews on SEO

Reviews are designed to benefit potential users and as can be seen, their direct impact on SEO isn’t especially pronounced, making up only 13% of how Google determines local search results. It’s how they affect potential customers that should be a focus. Instead of thinking of negative reviews as something to combat, you might want to start considering them as opportunity to identify areas in your business that you could improve.