We all want good reviews but how do they really affect ranking on Google? Here's a run-down of what you should know about Google reviews.
Google doesn't police reviews as much as you might think..
The reviews must be logged into Google in order to write a review however the reviewer can have a complete fictitious Google account using pseudonyms and even initials. Google doesn't really care if the reviewer is not a real customer, or even your dog for that matter. Competitors can create Google accounts and give you bad reviews! Google again, doesn't care. With enough prodding, Google MAY remove the reviews. But it takes an act of congress for them to see your side. You also can't post reviews on behalf of your clients - real or not. Multiple reviews coming in repeatedly from the same IP address will have exactly the opposite effect of what you're trying to achieve.
Without seeming to apply any logic, Google can also filter, un-filter and re-filter reviews.
It's more about quantity - Google doesn't seem to care about the content (but you might)
Google pays for reviews! Google gives 5 points per review. If you didn't already know, Google has a rewards system for posting things like images and reviews on Google. There also a bunch of business "services" whose sole purpose is to provide reviews (avoid them like the plague). Each review is tagged with an IP address. IP addresses indicate location. If you buy reviews it's highly unlikely those reviews will identify as being from the same area as your business. BIG RED FLAG.
For the reviews that you do get, you can't control the content or how it's displayed on Google (the snippet). Photos may accompany reviews and those are not moderated either (and you as the business owner won't be able to do much about it - I know... that just sucks!)
DO REVIEWS DRIVE RANKINGS?
The jury is out on this. My personal opinion is that reviews can expand your range in terms of where in your area you rank. If you have a single location but serve customers over the entire area, clusters of reviews in specific areas should help your MAPS ranking in that area. So let's say your office is in Franklin, Ohio and you really want to rank for Dayton. You should seek reviews from clients in Dayton.
In a specific location, having the most reviews does not guarantee you a number 1 ranking. It is a ranking factor, but not the only ranking factor.
Here's how we approach reputation management and reviews.
Regardless of how Google treats the reviews, it's very important to have a review process. We recommend a slow, steady stream of reviews - not an onslaught that will not look organic.
1. Email your current customer email list (in small quantities of no more than 50) and ask for the review.
2. Make it easy for customers to review: provide direct links
3. Include "Review Us" followup after you complete new work.
4. Include "Review Us On Google" hyperlinks in your email signature
5. Add a QR Code or "Review Us Here" link on your business card
If you are concerned about unmoderated negative responses, you can use a reputation management company or devise your own. Here's how we do it for our clients.
1. Import an email list of existing clients into an email marketing system (most will work - our clients have them included with the website we build them)
2. Send out a survey requesting feedback: "How are we doing" rated 1-5.
3. Each response is a link. Those clicking 1,2 or 3 land on a page on the website where they can elaborate on why they rated your company that way. 4 and 5 responses are sent directly to your Google link.
I hope that helps. I'm not sure how Google will fix this. It's extremely difficult to regulate the reviews process. For now, when you have no reviews, we recommend you devise a strategy to get some. When you have negative reviews, we recommend you bury them with a strategy to get new better reviews. Once final thought: you do get to respond to your reviews. Always respond in a positive manner - even to the negative reviews. People will actually read your responses and judge you against it. Be diplomatic knowing that your next potential client is looking over your shoulder as you write your response!