How Reviews Are Changing the Local Landscape
With 2015 fading distant in the rearview and the honeymoon period of 2016 in full swing, it’s time to look forward to the changes the new year can and possibly will bring to local search marketing. 2015 was a volatile year for local search: Google paired down the local pack to the now three-item “snack pack”, tested out paid home service ads, and severed local listings’ ties to Google+. This last item provides a jumping-off point for my 2016 prediction.
The Divorce of Google+ and Local Listings
Experts in the local space foresaw Google+’s divorce from local listings for some time. Back in July, Google removed Plus page links from local results, making the pages nearly impossible to find. In November, these pages were stripped of nearly all relevant information, leaving just Business Name, Address and Website (for more information on the recent changes in Google+, look here). This left the Knowledge Panel and Local 3 Pack as the authoritative source for business information. Do you know what takes up about half of the knowledge panel’s space? Reviews.
It’s not a revelation that reviews will influence local search ranking in 2016, but I predict they will be more of a factor than ever. In Moz’s 2015 edition of the Local Search Ranking Factors, “Quantity Of Native Google Reviews w/Text” was rated as the 11th-most important factor along with “Product/Service Keywords in Reviews”, “Authority of third-party sites on which reviews are present” and “Quantity of Third-Party Traditional Reviews” coming in at 25th, 28th and 37th, respectively. Further, “Quantity Of Native Google Reviews w/Text” was rated as the 7th-most important “difference-making factor in competitive markets” and the 3rd-highest factor “experts are focusing on since the snack pack rollout”.
2 Reasons Why Reviews Will Become More Important
The first is the aforementioned removal of Google+ content and the Knowledge Panel’s increased dedication to showcasing reviews. Here is a screenshot of the Knowledge Panel in the Maps view. As you can see, reviews get 2nd billing, right beneath the business name and then a giant bar graph and six reviews beneath the Popular Times section. Why give one factor of a local business so much real estate if you don’t think consumers will find it important?
The second reason I believe reviews will have a bigger impact on local search ranking in 2016 is the user’s increased need for instant gratification, paired with the fact that more and more of us are actually taking reviews into consideration. Earlier this year, ThinkWithGoogle released a statistic that “near-me” searches have increased by 34 times since 2011. Additionally, BrightLocal conducted a study and found that 92% of consumers read online reviews and 40% form an opinion about a business by reading 1-3 reviews. Near-me searches indicate that we are relying less on prior knowledge or research and that our consideration sets are limited by location. Knowing less means that we are more likely to rely on others for advice and guidance.
So will reviews become the end-all, be-all for your business’ online visibility? Probably not. I do think, however, that they will become more important in 2016.