Over the years, Google and other major search engines started moving more towards a human approach to search. In addition to focusing on keyword density and inbound links, they also started paying more attention to things such as user experience, page loading speeds, and more recently, expertise, authoritativeness, and trustworthiness, or E-A-T. Brand mentions, reputation, and reviews also seem to get more attention and we can expect this to be a theme for years to come. But, how does your brand reputation affect SEO exactly, and what can you do about it?
The Influence of Reviews on Local Search
One area where a reputation could have the most significant impact is on local search. People nowadays put a lot of trust in online reviews and Google is taking notes.
One recent BrightLocal study reported that over 90% of consumers today look at online reviews to get information on a certain business. Also, 85% stated that they trust online reviews just as much as they trust personal recommendations.
There’s also concrete evidence that online reviews are being accounted for by Google’s algorithm as a ranking factor. According to Moz’s Local Ranking Factors Survey, it’s believed that reputation determines around 13% of local pack rankings and about 7% for organic results. They believe things like frequency, diversity, and velocity of reviews are also affecting rankings.
Relevance, Proximity, and Authority
When it comes to local search, the three main pillars are relevance, proximity, and authority. Reviews influence all of these by adding content and context.
Reviews are user-generated content, which is meant to be unbiased. Specific keywords will be used, which can then be tied back to the business. This contributes to relevance. When it comes to context, they allow Google to know which businesses are getting more traction and are more important, and which ones should be buried. Not only that, but Google even uses reviews to confirm a business’s geographical location and details, which helps with proximity.
Brand mentions have been getting a lot of attention lately and are one of the many ranking factors that we know of. While having a brand mention is one thing, context is also very important.
Google’s algorithm doesn’t seem to have mastered context completely and can’t really tell what’s good or bad yet, but they are currently using a team of human reviewers to gauge the quality of the web and seem to be considering the context of mentions. These evaluators are there to provide feedback and give scores to certain websites based on specific guidelines with reputation being one of the criteria.
Can Negative Brand Mentions Directly Hurt Your Rankings?
We still don’t know. This is mainly because Google’s machine learning algorithm still can’t figure out why negative information is associated with a website. For instance, an establishment that is associated with deadly shooting shouldn’t be penalized in search rankings for that reason. However, Google made it clear that it aims to stop websites from getting a high-quality score from their manual reviewers if they judge they have a bad reputation.
One section in their Quality Rater Guidelines specifically states that sites with extremely bad reputations should be given the lowest rating possible. Some examples cited including news of fraud, a low BBB rating, or multiple reviews making the same claim. So, while we can’t say for sure if unlinked brand mentions are having a direct negative effect on rankings, we can definitely say that Google is working on it.
The Relationship Between Bad Reputation and Other Ranking Factors
While it isn’t a given that negative brand mentions will negatively affect your search engine results, they can still affect other proven ranking factors. Take the click-through rate, for instance. A company that has nothing but horrible information about them online is sure to see a drop in their click-through rates, and we know for a fact that low click-through rates will affect your visibility on organic search results.
This is especially true for businesses in the local pack. Local searchers will automatically start to phase out listings with negative associations. This will send your click-through rates plummeting and sink your listing if your negative reviews didn’t take care of that already.
Steps for Taking Your Reputation Back
We now know how important reputation and reviews are when it comes to SEO, but what can be done about it? While you can’t control what people think of your business, if you’re getting negative reviews, it’s usually because you’re doing something fundamentally wrong. So, unless you have a change in philosophy and are ready to commit to it, you cannot do anything to sway the public’s opinion.
This means you’ll need to consider conducting a thorough market analysis and seeing where your competition is excelling. It’s about improving on what you do best and using what others are doing right as inspiration.
It’s also about making loyal customers and encouraging them to review your service without incentivizing them. This part is especially crucial as they will provide the initial social proof needed to turn your brand around. It’s all a question of maintaining the relationship with your base and your new-found customers while committing yourself to listen to their concerns and proactively addressing them.
Building a reputation is also about maintaining open lines of communication. Whether it’s getting active on blogs, your YouTube channel, or social media, you will get a better sense of what they want, build trust, and eventually generate positive and organic mentions of your brand.
You also want to focus on customer service, and make sure that you follow up with your customer base constantly. Surveys could be a great way to evaluate service internally and identify sticking points early before they start generating complaints.
Brand reputation is something you can never have complete control over. However, there are many things that you can do internally to improve and start rebuilding it. Work on them daily and commit, and you can expect to see results.