There is nothing new about customer reviews for businesses. In fact, for decades businesses have used client feedback to better serve customers. Obviously, customers are key to a successful business and happy customers often refer new clients to your business. New customers like to research businesses before they spend their money. For these reasons, customer satisfaction companies like the Better Business Bureau (BBB) were formed and remain a trusted source of information for customers today. The ancient concept of quality service driving more clients to a business has worked for centuries.
Are Backlinks Better Than Reviews for SEO?
Those familiar with SEO recognize that backlinks are a key component to keyword rankings in Google, Yahoo, and Bing. Backlinks are basically “votes” from one website to another. In other words, if your website gets a backlink from a related website, the search engines consider that a “vote” for your website as a quality place to visit. Because Google uses robots to gather information and decipher the good from the bad, a backlink is a logical way to evaluate the value of a particular website for a particular keyword or phrase. Google tallies these “votes” from websites around the world and then decides what websites are the most valuable for a keyword search.
Though this explanation of backlinks isn’t comprehensive, it outlines why backlinks are important to the search engines. Unfortunately, gray-hat and black-hat marketing companies often spam backlinks in order to achieve rankings and Google has battled these tactics for over fifteen years. In fact, there have been incidents of business owners using negative press to build backlinks and successfully gain rankings. Finally, we are starting to see some push-back from the search engines. Search engines are taking the necessary steps to eliminate these spammy backlink tactics and sometimes punish those that continue to use them.
2014 brought about a major change in how Google treats backlinks. Though we cannot give out too much information on our discoveries, we know for sure that backlinks are treated differently than they were in 2013. Backlinks are still valuable. However, their value according to Google has changed drastically. In fact, gone are the days where massive backlink strategies are necessary to rank in the search engines. There is a place for backlinks in today’s SEO landscape, but it is nothing like it was in 2013.
Social Media Buzz as a Ranking Factor
It comes as no surprise that social media has become a real factor in rankings. Social media is best described as any site that involves user interaction to drive the site. Facebook, Twitter, and Google Plus are all social media platforms.
Though most SEO companies still consider backlinks the driving force behind keyword rankings, we believe that there is an ongoing movement to eliminate the spammy tactics often used to build backlinks and, instead, focus on real people through social media and public discussions. Ask yourself, what is more valuable to you — Your neighbor’s recommendation for a landscaping company or Google’s recommendation for a landscape company? If you like the work done by your neighbor’s landscaping company, you probably won’t bother to search on Google for a company in your area. Google understands this and finally has the technology to factor those type of recommendations into its rankings.
Now that social media is the driving force behind most internet traffic, it makes sense that the search engines are using social media interactions as a ranking signal. Google tracks user behavior and can determine if a user’s discussion about a website is good or bad. Therefore, it makes sense that Google will increasingly rely on real users to tell their robots what sites are good and what sites are bad. Though this has been the holy grail for search engines, it has not been available or reliable until now.
Reviews are the “New” Backlinks
It is our opinion that customer reviews translate into backlinks. Would you believe that Google can even evaluate the strength of a review based on the actions and history of the person that left the review? It’s true. Google can do that! In fact, Klout was one of the first companies to assign a value to social media accounts and Google has followed suit.
A client review that has an established account with Google and that is active on social media can have a significant impact on rankings. We believe that the future holds major changes in how the search engines evaluate and rank websites and customer reviews will be the largest driving force behind keyword rankings. Just as fake backlinks can trigger a penalty with the search engines, any gaming of the reviews system Google has in place will also soon trigger penalties. If you’re going to encourage your clients to leave reviews, make sure you aren’t attempting to game Google with fake, paid, or over-the-top reviews. These type of tactics will harm your website in the near future.
Get on the “Review Train”
We believe a proactive approach to customer reviews will pay huge dividends in the coming years. Google will continue to phase out backlinks as the strongest ranking signal and will slowly replace backlinks with customer reviews. We strongly recommend our clients to work on getting more online reviews. Even bad reviews, if handled properly, can act as a positive ranking signal.
Our clients get the benefits of working with a real, white-hat SEO company and we can help you too! Contact us today for a free evaluation of your SEO. We are certain our innovative internet marketing strategies can help you succeed in the search engines.