A business owner recently asked me how to go about building positive reviews in a way that would "optimize" their Google Maps listing. This is about as provocative a topic as it gets in the Local Search community, I know, but it's also an unavoidable subject worth addressing. Search marketers ponder the same "How To" question, if for nothing else to try and understand every aspect of local search ranking factors and translate this to practical advice for SMB's.

Google Places has become an essential tool in increasing popularity of a business on the Web to attract local consumers. It is a huge opportunity for local businesses to get exposure, but ranking in Google Places does not happen automatically - and building reviews takes time (any effort to improve ranking should be measured in months not weeks).

For every local search, Google does its best to display relevant businesses, favoring those its algorithm determines to be prominent (well-established) and well-liked in the area.

If Google made a habit of recommending local businesses that offered poor products and service, how long do you think people would continue using Google Maps? So Google has more confidence in "recommending" a local business if it has mostly positive reviews and ratings.

Google Places reviews have four primary signals that affect local search ranking:

  1. Volume of reviews/ratings
  2. Velocity of reviews/ratings
  3. Sentiment of reviews/ratings
  4. Keywords in reviews
The quantity of reviews needed to improve rankings depends on the business type and the number of reviews relative to local competitors. It's important to identify how many reviews competing listings have acquired and use this as the relative benchmark.

Amassing lots of reviews is great, but acquiring them all in bulk or too quickly is not - this will set off red flags. Steadily building quality reviews is ideal.

While most review building strategies focus on soliciting reviews from happy customers, a natural distribution of mostly positive and even some negative reviews is best. There are a number of signals Google relies on, and crawling review content and extracting sentiment analysis is one of them.

The quality of the written review is also important. While keywords in the review have been shown to help a listing rank, it's important that the description not appear spammy. Keyword stuffing in reviews is NOT good. But, the appearance of multiple reviews with consistent use of the right keywords, used sparingly, typically has a very positive impact on rankings for those particular keywords - especially long-tail keyword phrases.

Some examples:

Not good: General dentist Dr. Williams in Chicago, IL provides general dentistry and general dental care procedures, such as: Chicago general dentistry for children, general dentistry in Chicago for adults, and Chicago general dentist for seniors.

Good: Chalk up another great appointment with Dr. Williams in Chicago. He really cares about your teeth and takes the time to explain all procedures to make you feel comfortable. The entire staff is very friendly and prices are reasonable. Beyond general dentistry he also offers cosmetic dentistry like dental implants and natural looking filings. I highly recommend Dr. Williams!

To sum up Google's review policy: No fake reviews, no keyword-stuffed reviews, and no direct incentives for reviews. And apparently, according to Mike Blumenthal's blog, representatives of Google claim on-site review stations are permissible and even encouraged.

Additionally, other factors of influence include quantity, velocity and sentiment of reviews stemming from relevant third-party sites: IYPs, vertical/niche directories, and data aggregators, Facebook page likes, social media mentions on sites like Twitter, Foursquare check-ins, and Google+ shares. The entire local-social-mobile ecosystem is becoming increasingly more connected and continuing to play a bigger role in ranking.

Google's assessment of reviews also relies on the relative prominence of the person (account) posting the mention. A person with a history of quality reviews, on Hotpot for example, carries more weight.

The Anatomy of Stellar "Optimized" Reviews:

After five or more reviews, an average star rating with the total number of reviews appears on the search results page along with the listing:

It's common to see a boost in both ranking and conversion once five reviews are achieved and the average star rating has been activated - as long as the reviews are good!

Optimally, the person writing the review places the best descriptive text at the very beginning of the review as a concise summary statement. The summary can then be expanded upon in the rest of the review. Google routinely places select keywords from the review in bold.

Below is an example of how bold keyword phrases appear in the published review:

Google also offers review guidelines to share tips on how to write constructive reviews. Some of these tips include how to make the reviews informative and insightful, using real stories and not stuff that didn't actually happen, being nice even with negative reviews by making them constructive and not disrespectful, and finally writing them using proper grammar - avoiding excessive capitalization or punctuation.

Spammy Reviews Can do More Damage than Good:

What happens if business owners write their own (fake) reviews? The business can end up in Google purgatory!

Google employs a number of measures to prevent fake reviews including checking to see if reviews are being left by an email address tied to the business's domain or stemming from the same or similar IP address. If Google is suspicious of fake reviews or sees too many reviews all happening over a very short period of time, the listing could wind up suspended and perhaps even permanently blacklisted if the tactics are blatant enough.

Bottom line is, if you own a business you need to commit to an effective and long-term strategy in building online reviews. Instead of direct incentives, focus on encouraging happy customers at, or shortly after, the point of sale. From a local search marketing standpoint, this topic cannot be ignored. After all, Google Maps is, at its core, a recommendation engine.

January 31, 2012

Dave Cosper is Vice President of EZlocal. With over a decade of experience in sales and marketing, he oversees all aspects of marketing, product development and client services efforts. Dave has been instrumental in the early success of EZlocal, introducing innovative products and marketing programs from the ground up.

An expert in local Internet-search marketing, he has spent significant time with Local SEO competitive analysis and management of digital media across Local Search.

He has been a key contributor in various companies through start-up, survival, turnaround and growth modes. He holds a Bachelor of Architecture degree from Iowa State University of which he credits his outside-of-the-box creativity.

You can find Dave on Google+, LinkedIn, and Slideshare.


It's OK to ask for reviews, but the review process should be natural. Google is smart. They know when something is up and it's obvious if a review is keyword stuffed or over the top. The best bet is to focus on your business and providing a good customer experience and good reviews will happen naturally.

I agree that reviews can come naturally, but I don't think it hurts to ask for a review either. You need to do everything you can to succeed in online business these days, especially if your niche has a lot of competition. Fantastic article and great tips for how to write a great review.

It's good to have positive ratings and reviews for your online business so it's a smart approach to encourage your clients or customers to drop a review or rate your Google Local Business Listing. And the best way to receive positive reviews is to provide a high quality service to them!

Hi Dave,
I agree with your points Google places is an essential tool in increasing business but in my point of view it should be natural. I think only one review would be done in a day from a unique IP.
It should be done that you can request review from your client and when they will do review then it will be automatically natural.


You're right Dave, spammy reviews can cause lethal damages to the business. But no doubt Google Places is an essential internet marketing tool when we target our business in the local markets. I too agree with Nick, reviews should flow naturally, and there is no point in adding reviews crammed with keywords. Not only Google online users too nowadays are smart enough to seperate chaff from grain.

I made the mistake of sending out an email to my clients and asking them to write a review. The mistake wasn't asking, it was asking them all at the same time. In the matter of a day I got over 20 reviews and got taken off Google Places/Maps for over a week. I suggest sending out emails a couple of weeks apart so that it doesn't look like you did it yourself.

Comments closed after 30 days to combat spam.

Search Engine Guide > Dave Cosper > Writing Google Places Reviews to Improve Rankings