How do negative reviews impact Google rankings?

We have often written about the impact of reviews on brand building and overall business growth. But now a big question is finally getting an official insight tip and straight from Google’s mouth no less!

Negative reviews have been considered as a negative ranking signal for ten years now. But we didn’t have too many official statements from Google on this topic, and also, the extent of their influence was just SEO guesswork and estimates. But during a new Google Webmasters video, the question was addressed directly by Google’s trend analyst John Mueller. The video gives clues as to how the algorithm handles negative reviews and at what point they start affecting rankings.

The negative reviews debate picked up traction after a notorious incident reported by the NY Times, An online merchant was ranked high because he became viral, but not for the right reasons. This merchant attracted negative viral sentiment resulting in many links pointing to their website, resulting in Google ranking him high as if he was a backlink star. Following this incident, Google published a blog post called “being bad for your customers is bad for business,” in which they addressed the case and introduced its sentiment analysis to avoid cases like this. Basically, in that post, Google stated that a clear negative sentiment towards a brand or business is bad for ranks.

Muller hinted that this sentiment analysis is still active today and is most likely far more advanced than the initial 2010 version. Meaning it’s likely able to pick up negative sentiment more easily and analyze it far better. While the 2010 version probably needed clear cut “hard” negative sentiment to be apparent in a text. It’s not unreasonable to assume a 2020 version can pick up a negative sentiment from a much more “soft” and nuanced text.

In any case, the main point is that overwhelmingly negative chatter from many sources (especially high authority sources) will be bad for ranks. But this is the key here – a business or brand needs to basically be universally hated across the board to be flagged by the sentiment analyzer. Muller said the occasional negative review is nothing to worry about since negative reviews will occur naturally for virtually EVERY business and brand.

We even did a small guide on how to handle negative reviews and also using them as an advantage for brand empowerment. Only positive reviews might avoid the Google sentiment judgment hammer. But surprisingly, they might have a lower overall marketing potential to draw business than a slightly flawed record. This is because a perfect score will seem shady and “too good to be true” to some customers. For example, several studies have shown that flawed scores like 4.5 will seem more trustworthy than a perfect 5.

Too good to be true??

Not to mention, a negative review is an excellent opportunity to show you are a complaint friendly brand by addressing them with responsibility and sensibility. There is nothing that can turn off a potential customer more than an unanswered negative review! A few “hanging” negative reviews can overshadow a slew of positive reviews. In contrast, a bunch of well answered negative reviews will outshine a slew of positive reviews. only.

In our web directory guide, we specifically addressed that you should claim any business listing web directories for your business. So that at the very least you can manage any negative reviews since Google will be sourcing those for sentiment as well most likely. Doing some thorough web directory content work might not give a notable backlink boost. But it is an essential part of catching negative sentiment on time.

While organic visibility likely will be negatively impacted if there is a negative consensus on the web about a business. Local SEO is much more reactive to reviews. Managing reviews is crucial for any business that wants to increase GMB visibility. Google states clearly in their GMB Help Center that getting favorable reviews and responding to negative GMB reviews will improve GMB rankings.

Summary

Managing reviews are important for keeping a clean Google slate, but they are also one of the key factors potential customers research before deciding on a purchase. Handling negative sentiment online will help prevent any viral snowballs and vile rumors from spreading and is a healthy approach for online business in general!

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