Better Business Bureau reviews are complex. Here’s what you need to know

As someone who works in Local SEO, I have always been a huge advocate for the Better Business Bureau (BBB).

Unlike many review sites, including Google,  they take the validity of reviews seriously. I do extensive manual monitoring of the data on the BBB and have found they are one of the most reliable sources of local business data on the internet. Like Google, the BBB also doesn’t accept listings using virtual offices or P.O. boxes and aims to represent the “real world.”

Another thing that makes the BBB valuable to business owners is the fact that they use AggregateRating schema on their listings, which earns them gold stars in the search results on Google.

Recently, I hired a pool company to look for leaks in my pool. Before hiring them, I checked Google for their online reviews, and the results showed a fairly good company, since all their average ratings were 3.5 and above.

I ended up having a horrible experience with this company, which left me wasting tons of money on unnecessary repairs due to their inaccurate conclusion about what was causing the issue with my pool.

This caused me to second-guess my initial decision to hire them, so I went back online and studied the reviews from different review sites to see if this was “just me” or if this was typical for this company.

Imagine my surprise when I clicked on the BBB listing for the pool company and saw they had an average rating of 3.7  (out of 5), despite the fact that the profile had a total of three reviews, all of which were negative.

It turns out that the average rating the BBB shows is not just based on customer reviews; 67 percent of the rating is based on the BBB’s evaluation of that business. 

That opinion, which is reflected in the letter grade that company receives from BBB, is based on a variety of factors, including past complaint history, how promptly the company responds to complaints, their truthfulness in advertising, appropriate licensing and other factors that are explained on the BBB website.

Customer reviews are also noted on each company’s Business Profile, but they are not factored into the letter grade rating. These two factors – complaints and customer reviews – are combined into a composite score of 1 to 5 stars, which is what search engines see.

This is their opinion of how the business is likely to interact with customers. Obviously, the BBB and I really disagree about the practices of this business, which leads me to wonder whose opinion is more valid — someone who has actually hired them or a third-party review site?

The pool company has an A+ BBB rating and will continue to have a good grade as long as it answers all of its complaints and does the other things BBB evaluates to make up the letter grade. It’s important to note that being accredited (paying for a membership to the BBB) does not factor into the overall score.

Complaints aren’t included in the customer review rating score

The second thing I noticed was that the review rating percentage does not include customer complaints.

This company manages to get a five-star average, regardless of having 59 customer complaints.

Here is another one. This business manages to get a 4.06 average while having 190 complaints and 78 negative reviews (72 percent of their total reviews). That is amazing.

This made me wonder: Is it really an average rating if 67 percent of the reviews are based on a proprietary rating by the website itself? So, I asked Google representative John Mueller, and here is what he said:

Hopefully, after reading this, you will know to do a better job researching than I did before hiring a company. Dig further into the details instead of trusting the average rating to tell the whole picture.

Note: A BBB spokesperson urged me to file a complaint against the pool company, which will have 30 days to resolve my complaint or it will go against both their letter rating and their star rating. She acknowledged that the system is complex, but said that both consumers and businesses love the letter grades, while search engines love the stars. BBB is trying to be responsive to both.

Opinions expressed in this article are those of the guest author and not necessarily Search Engine Land. Staff authors are listed here.

About The Author

Joy Hawkins is a Local SEO expert who is a Google My Business Top Contributor. She regularly contributes to many online communities in the Local SEO world, including the Google My Business forum (Top Contributor), the Local Search Forum (Top Contributor), and the Local University Forum (Moderator). She is also a contributor to the Moz Local Search Ranking Factors survey. Joy is the owner of Sterling Sky in Canada and is the author of the Expert’s Guide to Local SEO, which is an advanced training manual for people wanting a detailed look at what it takes to succeed in the Local SEO space.

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