How Negative Reviews Impact SEO

We’ve all been there.

After months of hard work, you finally launch a new product or service and, instead of just praise, your business gets the dreaded negative review.

Your mind starts racing.

You ask yourself, “How bad will this be for my SEO?”

Relax. It isn’t the end of the world.

While we all want positive reviews, the bad ones aren’t as bad as you think.

Negative reviews can actually help search engine rankings.

Let me explain why.

Negative Reviews Increase the Overall Number of Reviews

When people search for a local business, Google returns several results that show how many stars each one has.

But have you ever noticed that Google also shows how many reviews the business has overall?

The total number of reviews increases the social proof for your business and contributes to localized search ranking factors.

Of course, no one knows exactly how much reviews help SEO.

The key point is that you want to have a diverse array of opinions, including a few negative reviews, to help search engines verify the legitimacy of your business.

A Harvard Business School study on restaurant demand showed that consumers don’t actually read all the available information on local businesses (no surprise there).

Also, and more importantly, the study showed that the total number of reviews affected the way consumers would respond to a restaurant’s average rating.

In other words, consumers rely on mental shortcuts when making decisions.

If your site has 100 reviews, or even just 25, very few people are actually going to read every last one.

Consumers just want to know that your business has an engaged following before they make a purchase decision.

What if you’re running an ecommerce business? Can negative reviews hurt your SEO in that case?

Probably not.

The people behind search engines like Google understand that no one is perfect.

Google’s internal SEO guidelines instruct website reviewers to keep in mind that even some of the best sites get bad reviews.

While negative reviews shouldn’t be ignored, you can rest assured a few of them won’t sink your reputation.

In fact, the opposite is true.

Negative Reviews Actually Increase Your Credibility

When consumers see nothing but positive reviews, they tend to get suspicious.

The Journal of Vacation Marketing found that consumers tend to think negative reviews have more credibility than a positive review.

Research from Harvard Business School found that moderately positive reviews are oftentimes more persuasive than excessively positive reviews.

To put it another way: those unbelievably happy customers are a little too unbelievable and their reviews tend to generate skepticism.

Research suggests that consumers like to see a mix of good, moderate, and bad reviews when trying to determine if a business is trustworthy.

This applies whether you’re a local bakery or an ecommerce store with a global reach.

If a variety of reviews leads to greater credibility, it stands to reason that consumers will be more willing to spend time on your website, thereby increasing your search engine rankings in the long run.

Time on page (the length of time spent on an individual page) and session duration (the overall length of time spent on a site) are both critical measures when you’re aiming to improve SEO.

Negative Reviews Are an Opportunity to Build Relationships with Customers

When your business responds appropriately to negative reviews, it shows that you value customer feedback and you’re willing to take corrective action.

Knowing that they’ll be taken care of if anything goes wrong helps customers feel more comfortable making a decision to buy from your business.

It also helps with local SEO.

A support page for Google My Business instructs businesspeople to “manage and respond to reviews.”

Google isn’t hiding the fact that reviews contribute to local search rankings so it’s safe to assume the same holds true for the websites of larger businesses.

Here’s the key takeaway on this point: negative reviews give businesses a chance to show that they’re willing and able to manage their online reputation by responding appropriately to negative reviews – an important quality that factors into search rankings.

Negative Reviews Provide a More Accurate Picture of Your Business

When expectations aren’t met, customers experience disappointment — one of the main reasons people complain.

In a study of 1.3 million reviews we conducted at Yotpo (the company I work for), words conveying “disappointment” appeared more than 20,000 times.

Coming in a distant second with 7,500 mentions was the word “bad.”

Clearly, disappointment matters. But there is an upside.

Negative reviews expressing disappointment help potential customers understand more clearly what your company does — and does not — offer.

These types of reviews also help your business demonstrate how it handles customer disappointment.

Having negative reviews available online helps ensure that when customers choose to buy, they’re more likely to know in advance what they’re getting, potentially decreasing returns as well as the sheer number of disappointed customers in the long run.

A few negative reviews provide a more balanced look at your products and services, increasing the credibility and trustworthiness of your business.

Looking at a range of reviews from very positive to not-so-great can reassure customers that your website is a good place to spend time — and as we’ve already discussed, the overall length of time that consumers spend on your site improves your search rankings.

Embrace the Negative

Hopefully you now see that bad reviews have a good side.

These seemingly disappointing reviews can actually help you reach your business goals.

Negative reviews help you show that your business is responsive, trustworthy, and real.

So the next time you get a negative review, don’t see it as a failure but a massive opportunity to build your brand and credibility.

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