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Does the Text of a Google Review Affect Map Pack Rankings?

Let’s say you’re a dentist and you want to rank for the term, “emergency dentist.”  One would think that if you have a lot of reviews that use the keyword “emergency dentist,” that would help you rank better on Google, right?  Also, we see a lot of times that Google pulls in review justifications for the local pack matching the keywords that were searched.  So, it’s easy to assume that the keywords matter in ranking.

The Test:

So, I wanted to test this.  Now, I wouldn’t suggest trying this at home, and full disclosure after I did this test, I was told by someone at Google to never do this using your Google account or you run the risk of being blacklisted by Google!

Anyway, we picked a business that we thought would be the perfect candidate.  We chose a Christmas Tree farm that had no SEO efforts and their website was terrible.  We made sure it was the middle of summer, so they were not going to be getting any reviews.  This way we knew if they were getting any movement, we could conclude it was because of the reviews. We had six different people leave reviews over the course of a few months to make it look more natural.  This may not seem like a lot of reviews, but this business only had 18 total reviews, so six was significant.  We made sure our reviews included keywords such as “Christmas trees” or “fresh trees,” to see if adding these keywords to the reviews would help their ranking.

As an interesting side note, we know that Google has been cracking down on reviews lately.  So, it is interesting to note that two of the reviews we left have been removed from Google, which is a good thing.  Since we never had been to this tree farm, it is good that Google’s filter is able to figure that out and removed the reviews.

The Results:

So, what we noticed about this test is that adding keywords to reviews did not help this business’ ranking on Maps.  Below, you will see the two keywords that we tracked, “fresh cut Christmas trees,” and “Christmas trees,” and you can visually see that rankings did not improve.  Actually, in the first instance, rankings got worse.  Whereas in the second instance, rankings stayed relatively the same.

TL;DR:

Don’t coach your clients to include certain words in their reviews.  First of all, this is hard to do and you often come across as weird or odd.  And secondly, and most importantly, this case study shows that it does not improve rankings!

Joy Hawkins

Joy is the owner of the Local Search Forum, LocalU, and Sterling Sky, a Local SEO agency in Canada & the USA. She has been working in the industry since 2006, writes for publications such as Search Engine Land, and enjoys speaking regularly at marketing conferences such as MozCon, LocalU, Pubcon, SearchLove, and State of Search. You can find her on Twitter or volunteering as a Product Expert on the Google My Business Forum.

This Post Has 11 Comments

  1. Hey Joy, it would have been interesting to see if adding specific text to a Google review for the Christmas tree farm, for unranked keyword phrases, would have improved ranking for those terms. Just wondering…. it may not have helped for competitive keywords, but could have helped for “Balsam Fir Christmas Tree” or “Fraser Fir Christmas Tree” if those had been mentioned in the reviews. Not too dissimilar from your case study about tire photos and the auto dealer. Thanks for the article!

    1. We tried a different test (different listing) for a fake word and also found no impact. For this one, we did use douglas fir in one of the reviews but they also have that listed on their website and already rank for it. I might retest this later if I can find a good keyword they don’t rank anywhere for.

  2. So how do you explain the image you posted with the post?
    Clearly, the terminology used is being referenced, and associations are being made by Google.
    I’ve seen similar results where terms were referenced from GBP posts.
    It may not help with ranking, but it certainly looks like a relevance signal.

    1. Justifications (what the little snippet is) are often pulled in when Google finds a review that matches the query. They do this with posts too. It’s not always the thing that causes the ranking though. You have to rank first, then if they find a review referencing the service, they pull it in. This is part of why we wanted to test which came first.

  3. For me, this one small test does not conclusively prove that words in reviews don’t matter. There are other collaborating factors happening and it’s much more complex than what’s portrayed here.

    1. Words in reviews definitely matter – they give you justifications 🙂 I was simply trying to see if we could isolate the impact they had on rankings by choosing a case that was the least likely to be impacted by something else (SEO-wise). We had a few tests we did on this, I just think this one was the clearest given the industry and lack of competition. I think it’s a great idea for more people to test and publish case studies on it for sure.

  4. Didn’t Mike Blumenthal do a study a few years back where he found that words in a Yelp review affect the GMB rankings? If that’s the case, you would think that Google’s own review text would also have an impact.

  5. Hey joy. This is a very interesting study. However, I am left puzzled. Based on the most recent local ranking factor survey published by whitespark, keywords in native google reviews are considered as being the 9th most influential ranking factor by 60% of all experts.
    Does it mean they are wrong?

    1. Hi Nicolas,
      I checked in with Darren Shaw on this, and here’s what he had to say:

      Well, the Local Search Ranking Factors is a survey of opinions from local search experts. While these experts generally have a very good sense of what impacts rankings and what does not impact rankings, they do not have access to the actual algorithm that Google uses to rank businesses in the local results. Much of their opinion is based on observations of what seems to help rankings, but correlation is not causation. Something like keywords in reviews may definitely appear to help rankings, but when actually tested, we might see that they don’t have the impact we thought. When new evidence comes out to dispute a long held speculation, then many of the local search experts will run their own tests, and over time, you’ll see these opinions shift in the Local Search Ranking Factors. This is normal, and it’s actually wonderful when this happens, because it means we have furthered our understanding of local search ranking factors and focus our work on things that actually work, rather than things that we just think might have an impact.

      I hope this helps. Let me know if you have any questions.

      1. Thanks so much for taking the time to answer. I really appreciate it. Another myth debunked right there.

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