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How Much Does Review Recency Impact Google Local Pack Rankings [Case Study]

Everyone wants to know what the key is to ranking well on Google.  There are many theories about reviews being a ranking factor, but what is it about reviews?  Is it the text in the reviews?  Is it the number of reviews your listing has?  Or could it be how often you get reviews?  In this article, we tested whether review “recency” affects your ranking on Google.

The Discovery: 

We have a client for who we noticed rankings went down after the Vicinity algorithm update.  So, I started to dig into what could be causing the decline in rankings.  Using the GMB Everywhere review audit, one of the things I noticed is that they use to steadily get new reviews, and then all of a sudden it flat-lined (see image below).  So, this made me think, does getting new reviews have an impact on ranking?

So, I reached out to the client and asked if he knew what happened.  He told me, “Oh I know exactly what happened!  I use to reward my staff for getting our clients to leave us new reviews… but I stopped doing that recently!”

It’s actually an interesting idea, and NOT against Google’s guidelines.  What he did, was that any time a client left a review about their staff member, he put their name in a drawing for a weekly lottery.  At the end of the week, they got to pick randomly out of a stack of cash and might end up with anything from $5 to $50.  This really should not cost an owner a ton of money, but it is well worth it if you are consistently getting new reviews for your listing.

The Test & Results:

I told him he should start doing this again, as I wanted to see if a bunch of new reviews coming in would help their rankings.   What we noticed was very interesting!  As you can see in the image below, rankings improved as they got more reviews.

I have also seen this pattern with other clients of ours. We recently had a client who got filtered back in the summer for keywords they had historically ranked very well for. When I dug into possible reasons why I noticed he hadn’t had a new review in over 3 years.  While these are obviously just 2 examples, I have seen this same pattern over and over.

How Often Do You Need New Reviews?

We get this question a lot and I know everyone hates this answer, but it depends and it’s all relative.  You really need to look at your competitors.  If they are getting new reviews every week, then you should be getting new reviews every week as well.  If you are in a less competitive industry or are in a smaller market, once a month probably would be fine.  What I can say for sure is that you do not want to stop getting new reviews. One tool that I love using for this is Pleper’s chrome extension. With it installed, you can do a search on Google Maps for a keyword and it will tell you how many reviews businesses have, on average, along with the top and least amount.

TL;DR: 

Based on our experience, review recency does matter… as we saw a direct correlation between new reviews and ranking increases!

It is against Google’s guidelines to incentivize people to leave reviews for you, but it is not against Google’s guidelines to incentivize your staff.  (Please note: there may be regulations against this in certain industries, so always do your research before starting something like this.) No matter what, it is important to continue getting new reviews on your listing as it does impact rankings.

We publish these case studies in order to help show examples of what we see regularly in the local search space. While it might not be conclusive evidence of how Google’s algorithm works, I strongly believe that seeing more case studies will help our community understand things better.  If you have case studies of your own, I’d encourage you to publish them.

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 10 Comments

  1. It makes sense that Google would reward businesses that garner reviews at, or above niche standards. It’s nice to to see this case study that supports the thought 🙂

  2. Is it the reviews or the fact that people are clicking on and engaging with the business profile? I know that people clicking on the business profile has been shown to increase rankings.

    1. I don’t think this distinction matter. I mean, if you want to incentivize people interacting with a GBP specifically, reviews are the most straightforward way to achieve that by an order of magnitude.

    2. This guy has one of the highest review counts in his area/industry. I’m not sure how new reviews would impact the CTR unless you’re starting to get a lot more in comparison to your competitors, which wasn’t the case here. I agree about CTR being a ranking factor – we’ve done lots of testing on that as well (along with reading others that are published).

  3. Yes! Especially post-covid it’s important to have recent reviews – not just for ranking – but to give prospective customers an idea of how you are doing these days. Many hotels may have a decent rating avg but all recent reviews are bad. It’s rough out there!

  4. What should a company do if their competitors are obviously purchasing reviews. I know Google did a sweep but I noticed there were a lot of companies that were not penalized by this.

    You mentioned a vicinity algorithm. I’ve seen companies funnel reviews to one location and then rotate to bolster up the reviews. What’s googles policy on that?

    1. Fake reviews are a tough problem to solve. Google is slowly getting better at catching and removing them. I don’t think funneling real reviews to a specific location is something Google could police or enforce whatsoever.

  5. I suspected this was the case. Thanks for the data to back it up. Did the vicinity update include a review component? I thought it was only targeting proximity issues.

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