Negative reviews can impact rankings, says Google analyst

Posted on August 6, 2020

 

No business or website wants to receive poor reviews. They have long been seen as an off-putting metric to humans, but not algorithms. However, Google’s Webmaster Trends Analyst John Mueller has hinted that in extreme cases, negative reviews may affect a site’s rankings.

In a video call on Monday, RustyBrick CEO Barry Schwartz asked Mueller if there is any correlation between a bad online reputation and the company or site’s overall Google rankings. The exchange starts at the 3:05 mark in the below video:

Mueller says that generally, “a handful of” poor reviews will not be enough to have any significant effect on rankings, but if all the signals are pointing towards unhappy customers, this is something he “could imagine” Google would pick up.

The response appears to be something of a revision of what Mueller said on July 21 when asked whether a review site featuring in rich result snippets for a brand name could harm its rankings. On that occasion, Mueller reassured the brand owner that this was not something to worry about. When prompted further by Schwartz this week, however, Mueller suggested that it is possible that user unhappiness could affect rankings, but only if the signal is “really strong”, and that such instances are “probably pretty rare”.

The link between human reviews and search engine rankings has been a matter of interest to analysts for some time. As part of his question, Schwartz drew attention to a case back in 2010 of a company that was suspected to be delivering miserable customer service on purpose because the resultant angry interactions were helping its rankings. At that time, the algorithm was not sophisticated enough to differentiate between good and bad engagement.

It seems that today, an exceptionally poor customer experience like this would harm a website’s rankings, but for most companies, it’s simply a case of keeping the majority of customers happy and responding to any negative reviews quickly.

For advice on what really can make a difference to your rankings, get in touch with us at Engage Web.

John Murray

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