Google’s latest star rating change: how it affects you and what you need to do?

Imagine you’re doing a Google search and you see two businesses in the local results, one with a two star rating review and one with a five, which would you click on?

It’s a no brainer, right?  You’d pick the one with five.

Why? Because when it comes to deciding where to spend our money, good star ratings go a long way. We love to know that people have used and had a great experience with a company before we buy from them. It’s trust building through social proof.

In fact, according to a survey by BrightLocal, star rating is the number one factor used by customers to judge a business. In addition, only 14% of consumers would consider using a business with a one to two star rating, whereas 94% of consumers would use a business with a four star rating.

So, stars matter. The less Google stars you have, the less traffic you will get.


Google’s star rating change

Up until recently, in order for Google stars to appear in your search listing, you needed to have at least five Google+ reviews on your Google business account. As of last month, however, you now only need as few as one.

While this may seem like a positive i.e. you only need to bother to attract one review to get you more attention in search, in reality, it has the potential to put your business in quick trouble. If the one review you do get is good: great, you’ll get more clicks. If it’s bad, on the other hand: just like that, you can wave goodbye to a wide pool of potential customers.

Of course, people are not totally swayed by stars, and they will pay attention to the number of reviews received, and when the reviews were given, but snap reactions are still likely to lead customers away from your business if it has a low visual review rating.

In addition to reducing the star ratings threshold, Google have also changed the way they calculate star averages. Under the previous Bayesian calculations, you could end up with a rating of 4.8 even when you had all five star reviews. Now, you’ll simply show five stars as they’ve decided to start calculating averages the standard way, as you did in school.

How to align your business with the stars

So the question is: what does your business need to do now to stay ahead?

In terms of the shift from Bayesian to standard average calculations, nothing – the outcome of this is positive.  However, in terms of the star rating threshold dropping to one, you do need to be thinking about taking action here; action to ensure you don’t fall victim to that one negative review.

The solution to this is pretty simple: get more Google+ reviews.

Why? Basically, the more reviews you get the more accurate your star ratings, and in turn people’s impression of your business, will be. It makes sense. Even if you attract one bad review, if you have five additional positive ones, you would still end up with a decent star rating because it would average out.

Wondering how to attract more reviews? Here are a few tactics to try:

  • Actively ask for them post-purchase either e.g. in person or via email, people are usually happy to do this if their experience has been a positive one Add links to your Google+ review page on your website, social media accounts, email signature, invoices, receipts etc. to prompt action
  • Include positive reviews in your email newsletters to encourage people to submit reviews which may then get published – after all, people like recognition
  • Incentivise reviews with discounts, coupons, but only do it for short periods of time otherwise it could get expensive and will make your reviews less believable

In addition to encouraging more reviews, ensure you respond sensitively and politely to any negative reviews you do get (as well as to positive ones). If you take the time to respond you are demonstrating good customer service so even if they do click on the stars to read the review they will get a more balanced impression.

Finally, and perhaps most importantly, strive to deliver great products and excellent levels of service – that way you’ll avoid any bad reviews in the first place.

Little stars, big impact

Google’s stars may be little but they can have a big impact on your business. As people place increasing importance on previous customer opinion, you need to ensure you’re attracting regular Google+ reviews, in order to keep those stars high and those clicks coming.