Review sentiment reflects common perception, but is it a ranking factor?In this chapter, we will cover claims and evidence.
Review sentiment reflects the general opinion customers share in their reviews of a merchant's product or service.
Some believe that sentiment, whether positive or negative, can have an impact on a business's search rankings.
Concerns about these claims are justified because if rankings can be lowered by bad reviews, it would leave businesses vulnerable to negative SEO attacks.
Instead, there are concerns that competitors will artificially inflate their rankings with fake positive reviews.
There is no doubt that review sentiment affects consumer behavior and affects metrics like conversion rates.
But does it have any effect on Google's search rankings?
Let's look at the claims and evidence surrounding review sentiment as a ranking factor.
Disclaimer: Review sentiment is a ranking factor
In discussions about Google ranking factors, review sentiment has been brought up, with some claiming that positive sentiment can improve rankings and negative sentiment can lower rankings.
There are many reasons for these claims.
One of the most frequently cited "evidence" is the correlation between highly ranked websites and businesses with positive reviews.
Sentiment analysis happens to be a feature included in SEO software, which can lead to the conclusion that review sentiment has an impact on search rankings.
Roger Montti of Search Engine Magazine has published an article detailing where statements around sentiment originate and why they persist.
In addition to what was mentioned in Montti's article, Google's Search Quality Rating Guidelines also played a role in keeping review sentiment as a recurring topic in SEO.
Google's Search Quality Rating Guidelines
Google confirmed the claim that review sentiment is a ranking factor in its search quality rating guidelines..
Section 2.6 of the guidelines tells Google's quality raters what to look out for when evaluating a website or content creator's reputation.
There are many dos and don'ts for checking review sites to learn more about a business' reputation.
Here is an example:
"Customer reviews help to assess the reputation of a store or business.However, you should interpret these comments with caution, especially if there are only a few.Be suspicious of positive and negative user reviews.Anyone can write them, including the creator of the website or someone hired by a store or business for the purpose.
Some have drawn conclusions about review sentiment as a ranking factor based on the above conclusions.
However, search quality raters have no direct impact on search rankings, nor are the guidelines they follow based on what Google's algorithm uses as a ranking factor.
Quality raters collect feedback on Google search results to help ensure that pages appearing in the SERP meet certain quality thresholds.
One of the ways to measure the quality of a web page is to check the reputation of the website that publishes the page.
Headlines related to this chapter of the Quality Rating Guidelines spread in 2017 after Google's Gary Illyes spoke at a conference on the topic of reputation analysis.
Some attendees misunderstood his statement and falsely reported that Illyes said reputation affects a site's position in search results.
However, Illyes is only discussing how the quality rating guidelines work.
While customer reviews are an integral part of reputation research, the guide does recommend treating them with a degree of skepticism.
Thankfully, Google has clearly addressed this issue and made it clear whether review sentiment is a ranking factor.
Evidence for review sentiment as a ranking factor
Research may attempt to demonstrate that review sentiment is a ranking factor by showing a correlation between customer reviews and a site's position in search results.
We'll only look at proven evidence, Google has said repeatedly, comment sentimentNotranking factor.
Google's Gary Illyes was quick to deny the claims that started circulating online after his conference talk, which we touched on in the previous section.
Not only does Google not use sentiment as a ranking factor, its algorithms don't even recognize sentiment.
Google's Danny Sullivan confirmed this in 2018.
If Google has no concept of what emotion is, it can't use emotion to rank.
That should be enough to end speculation surrounding review sentiment as a ranking factor, but the theory goes on.
In 2021, Sullivan was asked if there had been any change in sentiment since he last said Google acknowledged the sentiment.
He confirmed that nothing had changed.
Google's algorithm still doesn't recognize emotion.
Review sentiment as a ranking factor: our judgment
Review sentiment was confirmed not to be a ranking factor for organic search rankings, although we do acknowledge that it is a factor for local search rankings.
This has been the case since Google's inability to recognize emotions was infamously exploited..
Back around 2010, a company angered customers so much that they would write bad reviews.
This is done on purpose, as links received from reviews push the company's website higher in search results.
Google didn't realize the people linking to the company were saying negative things, and Google only acknowledged the links.
Since then, Google has gotten better at not rewarding sites that deceive customers, but Google's emotional apathy remains.
Review sentiment can directly affect other areas of online marketing, but search rankings are not one of them.