Which Awards Grow Your Local-Search Stature?

Every now and then I stumble across a business in Google Places that has a sweet “best-of” –type award sitting right at the top of its Places page.

I don’t run across these awards too frequently—but when a business has one, I notice it.

More often than not it’s a “Best of CitySearch” award, but sometimes I see other types.

Example of an award highlighted on a Google Places page

For a few years I’ve wondered how many “best local business” awards are out there and (more importantly) which ones can help a business attract more local customers in one way or another.

I did a little research and found some distinctions that can help your local visibility in some or all of the following ways.  These are awards that:

  • Google will showcase prominently at the top of your Places page,
  • You can take a picture of and upload as a photo on your Google Places page,
  • You can feature prominently and “talk up” on your website,
  • Earn you a link from the site that awarded you the distinction, or
  • Increase your visibility and reputation to customers on local-business sites other than Google Places.

Here are some of the most visibility-enhancing awards you can win (depending on your industry):

Angie’s List Super Service Award (see example on Places page)

Best of CitySearch (see example on Places page)

Gayot awards (see example on Places page)

OpenTable: Diner’s Choice (see example on Places page)

TravelandLeisure awards (see example on Places page)

TripAdvisor: Traveler’s Choice

Vitals: Patients’ Choice

Take a look at this spreadsheet for more info about each award.

Chances are your business is eligible for at least one of those awards.  But not necessarily.   It depends largely on your industry.  Just look into the ones that seem as though they might apply to you (that’s why I made the spreadsheet).

What if you try hard to get recognized as a “best-of” but don’t end up winning the blue ribbon?  Well, you’ll still come out ahead.  In order to pursue the award in the first place, you need to get tons of positive feedback from customers—often in the form of glowing reviews.  Those third-party reviews can help your Places ranking hugely (as you may know).  You’ll also boost your prominence or rankings on the site where you’ve been pursuing the award, which will mean more visibility to potential customers who use that site.

Most likely you’ll be pleasantly surprised with the results of your push to win—and you’ll get a snazzier-looking Places page, a good link, more bragging rights, and probably more local customers out of the deal.

By the way, please leave a comment if you know of any really good local-biz awards that aren’t on my list.  Extra kudos if you can find awards that you’ve seen highlighted on someone’s Google Places page (and that aren’t on my list).

Cold Hard Numbers on How Third-Party Reviews Help Google Places Rankings

Customer reviews are crucial to your local rankings and overall success in Google Places, as you may know.  You need reviews that customers write directly on your Google Places page, and you need customer reviews on third-party sites like InsiderPages, CitySearch, etc.

We know that the first type of reviews—“Google reviews,” written directly on your Places page—have a strong influence on Google Places rankings.  That’s well-established, and I’ve seen it to be the case throughout the 3 years I’ve been specializing in Google Local.

But what about reviews written on third-party sites?  Yeah, they’re important.  But what else do you know about third-party reviews and how they relate to your Google Places rankings?  Probably not much more or less than I did before I did a little fact-finding on the topic.

I took a “core sample” of 200 local markets and 1400 businesses in Google Places, in all different industries and cities in the US.

(Back in July of last year I did similar research, but that was on “Google reviews” and third-party reviews collectively.  This time I’m focusing on the third-party ones.)

Obviously this wasn’t exhaustive research—if it was, I’d be using my break from collecting data to  shop around for some glass eyeballs. However, I’ve got enough figures to answer some specific questions about how third-party reviews tie into first-page Google Places rankings.


“How many different third-party sites does a top-7 business have customer reviews on, on average?”

When you’re on a given Places page, how many distinct sites are shown as having reviews for that business?  For example:

How many sites are top-7 Google Places rankings typically reviewed on?

What I wanted to know is how the number of third-party review sites corresponds to Google Places rankings.  Here’s what I found:

Top-7 Places rankings typically have reviews on 1-2 third-party sites

Here are the naked numbers for the chart (that is, how many different third-party sites each ranking has customer reviews on):

A = 1.52

B = 1.46

C = 1.29

D = 1.06

E = 1.095

F = 0.99

G = 0.955

What do these numbers tell us?

First of all, there is a correspondence between the Google Places ranking of a business and how many third-party sites it has customer reviews on.  Maybe you intuitively knew that already, but now you have some numbers.

The top-3 rankings have customer reviews on more sites than rankings #4-7 do.  The difference is even clearer between A-B and F-G: rankings A-B generally have reviews on 1-2 third-party sites, whereas the lower rankings tend to have reviews on just one third-party site.  That’s a ratio of 3:2.  Put another way, the businesses at the top of the Google Places “7-pack” typically have customer reviews on 50% more third-party sites than the businesses at the bottom of the 7-pack have.

The numbers also tell us that if your business is in the top-7 of Google Places, chances are you’ve got customer reviews on at least one third-party site—meaning a medium other than Google Places or Yelp.com (because Yelp reviews no longer show up on Google Places pages).

This helps affirm what I’ve told my clients for a long time, and what Mike Blumenthal has suggested for quite a while: that you can’t simply rely on the reviews that customers write on your Places page.  If you’re serious about getting a top-7 Google Places ranking, one good place to start is with asking  some of your customers to write you reviews on at least one third-party site (InsiderPages, SuperPages, YellowPages, CitySearch, or another).


“How many third-party reviews does a top-7 business have, on average?”

Here’s what I found:

Top-7 Places rankings usually have 5-8 reviews on third-party sites

And again, the plain numbers for how many third-party reviews each ranking has (on average), between all the third-party sites where customers have posted reviews:

A = 8.255

B = 8.335

C = 5.87

D = 4.71

E = 4.235

F = 5.515

G = 4.325

What does this tell us?

The top-2 rankings have significantly more reviews than rankings C-G (3-7).  Once again, we’re seeing a difference of 50-100% between the top of the “7-pack” and the rest of it.

Again, this doesn’t count Google Places reviews (which obviously aren’t “third-party”) or Yelp reviews (which Google Places no longer uses).

Most of all, we’ve got a couple more handy ballpark numbers that you can work into your customer-review strategy:

  • If you’d like to get into the Google Places top-7, you should probably try to get at least 5 customer to write reviews on at least one third-party site.
  • Or if you’re already in the local top-7 and trying to get to the very top, your strategy should include getting at least 30-100% more customer reviews on third-party sites than the other top-7 businesses have.  In terms of reviews, there’s a big gap between #1 and #7.


“So how should I change my reviews strategy?”

Time for a recap.  Use the following as rules-of-thumb as you move forward:

1.  Don’t just focus on Google Places reviews; ask customers to review you elsewhere, too

2.  There’s a correspondence between your ranking and how many third-party sites you’re reviews on.  You’ll probably need reviews on one such site in order to get into the top-7.  But the more different third-party sites your customers can review you on, the better

3.  There’s also a correspondence between your ranking and how many total third-party reviews you have.  Ranking in the top-2 will probably require that you get 30-100% more customer reviews than your page-one local competitors have.

4.  If you’re trying to get into the Google Places top-7, a good initial benchmark is to get at least 5 customer reviews on at least one third-party site (SuperPages, CitySearch, etc.

5.  If you want to climb higher in the Google Places 7-pack, shoot for a total of about 8 reviews on at least 2 different third-party sites

By the way, you can download my spreadsheet with all the data, in case you’d like to roll up your sleeves and handle some numbers.

Of course, I’d appreciate your weighing in—leave a comment!