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Last month, Google told the world it would be shuttering its Google Trusted Stores program, its long-standing ratings and certification program. Well the time has come, as the program said farewell this week. In its place, Google has launched “Google Customer Reviews” – a new ratings program that aims to be more accurate and valuable to consumers.

Customer Reviews vs. Google Reviews

The launch of the new program has brought some confusion, as Google now has two separate ratings systems.

The classic ratings system allows users to leave reviews and ratings on any business’s listing. These “Google Reviews” are then aggregated into the search results. While the system mostly works, there is one big issue – literally anyone can leave a review, whether they’ve been to your business or not.

With “Customer Reviews”, Google is aiming to make reviews more accurate and reliable by only allowing those who have legitimately made a purchase from the business’s website. That means no trolls bringing down your rankings, but the new program really only works for online retailers.

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After you’ve collected some reviews, you can highlight your high rankings on your site with a customizable badge.

Notably missing from the program is the customer protection aspect of the Trusted Stores program. Online businesses will have to turn to other certification programs to help prove they are a legitimate and reputable business.

How To Join Google Customer Reviews

Businesses that were already participating in the Trusted Stores program have been automatically migrated over to the new program.

If you’re an online merchant who isn’t already participating in the program, follow these four steps:

  1. Sign into or sign up for a Google Merchant Center account.
  2. Select “Merchant Center programs” from the dropdown menu in the upper-right corner.
  3. Click “Get Started” within the Google Customer Reviews card and accept the Program Agreement.
  4. Add the survey opt-in code to your site.

Once you’ve gotten all set up, you can put the badge code for displaying your seller rating anywhere you want on your website.

They say word-of-mouth is the best advertising a business can have. The same could also be said for the online version of this: user reviews. There are few better ways your company can earn the trust of potential customers than showing how much other customers have enjoyed your services or products.

Now, Google is giving an even bigger platform to user-generated business reviews by adding “Reviews from the web” to its Knowledge Panels that appear in search results. This comes a month after Google started including best-of lists and critic reviews in results for local search.

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Source: Google

Consumer reviews will appear in the Knowledge Panel exactly as critic reviews do, but they will be more visible on mobile where they appear before both critic reviews and best-of-lists. You can see how they will appear in the screenshots above and below:

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Source: Google

If you want to feature user-generated reviews from your site or another prominent review site, you need to mark up your content with Google’s review Schema. You must also abide by Google’s guidelines for inclusion.

Including the new “Reviews from the web” section, Google’s Knowledge Boxes are now prominently displaying three review sources. It will still be collecting and highlighting its own reviews, making it more important than ever for businesses to have a strategy to collect reviews from customers across a wide range of platforms.

Thanks to the increased profile of user reviews, it has never been easier for your customers to spread the word about your business to thousands of potential customers every day.

Online reviews can be the deciding factor in the success of small businesses or companies that are just starting out, and yet many businesses ignore the single most powerful free form of marketing. This infographic from Web Republic breaks down the current trends and effects of reviews including:

  • Amazon is the leading review site in America and 42% of all its customers have left at least one review.
  • Other top US review sites include Google+, Yahoo, Yelp, and TripAdvisor
  • Yelp is the review site with the most global traffic
  • 84% of all consumers read online reviews, reading an average of 4-6 reviews before they begin to trust a business
  • 76% of customers are willing to pay more for hotels with better reviews.

How are you encouraging happy customers to leave reviews?

Online Reviews infographic