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Do Keywords In Reviews Impact Local Rankings? A Case Study

Last updated: Feb 15, 2024

Do keywords in reviews impact local rankings

Do the keywords in customer reviews impact local Google rankings?

Many people believe that keywords in Google reviews impact local rankings because the keywords from the search query can be found within local justifications (little snippets) next to the listing. 


However, correlation doesn’t equal causation


I want to remind you on organic meta descriptions and how Google handles them. Google bolds text from the search query to make it more standout in the meta description, but the meta description itself including those bold words have no effect on rankings. 


That’s why a justification snippet within the search results doesn’t prove its effect on rankings. 


So here is a case study that includes an example of a Google Maps listing that I have analyzed.

Why are keywords in reviews relevant?

If keywords in reviews would affect local rankings, it would make sense to ask customers to leave extensive reviews filled with relevant keywords. SEO agencies would even advise their clients to get reviews and stuff them with keywords so that they can get better results on local search. 


It’s certainly not something that’s fully under an SEOs control but it can still have an impact on how agencies and freelancers would do their jobs. 

Hypothesis: Keywords in reviews affect rankings

So my hypothesis is that keywords in reviews impact rank on local search and Google Maps. That’s what I want to prove or disprove. 

Here is an example of a listing that shows a justification review snippet on Google Maps:

Maps listing with keywords in reviews

Now when you see this, your SEO brain instantly tells you that we’ve a got a match. But is that really a match just because it bolds the keyword and pulls the review snippet to the listing? That’s what I want to figure out.

Do Keywords in Google Reviews Impact Rankings - Case Study Part 1

The approach

Sample 1

I was searching for one listing in a niche of my choice. In this case study I’m using “spa NYC”. NYC stands for New York City, for those who aren’t familiar with the term.


I’ve added it so everyone can replicate the search. If I was going to use a generic term only it would show listings in my area, not a particular area that can be used by everyone. 


With NYC we have an area in common. It will not be the same result for everyone as Google is constantly changing listings and testing different positions. So if you get different results that might be just normal.

Sample 2

Now that I’ve got my key term “spa NYC”, I was looking for a term in the reviews of the results that isn’t so common that I could add to get unique test results. So that when I add it to my query, only a few listings would include it in their reviews. 


In this case the term was “pounds”. So I did two searches. One for “spa NYC” and another for “spa NYC pounds”. The term sounds irrelevant but that’s exactly what I was looking for. If it was a relevant term, it would show up everywhere such as the website, the reviews, the names, you name it. 


That would change the results based on these other factors. “Pounds” is only used by a few reviewers and doesn’t occur in other parts of the Google Business Profile, the website or anywhere else on the listing. 

So here is the initial result for “spa NYC”:

Google Maps listing

The third result “Guerlain Spa” is our sample listing. You can see that #1 is “Dolphin Blue Spa – NYC Best Day Spa” and #2 is “NYC Massage and Spa”. 


Here is the result if I search for “spa NYC pounds”:

keywords in reviews

As you can see, our sample listing “Guerlain Spa” dropped from #3 to #10 even though the word “pounds” is part of a review. 


The word “pounds” doesn’t appear in 8 of the other 9 listings’ reviews. The question is, why would those other listings be more relevant, even though our listing has “pounds” in one review. And Google is even recognizing that through marking it bold and pulling it as a justification snippet to the result. 


That’s why I went through all the other listings to make sure the word “pounds” didn’t appear on any of their connected websites, their names or any other part of their Google Business Profile. The word “pounds” didn’t show up anywhere. 


I’ve run a Google site search to make sure no pages are indexed that included “pounds”.

no site search results

And I went through all the other listings’ reviews to make sure “pounds” wasn’t included there.

no review mentions

Variance of results

As I mentioned in the last part, one of the other listings included the word “pounds”. Someone mentioned it 3 times in one of the reviews. See screenshot:

3 keywords in google maps review

This “Oasis Day Spa” has one review that contains “pounds” 3 times. 


This listing jumped into #3 in our test. Now you might think that the more often a keyword is included in a review the heavier in terms of power the review gets. However, #2 and #1 also jumped in. 


They weren’t at those positions before. Which is why I’ve analyzed their listings as well and I couldn’t find any indication that “pounds” were in any way related to their listings. They even have worse review counts and scores. But that might also just be a coincidence and Google is testing different listings. 

Side test

Since I wanted to test it by using a relevant exact match keyword as well. In this case I searched for “spa Los Angeles” and “spa Local Angeles priced/affordable”. Why this one? Because I found it in one of the reviews of our second sample “The Sense Massage & Wellness Center”.


As you can see, this listing, too, dropped from 35 to 62 even though it was the only listing that contained this exact phrase “priced/affordable”.

exact match keywords in reviews

Keywords impact rankings in local search - case study part 2

The Approach

By searching for the term “spa [city] with Jacuzzi” in the biggest 25 cities in the US I want to figure out how many times listings with the word “jacuzzi” in the reviews show up within the first 3 search results on local search, aka the map pack.

I want to test if the number of appearances and mentions of the word “jacuzzi” in the 3-pack is significantly higher than the number of appearances in the 3-pack when you only search for “spa [city]”. 

So I want to test whether adding the phrase “with jacuzzi” to the search term impacts local search results positively for the listings that contain the word “jacuzzi” in their reviews.


The reviews that include our keyword have to be positive with at least 4 stars. Because that’s the reviews that we assume to have a positive impact on rankings. I’m not trying to figure out how keywords in reviews can negatively affect rankings. 

Another condition is that we only looked at spa-related categories. Some cities showed many “hot tub”-related listings that would skew our experiment. Google treats categories differently, that’s why we want to stick to one type of category: day spa, spa or sauna.


The word “jacuzzi” appears in 81 reviews on 17 listings within the first 3 search results for the term “spa [city]”.

The word “jacuzzi” appears in 165 reviews on 42 listings within the first 10 search results for the term “spa [city]”.

Current state

The word “jacuzzi” appears in 81 reviews on 17 listings within the first 3 search results for the term “spa [city]”.

The word “jacuzzi” appears in 165 reviews on 42 listings within the first 10 search results for the term “spa [city]”.

keywords in reviews data table
Do keywords in reviews impact rankings on local search & Google Maps? Case study part 2


Part 1

Adding the keyword “pounds” to our search queries didn’t affect rankings in a positive way. Quite the contrary, our sample listing and listings in side tests lost rankings when searched for the main query plus the keyword. 

The sample listing “Guerlain Spa” dropped from #3 to #10. 

Our side test sample “The Sense Massage & Wellness Center” dropped from #35 to #62 when I compared results for “spa Los Angeles” and “spa Los Angeles priced/affordable”.

Part 2

Adding the key phrase “with jacuzzi” to our search term “spa [city]” had overall a positive impact on local search results. Listings that have reviews including the word “jacuzzi” were more likely to be found within the first 3 results than when we searched for only “spa [city]”. 

The number of listing appearances with at least one review that contained our target keyword “jacuzzi” went from 17 to 29. That means that 12 listings got into the 3-pack that weren’t there before that have at least one review that included the target keyword. 

In those 17 listings we found 81 keyword mentions within the reviews. That number went up to 155. That is 74 more mentions than before. 

Among the top 10 listings for “spa [city]” of the 25 cities, 25 listings that mentioned “jacuzzi” in the reviews could be found on position 4-10. From those 25 listings, 12 jumped into the 3-pack additionally, totalling 29. 13 didn’t make it from top 4-10 into the top 3. 

Only in 3 cities, Phoenix, Denver, and Washington DC the 3-pack lost a listing that had a keyword mention in its review section. The 3-packs of 11 cities won another relevant listing. 12 3-packs didn’t change.


It’s not unlikely that keywords in local Google reviews affect rankings at this time. Even though our first tests didn’t show a correlation, the difference between before and after in our second test is around 30%. 30% more listings got into the 3-pack that contained at least one keyword in their reviews. 


You can also see that whenever the difference in the number of keyword mentions in reviews is higher than average, the 3-pack got filled with at least one business listing that wasn’t there before. 


So it’s likely that the number of keyword mentions plays a role in the ranking process. Since our first test didn’t have many mentions, the term that we were trying to analyze might just be not relevant (quantitative) enough to push rankings higher. Or Google doesn’t think the term has anything to do with the keyword and therefore doesn’t place much importance on the term in the reviews. 


We’ve also seen that one listing “Oasis Day Spa” from the first test, that had 3 keyword mentions in their reviews, jumped into the 3-pack. So this might have been not a coincidence but the fact that the number of keywords in reviews certainly plays a significant role in the ranking process. 


The variance of the results can be a result of other ranking factors like mentioning the keyword or synonyms and close variants on the website, backlinks and their anchor texts, and synonyms and close variants in the service section. 

To summarize the conclusion, keywords in reviews seem to impact rank. It also seems that the more such keywords appear in reviews the more they impact rankings. 


However, we cannot be 100% sure as there is still the possibility that the results occurred randomly as like with all things SEO, there are quite a lot of factors involved and testing things isolated is mostly not possible. 


Would love to see other tests about that. If you want to do a test yourself, feel free to reach out. 


Thanks for reading. I hope you liked the study. Feel free to agree or disagree with me in the comments below and let me know what you think. 


About the author

Picture of Tim Kahlert

Tim Kahlert

Tim Kahlert is the founder & CEO of He is a passionate SEO professional who has been helping agencies and small business owners succeed on local search and Google Maps for the past 5 years. He's regularly sharing high-quality local SEO & Google Business Profile strategies on his channels. Tim is also a contributor to the Whitespark Local Search Ranking Factor Study. Click on the author name or the social icons below to learn more and connect with Tim.

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