How customer reviews will drive rankings in Google’s Search Generative Experience

“We know that people want to hear other people’s experiences to help them make decisions.”

That’s what Google say about the development of Search Generative Experience (SGE). Soon, being found online won’t just be about optimised websites and targeting keywords. It will be about your entire digital footprint, including how other people talk about your brand.

In this article, we’ll explore how this evolution is set to shift the way businesses approach online visibility and give you a clear strategy going forward.

Understanding and adapting to these changes is crucial for anyone looking to stay ahead in the digital marketplace. So let’s demystify SGE–your roadmap to mastering the future of online search starts here.

To understand why external content will be so powerful for online visibility, first, we need to get familiar with the goal of SGE. 

According to Google:

“With the new generative AI functions, search becomes even more efficient. Thanks to these advances, you can understand a topic more quickly, gain new perspectives and insights, and complete your tasks more easily.”

What does this mean in practice? Imagine a traveller, let’s call her Sarah, planning a trip to Paris. She’s not just looking for any accommodation; she wants to stay in a quintessentially Parisian boutique hotel. It has to be pet-friendly because her dog Roscoe goes wherever she goes. Sarah also cares about sustainable practices and wants to make the most of Paris’s café scene.

Traditionally, Sarah might search “pet-friendly boutique hotels near Eiffel Tower”. She would likely click on a few different pages, weigh up the amenities, read vague descriptions, and cross-reference locations. Then once she’d narrowed down her best options, she might check for sustainability credentials and search the areas for local cafés. 

SGE aims to condense Sarah’s quest into a single, intuitive search query: “Eco-friendly pet-friendly hotel in Paris near cafes”.

The websites that Google’s AI thinks are the most relevant for that query will show up at the top of the page, above organic rankings (and sometimes even above paid ads).

So how can you feed Google the information it needs to ensure your business shows up where it matters most?

Look beyond your website

As we pointed out at the start of this article, Google is interested in hearing what other people think of your brand, not just how you present yourselves.

That’s not to say that you needn’t bother optimizing your website for search—far from it—but it means that external content is just as important. This includes:

  • Your customer reviews
  • Your social media profiles (and what you post there)
  • Mentions of your brand on other websites and social media

Together, these create a complete picture of your brand authority that tells Google how to include you in the search results. Their goal is to provide the most relevant content for their users, so the more information they have about you, the more accurately their algorithms can figure out where to place you.

Customer reviews: the next big thing for SGE ranking

Of the types of external content we mentioned above, we think reviews will become one of the most important factors for ranking when SGE rolls around. Why? Not only do reviews provide insights from people who’ve actually used your products or services, they also tell Google more about what you do well and how certain demographics might experience your business.

To prepare for SGE, we recommend three things:

  • Get more reviews
  • Encourage more detailed reviews
  • Reply to your reviews

1. How to get more reviews

Most businesses take a hands-off approach to reviews. They expect some, though not all, happy customers to share their feedback and leave their review volume up to chance.

If you want to reap the benefits of reviews for SGE, you need to take a more proactive approach. There are many ways you can encourage customers to leave reviews. The key is to make it as quick, convenient and easy as possible. 

Here are a few ideas to get you started:

  • Generate a direct Google review link through your Google My Business listing. This will prevent a poor user experience where a customer has to navigate through multiple screens to share their feedback.
  • Add the link to your email signature for a subtle review reminder that is seen many times a day.
  • Add the link to your website in high-traffic areas like your homepage to prompt return visitors.
  • Create a template review request email to run strategic review campaigns. Great copy, personalisation and a direct link can help increase your review volume.
  • Design “Leave us a review” cards and a QR code with your review link. Distribute the cards with transactions or strategically place them around your business.
  • Add a review invitation to the end of your surveys. Since respondents have already shown a willingness to provide feedback, they’re more likely to take this extra step.

Pro tip 💡 use review management software to automate review collection. Platforms like Customer Alliance offer the most efficient way to consistently increase your reviews. Our software sends automatic invitations that allow your customers to leave public reviews in a matter of seconds, with no manual work on your end.

2. How to encourage more detailed reviews

Many reviews are surface-level, and don’t go into detail about their experience. This is fine if you just want to build up your review score on portals like Google or Yelp. However, to give search algorithms more information about your business your reviews need to include relevant keywords.

Simple prompts can help you get richer reviews that offer more information for potential customers and Google alike. For example, rather than simply asking guests you leave a review, you could ask them if there was anything they particularly enjoyed about their experience or the nature of their visit. 

You can also think about this strategically. Say you’re a general manager of a hotel, and one of your unique selling points is your proximity to a popular tourist attraction. In this case, you might encourage guests to mention how they found the location convenient for their sightseeing plans. 

Questions like, “Did our proximity to [Tourist Attraction] enhance your stay?” or “How did you find the convenience of getting to [Tourist Attraction] from our hotel?” can guide guests to provide reviews that highlight this key aspect of your hotel.

Remember, it’s important to make these prompts as natural and unobtrusive as possible. The aim is to encourage guests to share their genuine experiences in a way that also feeds directly into SGE’s demand for specificity and personalisation

3. How to reply to reviews

The quality of your responses can be just as influential as the reviews themselves in shaping public perception and improving your SGE rankings. Responding to all types of reviews, not just the positive ones, shows a well-rounded and authentic approach to customer service. It provides additional content for SGE algorithms to scan, improving your search relevance and demonstrating active engagement with your customer base. 

A good review response should be personalised, addressing the customer by name if possible, and reflect genuine appreciation for their feedback. Whether the review is positive or negative, acknowledge the customer’s experience. 

For positive reviews, express gratitude and reiterate any specific points they praised, subtly incorporating relevant keywords. For example, if a review mentions the high-quality breakfast at your hotel, you could suggest the guest might enjoy the restaurant’s signature three-course tasting menu during their next stay.

In the case of negative reviews, respond with empathy and a commitment to improve. Apologise for any issues they faced, and if appropriate, offer a way to rectify the situation. This not only demonstrates good customer service but also reassures potential customers reading the reviews. 

Pro tip 💡 use AI to keep up with your review responses.
As you collect more reviews, you may find that it’s hard to respond to each one manually. Customer Alliance’s AI Reply Assistant will drastically reduce the time spent replying while generating consistently high-quality, personalised responses.

Get SGE-ready with a solid review management strategy

With SGE on the horizon, your customer reviews are set to become more crucial than ever. They’re not just snapshots of customer sentiment. They’re the blueprint for how you show up online.

The key isn’t just getting more reviews–it’s getting richer, more detailed feedback. Engage with these reviews genuinely–thank your customers, address concerns, and show you’re listening. It’s not just good customer service; it’s smart SEO strategy.

Embrace this shift. Use your reviews to paint a vivid picture of your business for Google’s AI. Do this, and you’re not just adapting to the future of search–you’re owning it.