If you’ve ever bought anything online, you’ve encountered a typical online review. You might have found an aggregated “star” rating for a product you wanted to buy, or a poorly-spelled review about one user’s traumatic experience with it. Though customer reviews range in thoroughness and comprehensibility, they do hold a powerful effect on the behavior of your audience — and therefore, the performance of your brand.
It’s no secret that online reviews can be significant, but just how important are they to a marketing campaign? Can they really make or break a sale? Can the quantity or quality of the reviews you receive have that big of an impact on your company’s bottom line?
The number of online consumers who read and trust online reviews is increasing. According to a survey by BrightLocal, 88 percent of consumers trust online reviews as much as a personal recommendation — which is astounding, considering most online reviews are posted by total strangers. The same survey found that only 12 percent of the population did not regularly read reviews for consumer products.
What this means is that not offering user reviews (or ignoring them as a potential marketing opportunity) is akin to alienating 88 percent of your buying population, depriving them of information they want to help them make their buying decisions.
On-site Ranking Benefits
Enabling customer reviews on your site can have a positive effect on your company’s organic search rankings in search engines. For starters, each new review written about a product on your site increases the amount of unique content your site offers on that product, meaning you’ll be seen as having higher authority, more relevance, and, as such, a higher chance of getting those pages ranked. If that weren’t enough, there’s actually a way to microformat the reviews on your site so Google can index them directly and hold them as possible “rich answers” for user queries. Ostensibly, this would allow a review of your product to be featured above the fold of normal search results for queries specific to the product in question, giving you even more search visibility.
Off-site Ranking Benefits
The number of positive reviews you have on external websites might actually have a bigger impact on your rankings than the reviews on your own site. This is because Google’s local search algorithm incorporates data from a number of third-party directories and review sites, such as Yelp and TripAdvisor. These sites tend to review entire businesses, rather than specific products, but this is what’s responsible for the higher impact. Rather than an aggregate review influencing a buyer’s decision regarding a single product, your business’s aggregate reviews could affect whether or not a consumer considers pursuing your brand in general.
The more reviews you have on these sites, and the more positive they are, the higher chance you’ll have at ranking in Google’s local 3-pack, which is valuable regardless of whether you only operate locally or work on a national scale. Plus, some Google reviews could be included as “rich snippets” associated with your business directly.
Having more reviews for a product means you’ll have a higher conversion rate. This may not seem strange until you notice I said “reviews” and not just “good reviews.” That’s because the presence of bad reviews can also have a positive effect on your conversion rate. A blend of good reviews and bad reviews shows that you aren’t trying to hide anything, and makes the good reviews seem more sincere. Imagine finding a product with hundreds of 5-star reviews and not a bad or critical review in sight — you’d probably be suspicious, wouldn’t you? The more reviews you have, and the more honest they are, the more products you’re going to sell — as long as the negative reviews don’t overwhelm the positive ones.
It’s also worth mentioning that the importance of online reviews is rising in almost every conceivable area. BrightLocal surveys indicate that the importance of consumer reviews to buying decisions is increasing every year. Google’s local SEO algorithm changes only seem to increase the weight of consumer reviews in visibility and rankings. Plus, new tools and technologies for consumer reviews, such as new review platforms and new mediums like video, are emerging and quickly becoming more common. User reviews are here to stay, and the longer you wait to start optimizing your reviews, the more you stand to lose.
The Bottom Line
The simple answer to the questions I posed at the beginning of the article is yes, online reviews are tremendously important. Not only are they critically important to a vast majority of online shoppers, they’re also responsible for securing your online visibility in organic search rankings, and as they increase in importance and more competitors start doing more to encourage customer reviews, your involvement is only going to become more necessary.
Thankfully, you don’t need any special training to encourage positive online reviews; in fact, getting things started is easy. All you’ll need to begin is a review function on your site, microformatted for Google’s web crawlers (if you don’t already have one), and a claimed presence on as many local review sites as possible.
From there, it’s on you to encourage reviews however you can — it’s against the terms and conditions of Yelp and most other third-party directories to buy or even ask for reviews directly, but you can always indirectly influence review submissions by making your presence known (and making it easy for users to review you).
From there, it’s all about taking action on negative reviews and reinforcing positive ones. In a matter of months, you’ll have a wealth of reviews to work with and support your other online marketing campaigns.