Marco Pericci /
Product reviews: How to use them to boost online sales
Increasing online sales with an owned e-commerce site or selling on marketplaces is no simple undertaking for e-commerce managers. Product reviews can play a key role here.
illustration of Francesco Zorzi
The online sales market is consistently growing, but as demand for products and services grows, so does the supply. There is competition with a burgeoning number of stores of all sizes and product sectors and consumers are increasingly aware and well-informed.
This means we need to use the right strategy to create a successful e-commerce business, monitoring three key factors that determine revenue: number of visitors, conversion rate, and average purchase value.
In this post, we’ll analyze the role of product reviews in improving an e-commerce site’s rate of conversion, which is the percentage of visitors that make a purchase and become customers.
Product reviews are the numerical ratings (typically on a scale of 1 to 5) and descriptive evaluations of how well a product has met a customer’s needs and expectations after a purchase.
Product reviews are on the company’s e-commerce sites, marketplaces, Google My Business listings, social media, Trustpilot, Verified Reviews and other independent rating platforms. They are the classic example of user-generated content that helps break down the natural barrier of doubt and distrust that might hold a user back on their buyer journey as they first approach a brand/shop they are unfamiliar with.
Product reviews help users when evaluating information and they help companies set their e-commerce strategy, help algorithms rank search results and help marketing and advertising campaigns. Let’s look at how they do this.
Product reviews improve your e-commerce performance: some data
Purchase preferences and the ability to evaluate alternatives in e-commerce have evolved to become more sophisticated. It is less and less likely that today’s consumers, experienced and well-informed, would trust “only” nice product photos, a detailed description or other marketing content provided directly by companies. They want to know more.
And this is where product reviews play a crucial role in increasing sales.
Here are some data from a recent HubSpot study that you should understand:
● 89% of consumers around the world check online reviews before making purchases
● 49% of consumers in the world put other consumers’ reviews in the top 3 of the factors that influence their purchases
● 62% of consumers in the world would stop using platforms that censor reviews
● 55% of consumers would prefer to buy a product with a large number of reviews with a medium rating, rather than a product with a limited number of reviews with an excellent rating
Giving customers the chance to evaluate their experience with the product is still uncomfortable for many e-commerce managers, who worry that an unsatisfied buyer may leave negative feedback.
But these numbers speak for themselves. Consumers trust impartial, unbiased reviews. Very often, in 81% of cases, direct suggestions from an acquaintance, a friend or a family member are more valuable than content from the business, and users are careful to verify and have a positive opinion of the truth of a product evaluation profile, even if it leads to negative reviews.
Transparency is no longer optional, it’s a must and the human factor is still hugely important, driven by the need for support, feedback and affirmation from those we consider peers.
According to a study from the University of Illinois Northwestern University, the conversion rate of a product can increase by 142% as it gradually gathers reviews.
● Increase trust in the brand
● Serve as social proof
● Show that you are an expert in the field
● Gaining consumer trust and improving performance will be increasingly influenced by transparency and having reliable information.
As Paul Kirwin, CEO of Social Signal on Forbes, put it:
“Future e-commerce leaders will excel in providing shoppers with the unbiased facts and opinions they need to make faster, more informed decisions.”
Product reviews help you learn more about your buyer personas
Product reviews are not only an important factor in e-commerce conversions when information is evaluated by users. They can also be a source of important information for companies to use upstream in the process of defining marketing strategy, communication and adding value to their unique selling proposition.
To increase e-commerce sales, you need to implement a strategy that is built specifically based on the needs of the target consumers. To do so, you need to understand who your ideal customers are, and defining buyer personas can be a great help here.
Have you ever wondered what drives customers to buy your products over those of your competitors?
Buyer personas are detailed portraits of a business’s ideal customer (or a specific target), understood by analyzing and processing real or hypothetical data. They are an identity profile of the ideal customer that facilitates knowing your audience to let you build an offer focused on their preferences.
In defining buyer personas (or marketing personas or customer personas), all available information about customers can be useful, including:
● Personal data
● Psychographic data
● Purchase processes
The more sources you have, the more accurate and useful this profile will be.
The descriptive evaluation in product reviews is a valuable source of this type of data. Though this might seem obvious, many e-commerce managers do not consider reviews at all from this point of view.
In product reviews, customers describe their experience and provide information on:
● Product strengths and weaknesses
● Strengths and weaknesses of the services related to the sale and purchase process
● Purchase motivation
● How the product is used
● Feelings related to their consumer experience
● Comparisons with competitors
These and other data are valuable assets for companies. Reviews let you know more about customers and products and can (or, really, must) be used to define the brand’s inventory marketing and communication leverage points, giving the customer what they are looking for and improving any weaknesses.
Doing this right will definitely be a major spur to online sales.
Product reviews and SEO: How they improve ranking
Now we come to a more technical part of this mini guide but one that is key to analyzing how product reviews increase e-commerce sales.
In addition to consumers and businesses, product reviews help search engine algorithms to determine ranking in the SERP, the online search results page.
SEO, Search Engine Optimization, is the set of steps that can optimize a web page so that it can be positioned as high as possible in search results.
In the vast sea of online content, SEO is the answer to the question: “How do I make sure customers find me online?
Well, SEO for e-commerce is one of the best ways to bring traffic to the store and it should be the priority of e-commerce managers to organize the actions to have their products found before those of competitors.
Among others, reviews are a major ranking factor used by search engine algorithms to determine the order of SERP results.
The more a product is visible, the more it is clicked, visited and (maybe) purchased. This is true on Google and even more so for internal search engines in marketplaces such as Amazon and eBay.
Product reviews and Amazon SEO
Amazon A10 is the algorithm used by the internal search engine of Amazon, the most important marketplace in the world, to organize search results and return to the user a result to best meet their needs.
Amazon’s algorithm responds to the need to show customers the products that have the greatest chance of being sold based on the specific combination of text search and filter settings.
There are many ranking factors that determine the order in which products are shown. Many factors are not known externally, but some are more important in the algorithm than others. Product reviews are definitely one of the most important factors.
How much can your product sell if it is shown on the tenth page on Amazon after dozens of competitors?
Unbiased customer reviews have always been one of Amazon’s major strengths. It stimulates and gives value to user ratings to rank products and sellers to meet customer demands.
There is no one ideal number of reviews to get on a product. A lot depends on the product sector and competitors and certain features determine the quality of the review that most benefits positioning, such as:
● High rating (as close as possible to 5 stars)
● Text length
● Relevant keywords in the text
● Images and/or videos
If you sell on Amazon (this also applies to eBay), put in place a feedback collection strategy for your products and analyze the positive impacts on sales.
Ratings and reviews improve ranking on Google
Although indirectly, Google uses customer feedback as a factor for SEO ranking. They can add a great deal of value to the SEO strategy in very competitive markets where excellence in optimization is required.
Customer ratings and reviews on the product pages of an e-commerce site improve some key factors that Google considers to organize search results:
- CTR (Click Through Rate) through Rich Snippets
- In-depth and keyword-optimized content
- Length of user visits
Let’s look at how reviews affect each of these factors.
Ratings and reviews improve CTR thanks to Rich Snippets
Snippets are the content that Google shows in search results: title, URL and the page’s meta-description. This content can be clicked by the user to switch from the search engine to the site in question.
Literally, rich snippets are content enriched with additional information to that provided by default in snippets, including details to give the user a clearer preview to choose which result to click on.
In e-commerce businesses, one of these additional pieces of information could be a user product evaluation which is given a ranking from 1 to 5, visually represented by the classic gold stars.
According to Google Search Central, a Rich Snippet Review is
“is a short excerpt of a review or a rating from a review website, usually an average of the combined rating scores from many reviewers.”
In effect, when e-commerce developers implement the mark-up of this data, the SERP shows an average rating of the product, the stars under the URL. If the product evaluation is excellent, this will be another reason that spurs users to click that result rather than another one, even if positioned just below.
All this improves a key piece of data for Google, the CTR (Click Through Rate), the percentage of people who click on your site. The higher your site’s CTR, the higher your site will be positioned in the search results for a given keyword.
Product reviews improve content
As I mentioned at the start, reviews are a great example of user-generated content ensuring new and constantly updated content for product detail pages.
As Google has said, for SEO purposes, there’s no difference between content created by you and that created by users. Any type of content page will be taken into consideration by the spiders to determine ranking.
Richer, more up-to-date text content is best positioned, especially if customers use keywords for your business like the product name, brand name and special features, as they often do.
Reviews increase the time spent on a page
Lastly, a significant number of product reviews helps increase the time that users stay on a specific page.
This is another factor for Google ranking. If a user “bounces” off of your site a few seconds after clicking, it likely means that they did not find what they were looking for, which sends a negative signal to the search engine.
More reviews, on the other hand, mean it takes longer to read them, increasing the time that the user stays on the page. Google reacts very positively to this data point.
Product reviews: how to use them in an advertising campaign
Product reviews can also be used to improve the performance of an advertising campaign on Facebook and Google ads.
This is a less common use of reviews, which I consider a mistake.
We have looked at the data that confirmed that positive reviews greatly increase user trust in an online brand or store. Why not use them in a Facebook/Instagram ad campaign or in Google/YouTube ads?
For e-commerce businesses, the ideal structure for these paid advertising campaigns is based on creating specific content for each part of the marketing funnel in which a potential customer is situated.
We can identify three general phases of the process that leads a user to become a customer:
- TOFU, Top of Funnel
- MOFU, Middle of Funnel
- BOFU, Bottom of Funnel
In the TOFU phase, the user does not know the brand or does not realize that it could satisfy one of their needs with a particular product. In the MOFU phase, they’ve already come in contact with the brand but need more information. In the BOFU phase, the final purchase decision is made.
It is the Middle of the Funnel when it can be most profitable to show product reviews.
In the MOFU phase, the user has already come into contact with the brand and has already interacted with it in some sense, such as by a like on an Instagram post or a visit to the product page but has not yet made a purchase.
They likely need an additional spur to the next phase of the funnel, such as details that might be informational or emotion based.
A tracking system can let us precisely identify users who have already done one of these actions and create content tailor-made for them. One useful example could be showing a slider of images (or short video) that takes the best positive reviews from customers who have made a purchase on the site, aware of the impact that telling the experiences of others can have on prospective customers.
This could be a powerful motivation to continue the process that had been interrupted and bring the user back to the site to make the purchase.