It is our nature as humans to collect information before we make a decision. This is especially true when it comes to giving up something closely tied to our quality of life; our money. Customer reviews are perhaps some of the most powerful content placed on any web page. As early as 2010, researchers estimated that as many as 58% of Americans have researched a product or service online that they considered purchasing and as many as 24% had personally written a review about a product or service that they bought. Not only are reviews powerful indicators for consumers, they are also effective elements of optimization for websites in search.
Customer Reviews Provide A Fresh Pile of Content
Even if you are not heavily involved in the world of internet marketing and SEO, you have undoubtedly heard that search engines love content. Aside from transactional and communication purposes, people go online to get information. This is notably one of the best parts about the internet. Over the course of the past decade, the internet has become the central conduit through which we receive much of the information we consume. With that in mind, it is easy to see that content is the bread and butter for any search engine. Serving up high quality, new and well written information is what the leaders in search do best and it is also what internet users love. Product and service reviews provide this on a level that is much more powerful than a generic product description or a webmasters opinion. A study performed in 2010 by Brain Lais of Pure Oxegyn Labs on UGC across 10,000 unique product pages found that pages with UGC were crawled by engines 200% more than those without UGC and those same pages had 250% broader keyword reach. By removing the UGC (from search engine view) they were also able to show causality.
“Product Name” + Reviews
If you have ever done keyword research, inevitably you have seen that variants of key phrases have the word “review” attached to the end. Take virtually any B2C related keyword phrase and you will likely find that a large amount of searchers have been looking for reviews on it. It is safe to say that if what your selling doesn’t have any reviews on it, your business is not showing up in these results. There is no doubt that for any given product or service, there will be some kind of search volume however if your business is not utilizing reviews, you are likely missing out on a large chunk of high converting traffic.
An important KPI for any SEO is the click through rate of links found in SERP’s. After all, it is not really good enough that you get on the first page if you can’t get people to click through to your website. Customer reviews, especially those with well configured rich snippets and ratings, are more likely to get clicked on than those without these features.
Take this search for “laptops” (without quotes for actual search). Below are paid advertisements that showed up in the first three positions on the Google SERP. They all contain my keyword however one has reviews featured right below the header with a rating. My search term is very general. It is not clear whether I want to buy a laptop, look at images of laptops or maybe I don’t know what the heck a laptop is and I’m just looking it up. In any event, this ad has user generated content and a lot of it letting me know that more than 10,000 people thought this particular laptop was something to look at. Which ad would you click if you were looking to buy?
Another example are the results delivered for the phrase “Chrysler auto parts”. Being an avid auto parts buyer online, this is something I have personal experience with. People like to buy auto parts online for the same reasons they like to buy anything else online; its convenient and usually much cheaper. With auto parts however you have to be aware that not everyone is selling the best quality stuff. This is another instance where service reviews can increase CTR. If I can see that a large number of people have had a positive experience with this particular business, I’m more likely to look at their site first.
Increased Conversion Rates
Wow at this point I am beginning to think that reviews are a great thing for any website. Not only can they increase your site’s visibility in search, keyword reach and CTR; they will increase your conversion rate too! Of course this element of customer reviews is contingent upon the type of reviews you have on your site. If the majority of comments on your product or service are negative, don’t count on more sales. However, assuming that you are selling quality stuff, a referral from a current customer is perhaps the most powerful endorsement a business can receive.
Few people boot up their computer with credit card in hand thinking “I’m gonna buy something”. While this does happen, the majority of surfers are in an information search phase when they get online. They are looking to gather data which will accumulate in their mind until they reach their own personal tipping point into a buying phase. Savvy internet marketers know that they must provide good content to help searcher’s through this process as effectively as possible without turning them off. Reviews can help accelerate this process because a searcher is seeing unbiased (and hopefully uncensored) information about the things they are interested in. This type of content is far more effective at transitioning people from information search to buy mode.
This aspect of customer reviews may be one of the more powerful signals for search engines. When people write reviews of products, they use words that those also searching for the product would use in their own queries. This is copy that, by contrast, is hard to fit into marketing language or product descriptions. Take the keyword “best vacuum cleaners” plugged into the Google Keyword tool as an exact match term. It yields a little over 90,000 global monthly search results. All else being equal, this seems like a keyword that a retailer selling vacuum cleaners would want to target. Trying to fit that phrase into copy on different pages however may leave readers thinking that the website copy sounds “salesy” or “un-natural”.
A review on a vacuum cleaner retailer site however might read like this:
“Wow! Love this model. Its one of the best vacuum cleaners I’ve ever owned. A little noisy but works great! Highly Recommend!”
Now take even the most well thought out sales copy in a product description for a vacuum cleaner product page:
You will love the new XCV-2000. It features dual zone suction, a 20ft cord, and 13 attachments. It is one of the best vacuum cleaners you will ever own!
While that copy may work at first glance, it does more to turn consumers off and isn’t as powerful as the copy in the review because it comes from the business with a biased opinion. This falls under the basic notion that people love to buy stuff but they hate to be sold. The review “helps” them buy, the sales copy does not.
Reviewers inevitably use many other long tail keywords in their reviews without even knowing it helping products rank better than they otherwise would have and causing them to have broader keyword reach. Of course you must ensure that your reviews are crawlable for search engines.
Reviews are an important part of SEO and local SEO. Consumers primarily use the internet first as a research tool before a buying tool. UCG helps move this process along and provide very powerful signals to potential buyers. Conversely, the SEO benefits are also very great and if done correctly, those leaving reviews on your site can actually be doing some of your SEO work for you!
Do you utilize customer reviews on your site? Have they been helpful or have you noticed any difference in your SEO results?