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Why Do User Reviews Affect E-Tail?



If you are at all trying to stay current on the state of internet retailing, you have probably heard from many sources that you should consider collecting and displaying user reviews for the products you sell.

This makes sense. It is important to understand that people are starting to trust collaborative wisdom more than sources that traditionally would be considered more authoritative.

Read this report from Pew Internet. If you want your eyes opened, look at the graph on page four that compares traffic between Wikipedia and Encarta. If that will not wake you up, nothing will.

If you are like me, you may find this trend disturbing. I cannot fathom why people think that Wikipedia is more accurate than Encarta. More current and comprehensive, yes. But certainly not more accurate. The fact is that Wikipedia is manipulated every minute in nefarious ways. In addition, it is edited by numerous people that either do not know much about what they are talking about or got their information from Encarta in the first place.

Unfortunately, it does not matter too much whether I disagree with this trend and does not matter whether you do either. If you want to sell online, you had better be tuned in to this massive mindshift.

Even though user reviews are manipulated and can be completely bogus, they do add value to the buying experience. Keep in mind that like many current online trends, the younger generation is more likely to be influenced by collective wisdom. If your demographic is older, be warned that you have only a short amount of time before your customers want user reviews too.

The marriage of user-generated content and online shopping is inevitable, and probably will be more significant than many e-tailers are expecting. You have only to note the growing popularity of sites such as ThisNext and Wists.com to see where we are going. In addition, social sites such as Facebook are trying to get a piece of the e-tail pie.

In my next post, I want to discuss some findings from JC Whitney about exactly what results you can achieve from user reviews.

  • http://www.johnon.com john andrews

    Disturbing, indeed. The bias behind the copywriting on wikipedia and some other sites becomes more obvious to me every day. Sadly, I suspect that is just a reflection of it being tuned to the mass audience. Whether it is centrally directed or not doesn’t really matter.

    Any suggestion that “anyone can edit it to fix what might be biased” is ludicrous – because “anyone” doesn’t have financial backing to craft such well-crafted propaganda.

  • http://www.brianchappell.com Brian Chappell

    I have been begging my co. to get in on this boat. The only real problem is we will have to hire someone to moderate the reviews.

    I know there are services to do it for you. But then we lose the SEO affect that user generated content can have from the ones I have seen.

    My idea is someone posts a review for “Green widgets” The review then gets posted on the Green widget landing page (www.store.com/green-widget-page.php) Then a static page is created behind it. So for every review there would be a static page created.

    ex. http://www.store.com/green-widget-page/reviews/green-widget-review-1.php

    Anyone know of a system that has moderation built in, and lets you create a site structure like this?

  • http://www.vitabase.com Greg Howlett

    Brian, I know little about user review software vendors, but they are out there and I am sure you can find one to create separate pages for each review.

    I want to caution you about one thing though. I am not sure that you will get the SEO bump you are hoping for. In the case of JC Whitney, they saw no increase in traffic from SEO after implementing reviews. Our experience is similar.

    I will be talking further about this issue and others next week.

  • http://www.brianchappell.com Brian Chappell

    I would be curious to hear other expert SEO’s opinions on user generated content, such as this, and why it wouldn’t help the ranking of the parent page. In this example the Green Widget Landing page.

    At first thought it seems it would have the affect I mentioned above.

  • http://www.seopractices.com/ Seo Practices

    I guess we are on the transition of allowing comments and reviews of the products or services we sell. We are still fearful of damage to our brand that bad comments can make.

  • rick gregory

    Greg,

    I don’t think the Encarta vs Wikipedia comparison really works. There, the entry on a topic IS the product, whereas with reviews they act as information about the product.

    We see so much about how every product is the best, #1, the new leader, that we mostly skip over product copy. User reviews give us a way to see what others think about a product.

    The key is to have enough of them on a product. One review isn’t that helpful… 25 might be. I can sometimes spot patterns or look at the low ratings to see if what bothered them might bother me.

    The accuracy of any one review is less important if you have enough of them, and bias isn’t an issue – it’s the point. I *want* someone’s opinion. Now, gaming the reviews is a cause for concern, but even there with enough reviews for a product a few gamed replies will not matter that much.

    @Brian – I would not do this for SEO, but for conversion. I’ve been wanting a cooling pad for my laptop for a bit… one night I popped on Amazon and looked through the reviews for several… one stood out in particular, so I bought it. The thing is, I might not have bought anything at all if I couldn’t see reviews because all of the products sounded the same if you just read the vendor copy.

  • http://www.vitabase.com Greg Howlett

    The Wikipedia/Encarta example was to demonstrate that people are now placing a lot of value on collaborative wisdom. The application to retail is that people place a lot of confidence in user reviews. I was not trying to imply anything else.

  • rick gregory

    But… then… we agree… How boring. :)

    @Seo Practices – If you have a good feeling for how your product is perceived by your current customers you should know whether bad reviews will be an issue. If you don’t know how your customers feel, you’ve got bigger issues that user reviews.

    Don’t be afraid of a few bad reviews – everyone has them and online shoppers aren’t going to be scared off if there’s 1-2 poor reviews out of 25. If you’re concerned about competitors gaming the system, track IPs and, if you see a pattern, use reverse DNS to see where that IP is from.

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