Getting reviews for your eCommerce store is one of the ways merchants and online retailers can add value and create a point of differentiation to their online store. In this article we’ll be taking a look at ways to get those reviews, how to use them to your advantage and what are some of the dangers.
Set Up an Incentive
The first hurdle you need to overcome is getting initial reviews and reaching a critical mass of reviews that create value to consumers. It’s human nature that more people will complain when they have a problem or negative experience than a positive one, so you will need to provide an incentive to get a good cross section of reviews, not just negative ones. You can provide incentives in the form of future discounts, free shipping offers, free samples, gift cards, or even free products. How you choose to incentivize these reviews is going to depend on the price point of your products and your profit margin.
For example, if you sell $15 shirts, giving everyone a free shirt when they submit a review is a shortcut to going out of business. However if you sell $500 digital audio equipment, providing people who submit a review with a free t-shirt is probably not going to impact the bottom line.
What do you do if you have a small profit margin on your products? One suggestion is to hold a contest. Enter everyone who submits a review into a contest and give away one or a few of your products every month. Another option is store credit or a gift card. By giving away a store credit, you can build loyalty and encourage repeat customers.
However if your business doesn’t have repeat customers, like say a moving company, offering a gift card is another good option. Choose a generic gift card such as one from American Express, Mastercard, Amazon or iTunes. You could make the offer even more consumer friendly by giving them three or four options and letting them choose their own prize. For this strategy to work you need to choose a prize that has value to consumer that you want to submit the review.
How to Get Reviews
Once you have established your incentive, the next step is reaching out to consumers and customers. Start with your existing customers who have purchased products with the past 6-12 months. Send them a polite and short email asking them to review their product purchase, and telling them about whatever incentive method you have chosen. If you have repeat customers, it could be annoying for them to receive 6 emails asking them to review the 6 items they purchased in the past year. Contact them about the last purchase, but let them know they can submit reviews for all of their purchases from you. If you sell generic products that are available from other merchants, allow them to review them as well.
As part of your buying cycle, you should ask all new and future customers to submit a review. Hopefully your inventory control system knows when a product ships, and you have an estimate of how long it takes for the product to arrive. Give the customer 7-10 days after the arrival date before sending them an email asking them to review the product, with your incentive offer.
Another option to consider is advertising you are running a contest for reviews. Social media websites like Facebook, Twitter or forums that are about your topic or products are sources to promote your contest to the right audience. Don’t forget to create a press release and promote your incentive using services like PR Web or PR Leap.
Moderating reviews is tricky issue, for consumers to trust you and your reviews they have to believe they are honest. You don’t want to create a store where everything has 5 out of 5 stars, the customers love all the products and the world is filled with sunshine, rainbows and unicorns prancing in meadows, you need to have some negative reviews. That said, you need to protect yourself from slander, defamation, and questionable fake negative reviews submitted by competitors or ex-employees with a grudge. A suggestion is to develop a review policy or set of review guidelines that allow you a wide editorial latitude to not publish reviews that don’t pass the sniff test. You can see a sample here of Amazon’s Review Guidelines.
Additionally unless you have a trusted customer rating system, you would want to be cautious about publishing any reviews without examining them first. What you want to check for is inappropriate language, potential legal issues, fake reviews or reviews with an agenda. What you don’t want to do is moderate out any negative reviews, you may think it helps sales in the short run, but all it really does is undermine your credibility in the eyes of the consumer. Sometimes fake reviews can have unexpectedly pleasant results.
For example the three wolf moon shirt at Amazon became an Internet sensation because of it’s purported ability to attract women, repair broken bones, increase strength to super human levels, and allow it’s wearer to jump 30 feet or more. As a result, it became an Internet meme selling thousands of shirts.
While Google has said spelling and grammar doesn’t affect search engine results, there is still some evidence and debate that pages with a “low english score” doesn’t rank as well as pages that have few or no english errors. You’d want to construct your review policy and process to give you the ability to correct spelling and grammar mistakes. However, you want to be careful and not edit the review any more than it is necessary. Also, never change the tone of the review or put words in someone’s mouth.
Getting the Most out of Reviews
Once you have reviews, you will want to use them to your advantage and enable rich snippets in the SERPs. For example, whenever you do a search for hotels, you will see things like this:
The best way to do this is to implement the Schema.org markup for reviews. Depending on what type of products you sell the markup may vary slightly, but it’s fairly easy to implement. Once you implement this markup, it’s no guarantee that Google will start showing rich snippets for your listings. Google doesn’t disclose exactly what factors they use to decide if a site qualifies for rich snippets. However most experts agree it’s a combination of site trust, authority, critical mass of reviews and proper XML markup. However, it’s extremely unlikely you will have rich snippets without the proper XML markup.
When you decide to add reviews to your website there is a big temptation to add “fake” or “artificial” reviews, you should avoid this. First, it’s extremely unlikely you will be able to create reviews with a different style and language structure that reads like more than one person wrote them. Nothing says “you are a shady merchant” like fake reviews.
Secondly, in some jurisdictions, writing or publishing fake reviews is illegal and may result in a hefty fine. Another issue to consider is how you incentivize your reviews, again some states or countries have legal issues regarding how you incentivize actions, and contests laws vary considerably, so be sure to do your research.
Hopefully you have spent time and effort optimizing your pages content for the proper keywords. Since most consumers don’t write with a keyword focus in mind, adding reviews may throw off the keyword focus of your product pages. One suggestion is to show a few of the most useful or editorially selected reviews on the product page, and to locate all the other reviews on separate page. Another concern is adding dates to your reviews. Consumers like to see current and up to date reviews, however Google recently announced they updated their algorithm to show “fresh” results. Even though reviews from 2 years ago may be helpful, having an old date in the SERPs may negatively affect your click through rates.
Takeaways from this post:
- Come up with an incentive plan that encourages customers to submit reviews
- Contact old and new customers for reviews
- Promote and advertise your review incentives to the right audience
- Set up a review policy that allows you to moderate as needed
- Format your reviews using the proper XML markup for rich snippets
- Review that your review plan doesn’t create any legal problems
- Be aware of any SEO pitfalls you might introduce by including reviews