Best and Worst Practices of Product Reviews

Lars Long
by Lars Long 03 Jun, 2013

Most ecommerce industry professionals understand the importance of having product reviews but unfortunately the vast majority follows what can only be described as "worst practices" in the application of this critical, but non-core function. The ones who "get it" enjoy far reaching SEO benefits, increased sales conversions, increased average basket values, increased customer loyalty and lower levels of product returns. This post will examine the best and so-called worst practices in an attempt to help guide our industry professionals to create more engaging websites that more effectively produce benefits to consumers and balance sheets. 

Often we hear from small businesses who think review solutions are a nice-to-have, or something to implement after a site redesign or at some undetermined point in the future. The cruel hard truth is that more than 70 percent of consumers seek out and read reviews prior to making a significant purchase online. If you don't have reviews for your cameras, back packs or tennis rackets, the visitors that you so carefully lured to your site are going to leave for a site that has reviews, and most likely will not return. Having reviews on your site are almost as important to your website sales as having an add-to-cart button.

Getting reviews:

Worst Practice: Literally hundreds of thousands of sites rely on some sort of plugin that came built-in to the chosen platform. This approach relies on the fact that a customer will at some point after purchase return to your site on their own volition, navigate to the product page that they previously made their purchase on and write a thoughtful review. The result: "Be the first to review this product". If you are selling cameras on your site and you have no reviews for the Canon Powershot, you will just remind people that you do not have reviews and encourage them to go somewhere else to find them, and in most cases they will ultimately make the purchase with a competitor. In short, this strategy does more harm than good. Disable it!

Best Practice: Be proactive! Approximately 1 out 10 people will respond to an email request politely asking them to spend a couple minutes to give their feedback on the product they recently purchased. If you can pick a specific time to schedule the email, chose the same day of the week and time of day they made the purchase three or four weeks later. If you have the ability to customize this then you should, for example a new TV can be evaluated one to two weeks after delivery, a system camera should be evaluated four to eight weeks after purchase, outdoor equipment (tents, skis, etc...) should not be evaluated until several months after the product is delivered. The goal here is to maximize the response rates and if someone receives the invitation to review a product prior to using it, they will most likely not save the email to fill it in later. 

Dealing with negative product reviews:

Worst Practice: Excluding negative reviews. If a review is well thought out, articulate and accurate albeit negative it behooves the website owner to include this review. If your site is only having positive reviews you will set yourself up for high levels of product returns because their experience with the product was not as expected. They will associate this negative experience with your site, and if you exclude their review, they will write somewhere else about their experience and instead of being only about the product, your service will now also come into question.

Best Practice: Embrace negative reviews. Obviously you should not allow profanity in a product review but if a customer had a genuine problem with a product and they post a review on your site about the product (keep it only about products, not the service), understand it, analyze it and reply publicly to it. A customer who receives a sympathetic response to their issue and has it resolved is three to four times more likely to return to the vendor. Including negative reviews builds trust, lowers the amount of returns you are forced to deal with, helps to optimize your assortment and increases the average transaction value.

Ongoing optimization:

Worst Practice: Be content. So now you have a proactive solution, generating a steady stream of reviews (both positive and negative), and you can sit back and reap the rewards. Not so fast. Savvy competitors will not stop innovating and improving and neither should you.

Best Practices: Strive for excellence. A/B test the placement and style of your stars, ratings, reviews to maximize CTRs as well as the wording, design and timing of the email invitation asking for the review. Once you have a fair amount of content, leverage it to produce rich snippets so that Google will show stars in the listing. Additionally, investigate augmenting your own efforts with aggregated expert and consumer review content until you have acceptable levels of proprietary review content. 

For small e-businesses having a solid, proactive product review strategy can be the differential between success and failure. The concept has been proven to deliver tangible benefits and is embraced by 10,000-plus leading companies around the world, just look at the top companies in your industry, the chances are very high that they will have a clear and effective, proactive review strategy.

I welcome your additions to the list of best and worst practices, comments about how reviews worked for you or any questions that you may have.

About the author: Lars Long is the Global Head of Marketing and Account Management at the Stockholm, Sweden based product review specialist TestFreaks AB. To read more about the company and their role in helping small businesses leverage product reviews please visit their corporate website at: