Importance of Product Reviews
What is the most important user generated content on any ecommerce web site? After seven years as a Director of E-Commerce the answer to the question of the most important ecommerce content is three words – Reviews, Reviews and Reviews. Products with reviews convert, but this simple truth is only the tip of why product reviews are so important. Product reviews are also important because:
- Tribes form around reviews
- Customers sell each other
- Google loves product reviews
- Reviews feature “customer speak”
- Reviews generate authenticity points
- Most reviews are positive
Evaluating an excellent Software As Service (SAS) review application made by Austin based Bazaar Voice (linked below) I asked, “How many reviews are too many reviews.” I was astonished to hear this answer, “there is no such thing as too many reviews.” Skeptical I thought this answer was sales talk. Then I started thinking. “Why,” I wondered, “would someone write the 100th review of a product?”
After 99 reviews the person writing the 100th review isn’t thinking of adding to already complete product knowledge. Nope, we write the 100th review to join the tribe. We want to be a member of the group who loves a product capable of generating 100 reviews. We are pack animals. We warm our hands close to electronic fires seeking kinship and meaning. Writing the 100th review expresses our desire to be a tribe member. We want to be good Boy Scouts. We want merit badges we can wear proudly. “Yes, I’m a member,” our reviews say.
Customers Sell Each Other
Once my team and I realized how reviews form community we created a “Buzz Team” to elevate reviewers. We understood the 1:10:89 rule (1% of users will add content to your site, 10% will comment on content created by the 1% and 89% will ride on the train created by the 11%, see my User Generated Content post for more on the 1:10:89 rule). As online marketers our chief job may be to create places where customers freely and honestly influence each other. Days when we “sold” things are gone. Today's marketing is guiding, curating and acting as caretakers of the gold in them there user generated content (UGC) hills.
Google Loves Product Reviews
Google’s started with the academic web. PageRank understood links represent votes, votes of importance. When a scholarly article is highly linked it is more important than similar articles with fewer links. Brutal maybe, Darwinian certainly, but an accurate proxy capable of organizing more information than can be imagined. Create things people link to and your site is or will become more important.
Reviews are great link bait (content capable of generating links). A great review may be linked thousands of times across the Internet. Even an average review will have social network links to it, at least from the author. Again, the 100th review is valuable. One review with one link from Facebook or Twitter is helpful. A hundred reviews with social network links are powerful. A thousand reviews is a tribe, a tribe your marketing team can learn how to effectively support simply by reading your "buzz team's" reviews.
Reviews Feature “Customer Speak”
I’ve been marketing one thing or another for more than thirty years. I think and speak like a marketer. How I think may or may not be consistent with how customers think and speak. Chances are good your customers speak about your products differently than your company. Difference is good, but can’t be ignored. This is one of those times when the customer is ALWAYS right. How your customers discuss your product and its many benefits is the truth. If customers don’t use marketing speak then change your marketing. It is a fool’s errand to try and change customer speak. Be glad anyone gives enough of a hoot to speak about your product and then adapt your marketing to the market's truth.
You don’t have to limit your marketing to how customers speak, but buy the keywords you read and use the action verbs and descriptive adjectives you read in ad copy (if you are smart). It is faster to climb the sizable product adoption life cycle mountain describe by Geoffrey Moore (for technical products but applies to everything) if you do so with how your product is actually being adopted. Trying to impose your marketing lingua franca on customers is another fool’s errand. Remember what T. S. Eliot said, “good writers steal, bad writers imitate.” Stealing from your customer’s user generated content provided for FREE in customer reviews is SMART and something you may want to institute across your marketing.
Reviews Generate Authenticity Points
It takes courage to hear what customers say and then act on it. Customers know getting negative feedback is tough. Customers grant ecommerce web sites brave enough to feature positive and negative reviews authenticity points. Reviews act as something other than user generated content. Reviews create a security blanket that extends to the site. If your site features tough truths with the hard working comments you’ve included rectifying problems then your site will have more credibility. Customers know mistakes happen. If your company looks at mistakes as learning opportunities, embraces mistkaes to find new ways to WOW customers then your customer service efforts will come through in reviews. Saying, “customer service is important to us” means nothing. If your customers say, “customer service is important to them” it rings true. There may be no more clear definition of our different marketing times than the previous sentence.
This is the tricky part of marketing in the age of Google. When I worked for P&G and M&M/Mars we shaped marketing messages, sent them out into the world via a handful of “portals” and monitored reception. Times are different. Share your company’s product dreams and mission in the "About" area of your site and don't expect many visitors :). Every product and company needs a positive creation story.
How brands and products will be perceived, shaped and modified is in the hands of tribes that form around them. Cool products create customer evangelists. Customer evangelists are customers who make it their mission to act as town crier, organizer and unofficial brand spokesperson. EMBRACE YOUR SPECIAL PRODUCT EVANGELISTS. You should hold these special people, people willing to give their most cherished possession – their time – very close. Reward your evangelists with recognition, competition and social capital and they will build multimillion-dollar brands with you.
Most Reviews Are Positive
Have you ever purchased a product after reading a negative review? I have too especially if the negative reviews were specific. Some people don’t want exactly what I’m looking for and vice versa. The importance of negative reviews can’t be overstated. Negative reviews make all the positive reviews believable AND they may just sell the product to someone looking for what the negative reviewer doesn’t like.
The biggest issue any E-Commerce Director faces is not negative reviews. The biggest problem is reviewers tend to be too general. Great reviewers are hard to find. “I love it,” isn’t a review. This is why a star review system (or some equivalent) is so important. Stars provide a snap shot summary of how a product competes. Stars are the key to getting customers to read reviews. Stars earn attention reviews earn money.
Not all reviews or reviewers are created equal. This is why we created a Buzz Team. One of our Buzz Team’s most important features was teaching reviewers how to be specific, use common keywords and learn to write about products from a collective point of view. A collective point of view understands reviews are meant to help others. The best way to help other customers is to be specific about what was good, bad or neutral in a product’s performance. The best reviewers understand their mental state can influence a review, so they take deep breaths and give products several chances to confirm experience. Hold a reviewer capable of writing a hundred words or more about a product experience close to your ecommerce heart since they are worth their weight in gold.
Product Review Resources
As an E-Commerce Director I worked with and evaluated several review engines and would highly recommend:
TechCrunch Article about BazaarVoice and PowerReviews
Excellent Review Sites
Bass Pro Shops