Study after study finds that reviews have a major influence on potential customers' buying decisions. Nearly 90 percent of customers surveyed have said they trust online reviews just as much as recommendations from their family and friends, and positive reviews make customers more inclined to trust in the business that's selling to them.
The key phrase here is "social proof" -- meaning proof that normal, everyday people have liked a product you're selling or competing with. By providing a preponderance of social proof, consumer reviews establish your company's credibility and boost your conversions.
Still, while reviews are (almost always) inherently helpful for improving sales, the way you approach them can influence their conversion-boosting potential. Here's how to make online reviews really work for your business.
1. Emphasize quality.
To be truly effective, reviews should go above and beyond star ratings. Customers want rich content that describes the product, its usage, its upsides and drawbacks, how it compares to other brands, and so on. So when you're asking for reviews, provide customers with an opportunity to do more than select a given number of stars.
Of course it's ideal if the major portion of this content is positive, but a few negative impressions are okay too. We'll touch on why below.
2. Emphasize quantity.
Studies consistently find that when it comes to customer reviews, the more the better. That's because the more reviews a product has, the more social proof and credibility are baked into it. Customers seem to believe that products with a high number of reviews warrant more trust.
If you're starting with zero reviews, then simply bumping that number up to 10 can have a significant effect on your conversion rates. But you'll reap the most benefits if your product generates 50-plus reviews. In fact, one study by Reevo found that increasing the number of reviews past 50 resulted in a 4.6 percent increase in conversion rates.
So, how can you generate more customer reviews? Start by providing your customers with a product and purchasing experience that's worth talking about (in a good way). Then, solicit reviews by asking for post-purchase feedback via email, on social media, via an app, on the product page itself, and so on.
The goal is to make it as easy as possible for customers to provide feedback via a platform that feels convenient to them. You may also consider providing customers with incentives for sharing their feedback such as discounts, free samples or sneak previews of new products.
3. Respond well to negative reviews.
It might be tempting to censor negative reviews. But not only is that dishonest, it's also bad for business. Customers become skeptical when they see nothing but 5-star ratings for a product, because we all know that no product will satisfy 100 percent of its customers 100 percent of the time. So you're actually better off leaving negative reviews in place, because they lend authenticity to the product page.
But don't just let negative reviews sit there. Instead, turn criticisms into an opportunity by responding in a constructive, helpful and efficient way. Doing so can actually improve customer loyalty and satisfaction and endear your brand to potential customers.
Repurpose reviews across platforms.
The more you can get your reviews in front of potential customers, the more likely you are to establish credibility for and stir up interest in your product. To that end, don't be shy about utilizing reviews on multiple platforms and in a variety of media, from videos and social media to blog posts and email promotions. You can also look beyond your own customers' feedback to off-site or third-party review sites.
(For those not familiar, a third-party review site is a site that exists to review certain types of products and isn't affiliated with the actual maker of the product -- e.g. Security Baron, which provides third-party reviews of security systems; or Brain Wiz, which provides third-party reviews of nootropics.)
If you reach out to owners of these types of sites, be as courteous and transparent as possible. While you do want a favorable review for your product, you don't want to do anything that would be considered a bribe.
Optimize for SEO.
Product reviews can boost SEO in a number of ways, from ranking for long-tail keywords to increasing the chance that your products will show up in search whenever people search for "_____ review." One of the best ways to get product reviews to appear in search results is to use rich snippets. These are bits of code that alert search engines to your review and allow you to mark up individual reviews and/or aggregate content from a grouping of reviews.
Be aware that Google has some specific requirements for rich snippets; do your research before creating this code.
Be careful with sorting.
It's easy to sort reviews by most recent and call it a day. But you're missing out on valuable persuasion opportunities by doing so. When you think about it, this is a really arbitrary sorting system. For example, what if all the reviews above the fold are merely star ratings instead of ones that provide rich content? Or, what if you happen to get two negative reviews at the very top? Even if every other review on the page is positive, that's going to have a significant impact on potential customers' perception of your brand.
The right sorting option for your product will be determined through testing. That being said, a few options tend to perform best across the board--namely, "most helpful," "representative sample," "most positive" (for each star rating), "best linguistic style" or some combination thereof.
If you want reviews to work for you, you have to put in some work. The type of reviews you share and the ways you present them can make a big impact on the role reviews play in boosting conversions.