With Google displaying reviews in an ever more prominent way both in Google shopping and in its' organic search results this is obviously becoming an increasingly important factor in SEO.
It's not so much that good reviews effect your rankings directly (although this can be true in Google Shopping and Google+ Local) but that some nice yellow stars attract internet users to click through to your site.
Those same nice yellow stars can give visitors more confidence to buy and so there are two important user behaviour metrics and it is those that will effect your rankings.
So how do you get started? I've been having a look at the options.
Google shopping with branded products
If you make sure your Google shopping feed includes the MPN (Manufacturer Part Number), or ISBN for books, then Google can show reviews for the product globally – even if you have never sold one.
In other words if you sell the Apple iPhone 4 Smartphone 16GB there are plently of reviews for this that will show up on Google Shopping so you don't need to worry about collecting your own.
Instead you can buckle down and concentrate on getting reviews for you as a business.
If you're a physical shop, restaurant, bar, etc. then the obvious place for encouraging visitors to leave a review is on Google+ Local. They'll need a Google account to do it but apart from that it's quick and easy and doesn't cost you anything.
On the downside it's very vague, just a rating and some text. That means you can't collect feedback about specific products.
When it comes to collecting feedback at a product level Google Checkout can work better as Google sends the follow up email and you are able to add your response as well.
On the downside because Google Checkout is not hugely popular you are going to need hundreds of customers (per product) before you start to collect a handful of reviews and that will take time.
Your own website
In a way it's one of the best options in that you can specify the feedback you want (particular questions). The ratings users give you will show up in Google's search results so long as you have your rich schema code in place but not in Google Shopping.
On the downside such reviews are often treated with a healthy dose of scepticism - “John from Washington said, 'great service, definitely use you again” just doesn't sound believable even if it's true.
But you can make your reviews more believable if you offer the person leaving the review the chance to include a link to their website, facebook profile, Google+ ID or even a mention of their company name. It's free publicity for them and it makes your reviews look more believable.
Third Party Review Websites
There are buckets of these and I've certainly done the rounds this year because Google uses many of them when creating the reviews ratings on Google Shopping. My thoughts here are for the smaller retail (less than $10,000 per month in sales):
Trustpilot – ironically they get a great many bad reviews on their own website! Prices start at $99 per month which makes them affordable but given their own current client feedback problems I wouldn't be jumping this way yet. Customers also need to use their Facebook account to sign in and leave a review which is a major turn off for many.
BizRate – popular because it is free. Usually a pop up at the end of the checkout process which promises respondents a chance to win something if they answer a questionnaire. But said questionnaire can be lengthy and so response rates are low. Many also don't answer it because it is too early to review a product which hasn't been shipped and a service which hasn't been tested.
ResellerRatings – offer a low entry price to start with but many have reported fees ratchet up rapidly after the initial contract ends. Worse still there is a great deal of talk from ex-clients that should you walk away, negative reviews suddenly sprout up on your profile. Nothing has been proved ….
ForeSee - a popup on your own website but again it is limited to asking visitors what they think of the site rather than your products or shipping service.
ebay – this just makes sense. It is an online market place where only those who buy from you can give reviews so it's very clean. If you're in eCommerce getting a full business account and exporting your product line to eBay is well worth considering. You can then use slogans like “99.9% positive feedback on Ebay” on your own site as a selling feature.
Amazon.com – as per eBay really.
For the smaller eCommerce retailer I would follow a three pronged attack:
- Make your own feedback system on your own website and invite customers to give you feedback about a fortnight after the product is shipped. This way you can create your exact questions, structure and ratings – for you and for each product they bought.
- If you have enough customers (100+) split it so that some are asked to do the questionnaire on your site and some are asked to leave feedback on your Google+ Local page. You can be smart by asking only buyers who use a gmail email leave Google+ reviews, that way you know they have a Google account.
- Get your product line onto eBay and Amazon. They're highly affordable and worth at least a 6 month trial run.
- Avoid third party review sites unless you have hundreds of offers. With response rates as low as 1% you need real volume throughput to make these pay off.