For Your Reviews

  |  June 20, 2007   |  Comments

How to set up product reviews on retail sites for maximum SEO impact.

Word-of-mouth (WOM) campaigns are powerful sales drivers in the offline world. Legitimate WOM advertising can create buzz in the marketplace and go viral when crossing over to online user-generated content (UGC) environments. Add video streams, lab coats, diet soft drinks, and minty candy, and you've got an online marketing phenomenon.

Yet illegitimate or faked WOM campaigns can create a storm of consumer furor, damage a big brand, and tarnish a corporate reputation -- just ask Wal-Mart about Jim and Laura. Consequently, online retailers have been a bit timid about leveraging blogs, wikis, and video as a way to build buzz or improve a two-way dialogue with customers.

Although pursuing Web 2.0 venues requires planning, time, and money, online retailers can more readily embrace another UGC segment: product reviews, as written and submitted by actual consumers.

Product reviews remain relatively uncontroversial and exceedingly influential when it comes to converting lookers into buyers. Data supporting the importance of product reviews is staggering. According to data gathered by Bazaarvoice:

  • 71 percent of online shoppers read reviews, making product reviews the most widely read consumer-generated content.

  • User-generated ratings and reviews are the second most important site feature behind internal search functions. Retailers who adopt ratings and reviews as a differentiator and retention strategy gain market share.

  • 63 percent of consumers indicate they're more likely to purchase from a site if it has product ratings and reviews.

Ethical WOM marketing techniques are rooted in customer satisfaction, build a two-way dialogue, and provide transparent product communication. Ethical SEO (define) provides a natural bridge for user-generated product reviews when implemented in an optimal manner.

If you think about it, online retailers' product pages are generally the Web's stalest, least optimal content. Natural SEO can go a long way toward enhancing on-the-page and behind-the-page elements to improve search engine visibility. But it does little to refresh the content on a naturally irregular basis, which can help maintain search engine visibility over time.

Though some CMSs (define) incorporate user ratings and recommendations out of the box, few do so in an intelligent, search-optimal manner. Consequently, outsourcing product reviews to a third-party service provider is one of the best ways online retailers can quickly and efficiently incorporate product reviews into their content mix.

There are currently two key players in the market that can help online retailers create and manage their product reviews and product rating systems: Bazaarvoice and PowerReviews.

Both enterprise-class review services are relatively easy to set up and integrate with most CMSs. Usually, product review integration includes exporting the catalog hierarchy, creating new FTP (define) setups, configuring page layouts and CSS (define) overrides, and potentially preparing legacy data to be exported, usually in an XML format. Full integration requires several layers of content reviews, links, and some residual coding. Most online retailers can get set up to go live in a couple weeks, something to consider if you're looking at how to improve you site before the next holiday code freeze hits.

But setups aren't with several SEO caveats. A few you can do to make certain your site's product review implementation is released in a search-optimal format:

  • Consolidate product page templates. If you have several generations or different iterations of product-page templates, consider streamlining the CMSs prior to implementing a third-party review service. Title tags, header tags, alt text in images, and meta descriptions can help improve your search engine visibility for popular products on a seasonal basis.

  • Don't hide links to product review content behind JavaScript or image-based buttons and pop-ups. You can leverage your CSS to have product reviews default to "always open" as opposed to "click to open."

  • Consider how product-page keyword density will be diluted when multiple reviews appear on the page. Most reviewers don't restate the name of the product in reviews. They tend to say "The product is wonderful" or "It stinks." Consider how and where you can reiterate the name of the product in a search-optimal, user-friendly manner.

  • Avoid massively disrupting your site's search engine history. Google, in particular, maintains historical data of what's normal for your site. A massive influx of new links, substantial change in page generation, and low-quality content generation can negatively impact your site's search engine visibility. Stage and stagger your product review releases accordingly, and avoid creating 100,000 "be the first to review this product" pages.

Bazaarvoice and PowerReviews offer flexible programs that can be customized to help add UGC to your site in a search-engine-friendly manner. Bazaarvoice tends to focus on providing syndication services for reviews, while PowerReviews focuses more on creating landing pages. Either way, you can be certain incorporating product reviews into your content mix will help harness the power of WOM marketing, particularly when you do so in a search-optimal manner.

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P.J. Fusco

P.J. Fusco has been working in the Internet industry since 1996 when she developed her first SEM service while acting as general manager for a regional ISP. She was the SEO manager for Jupitermedia and has performed as the SEM manager for an international health and beauty dot-com corporation generating more than $1 billion a year in e-commerce sales. Today, she is director for natural search for Netconcepts, a cutting-edge SEO firm with offices in Madison, WI, and Auckland, New Zealand.

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