Online Reviews – Why They Matter

A few years ago I did a long and strenuous hike up Mt. Krn in Slovenia. When I say ‘long and strenuous’ I mean 6 hours of puffing and panting, sweating and

begging to dunk my head in the ice cold waterfall that was coming down the side of the mountain.

To those of you who aren’t bent towards such self-flagellation I have an excuse and it wasn’t all to do with keeping fit or the stunning view from the top…

The first time I visited Slovenia, speaking to the locals in the pub revealed that the best cheese available locally was to be had from hill farmers. A plan was hatched to bypass the supermarket shelves and go directly to source. The particular ‘hill farm’ I’d been told about is at just under 1,400 metres from the valley floor and requires sturdy boots and grim determination to reach.

So why am I blabbering on about cheese and what does this has to do with online reviews?

The  Persuasion of Reviews

I wa

s persuaded to go up Mt. Krn because of glowing verbal reviews of the local cheese produced by one particular farmer.  There are many stunning climbs in Slovenia, in this case the promise of delicious home-made produce was the deciding factor in my decision to climb this particular mountain.

Believe it or not, this is a very good analogy for how an online review works.  Think of a website as a new country you haven’t visited before, that delicious cheese as a product or service and an online review as some gossip in the pub.  The hard and fast fact is that reviews help you to sell products and this is because people trust what other people say, especially if the reviewer has previous experience of those products or services.

If you want an independent verification of how persuasive reviews can be, then take a look at – “consumer reviews are significantly more trusted (nearly 12 times more) than descriptions that come from manufacturers” (eMarketer, February 2010). This means if you’re not using reviews at the product level and site-wide for your business then you are definitely onto a loser!

Internal or External (third party) Reviews?

There are two basic types of review systems and both have advantages and disadvantages. The first is the oldest and simplest type, that being an internal or closed loop system.

In an internal review system, the person leaving the review leaves the review directly onto the website they wish to leave a review for.   This is simple to do for the reviewer and has the advantage for the retailer that additional content is added to their retail website, which is good for search engines.  Most good internal review systems also give the coveted ‘star rating’ in search results, which is one of the main reasons for using reviews – this encourages people to click from search results through to a website.

Once a review is left by a reviewer on an internal review system, this usually sits in a database, giving the retailer an option to choose whether or not to post the review on their site via a management interface of some type. This means that those who wish to say defamatory things about a retailer such as ex-employees and those with a grudge are denied the opportunity, which is a good thing, however this is also a disadvantage in some ways.

External (third party) review systems are different in that reviews take place on a third party website, not the retailer’s website. This means the retailer has no direct control over what is said about their business although most allow response to both good and bad reviews.

The major disadvantage in third party review systems for a retailer using them to promote a business is that third party review systems allow reviews from anyone. This includes disgruntled ex-employees, competitors and those bent on inflicting damage to your brand.

Third party systems have fallen foul of scandals including mass fake reviews . Some online review systems have tried to counter this with verification processes to weed out suspicious reviews, however it’s clear that as far as reviews go, third party reviews can initially be the ‘scarier’ option for a retailer to use.

Trust of the Third Party

Is there an advantage to using a third party review system? Maybe.  People tend to trust these types of reviews more (despite the fallibility of these systems), simply because these reviews aren’t under the control of the retailer.

This may give third party reviews the edge over internal review systems, however bear in mind that third party review systems require substantially more work to manage, so for a busy retailer they may not be the best option.

Having to reply publicly to online reviews of your business that you don’t agree with can be particularly stressful, so add an allowance for a nice glass of Cocoa or perhaps sit down with a nice glass of wine and some Mt Krn cheese… I can vouch for its’ deliciousness!


David Fairhurst

Head of Creative Online Marketing

Intelligent Retail

David has been involved with Search Engine Optimisation and web development since 1999 and has spoken at many different retail and SEO conferences including Spring Fair and SES London

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *