User Reviews – Virtual Gossip or Goldmine?

User Reviews – Virtual Gossip or Goldmine?

It’s funny how no matter what direction technology pushes us in, people always default to what they know works. If you’re a ‘bricks and mortar’ retailer and you’ve been trading for many years, you will probably remember a time before all this Internet malarkey when ‘word of mouth’ was the key to getting sales. People would travel from miles around to talk to you about their intended purchase and each conversation may have started with a prospective customer saying ‘My friend (insert name here!) told me to come and see you!’ Believe it or not, things in 2020 are the same… but maybe not in a way you immediately recognise.

Web Reviews

If you’ve ever used Google search engine then you will be familiar with user reviews. You might not know it, but every time you do a search and get results from Google, you’re being exposed to the review phenomenon. Can you see the reviews link on this page? – If you can’t then look closer… it’s the one with the stars after it. Quite easy to miss if you don’t know what you’re looking for, but I guarantee you’re going to be scanning search results now, looking for those star ratings!

Why are Reviews Important?

Web reviews are just like good, old fashioned ‘word of mouth’, but allowed on a Global scale. This means that ‘word of mouth’ for your little corner shop is no longer confined to the geographical area around your ‘bricks and mortar’ store when it comes to getting reviews of your products and services, you truly do have access to the eyes and ears of the whole of Planet Earth and it’s 7.5 Billion inhabitants.

For eCommerce traders, this means your reviews can come from wherever you ship to, but even if you don’t run an eCommerce website for your business and you trade strictly offline, reviews are still available about your business, because anybody who has experience of your shop can leave a review online. You have the World’s attention. What you do with that attention is down to you and your business goals.

Open and Closed Reviews

There are two different types of review systems available online. These are generally known as ‘Open Reviews’ and ‘Closed Reviews’, but there are other names such as ‘User Generated’ and ‘Private Reviews’ for each of these types of systems, so what’s the difference?

  • Open Reviews – these are review systems hosted on a server out there somewhere on the World Wide Web. Anyone can register and post on these review systems. This means that your customers, staff, ex-employees and competitors can all put a review up about your business. Open reviews sometimes allow responses to reviews (most reputable review systems do this) and sometimes you can dispute a review and get it removed. Some of the better ones (like for instance Trustpilot) also allow verification of purchase, so that competitors can’t put up a bad review (without buying something from your store). Open reviews have the advantage that they are more believable. These are ‘third party reviews’ so people know that the retailer has no control over the review, therefore anyone reading the review will be more likely to believe the review. The disadvantage for the retailer of course is that you have no control over what is said.
  • Closed Reviews – these are under your control, so website users can put a review up about your products, business or services but you have the option to either publish this review or not. This gives you total control and is seen by many as being the safe option, however conversely to open reviews website and Google users are less likely to believe the review.

Both types of review systems should give your website a ‘star rating’ if they have been designed properly. This means those stars will appear in search results.

Why Star Ratings Matter

The coveted 5 star rating in search results isn’t just a visual clue to excellence for a product, business or service, it’s also used to rank websites in search results! Google and other search engines use the review data in their own algorithms which figure out the page results to show for users – generally higher star ratings from reviews will push a particular web page up in the results, lower star ratings will do the opposite.

Web pages with more reviews will also win out over pages with less reviews and if you look at the data on those websites which tend to show pages at the top of search results you will see that these websites have many good reviews from a broad range of verified purchasers.

So star ratings from reviews matter for rankings in search results, but there are other benefits. Seeing a 5* rating in a search result also means people are much more likely to click on that result, which means higher website traffic for the website which is clicked on, which generally (if the landing page attached to that result in Google is optimised correctly) will result in more sales. Top quality reviews therefore aid conversions and make you more money.

Of course, as click-through rate from search results is also a Google ranking factor, higher click rates mean that pages with higher review star ratings are more likely to gain top placements in search results as well!

How To Get Reviews Installed

There are many review systems available online, but I’d advise you choose carefully. Make sure that you use a review system that you have some measure of control over. Systems such as, and allow you to reply to the review and because these all come from verified purchases you can be sure that your competitors, disgruntled employees and trolls aren’t just trying to damage your business. These systems are quite easy for your web developer to install, this is usually just a piece of code which is added to all your web pages to display the star ratings on your website and to verify purchases.

If you don’t like the idea of open reviews, closed review systems can be also installed and many eCommerce software packages like WooCommerce, Magento, Connect and Actinic all allow closed review systems which give you total control over what website users say about your business.

In the end, what really matters is that you get a review system installed… believe me, the increase in traffic, trust and sales is worth it!


David Fairhurst

Head of eCommerce

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