Customer Feedback: Authenticity as the Final Frontier
More than 55% of Americans start their product searches on Amazon. Uber operates in more than 190 countries. Every minute, tens of thousands of internet users post a customer review.
The never-ending cycle of satisfaction and dissatisfaction is inevitable for retail companies as well as for those providing services. But coherent feedback can be an advantage, cutting the distance between a company and its audience.
All this is compromised when paid reviews and rigged ratings enter the scene. Authenticity remains the final frontier for marketing and client-oriented strategies.
How to Make the Most of Ratings and Reviews in Marketing
Reviews and seller/product ratings—ratings of the quality of a seller as a whole and ratings of individual products—have become the key drivers of feedback in the industry and fuel steady digital marketing development for both sellers and shopping platforms. Feedback is the most trustworthy metric customers utilize in the decision-making process: nine of 10 people read fewer than 10 reviews to form an opinion about a business in which they are interested. A little over 50% of users will visit a website after reading positive reviews, and 74% of people would trust a local business more after reading positive reviews.
Around 42% of customers leave reviews and rate their experience with a business via third-party feedback services. As implemented by Google, Amazon, and other search engines and retail platforms, Seller and Product ratings are the key tools to boost general brand perception and improve financial indicators. One of the most effective ways of utilizing seller ratings is by displaying these next to a company’s ad campaign result in Google. Any business that is collecting Google-accredited seller ratings is eligible to display its average star rating on its ads. According to Google Statistics, displaying ratings on branded ads increases their click-through rate by 17% on average.
Another marketing mechanism to improve visibility is featuring product ratings on Product Listing Ads and on Google Shopping in general. Product listing ads have a large advantage over traditional text-only ads, as they appear at the top or at the side of the organic search results, and they display product image, name, price, and any aggregated product reviews. Thus, they are driving more and more qualified traffic to product pages, making ads both more effective and efficient.
Furthermore, even without Ad campaigns, there is still a way to display star ratings on organic search results free of charge. In 2011, search engines like Google, Bing, and Yahoo came together to produce Schema.org, a single standard for structuring data on websites. By structuring and standardizing web content according to these guidelines, it is easier for search engines to crawl sites and pull from them relevant information that can be used to further enhance search results.
When companies include their review and rating averages within their schema markup, search engines modify their search results to include star ratings as part of the results display. These previews are aptly called rich snippets and can increase click-through rates by as much as 30%. By enabling star rich snippets, brands and retailers can better drive traffic and complement other strategies, such as SEM.
Sales and CPC Efficiency in Ad campaigns. Revenue is probably the most important KPI for advertisers. While a connection between Google Seller ratings or Amazon reviews seems obscure, it becomes more visible in the long run. When CTR increases due to improved SEO and rating display, so does the quality score of any ad campaign. This will result in a drop of general CPC, making running ads not only more effective but also more efficient in driving the relevant traffic to a company’s site.
However, all the benefits companies can receive from collecting reviews, even the whole system of feedback marketing, depend on one single principle—authenticity of opinions. In other words, the efficacy of reviews as a mechanism to boost sales hinges on trust.
When Trust Is Compromised
Earlier this year, The Washington Post published a breaking study indicating a dangerous and harmful trend on Amazon: fake reviews. While this is not something completely unique and new to the commerce platforms, feedback fraud WP and ReviewMeta have revealed that it is staggering in scale and dynamics. Suspicious or fraudulent reviews are crowding out authentic ones in a number of categories (e.g. bluetooth speakers, diet pills, testosterone boosters).
According to ReviewMeta, incentivized ratings are significantly higher than non-paid ones. This results in tricking customers into buying possibly poorer-quality products and cutting verified brands off from users. In May, Buzzfeed dug even deeper, revealing hundreds of thousands of Facebook users in groups that are basically a marketplace for paid Amazon reviews: typical deal is $4 to $5 per review. The same with subreddits: a shadow industry with its own stocks, review markets, and social communication.
Is this unethical? Certainly. Does it cause disarray in the whole e-commerce industry? In the long-term perspective, it will. By far the most important consequence of fraudulent reviews and paid ratings is deprivation of otherwise successful companies from their access to a broader target audience and deserved market niche.
A New Hope for Preserving Authenticity
A helpful solution for conscientious and unprotected companies is to rely on third-party feedback services with review authentification accredited by the largest search engines.
Paid reviewers use uncontrolled access to the review feature as a loophole in retail platforms’ feedback systems. You don’t have to make a purchase—rate and review anything you want. Feedback services build their mechanisms around transactions, i.e. a review is collected after the purchase of items or services. This is a game-changing approach for the whole industry, which decreases fraud to a minimum. A significant number of feedback services already use this approach, among them: Feefo, eKomi, Trusted Shops, Bazaarvoice, Shopper, and more.
Amazon claims to have applied strict criteria for leaving reviews in the US: a password-protected account and at least $50 in purchases. However, these measures are hardly enough due to shadow market volume and an inconsistent ban policy.
Another important step implemented by feedback services is review verification. However obvious, this crucial process is treated differently by many review services. While some completely disregard it or rely on bot filters, human approach and manual review remain the most effective practices. Human teams ensure that reviews adhere to national and international guidelines, making sure reviews are compliant.
Feedback is increasingly inevitable as shoppers are becoming more cautious, reading even more reviews to inform their purchasing decisions. It’s the authenticity of reviews and the trustworthiness of ratings that will remain the final frontier for the market that relies so heavily on opinions. It’s the only possible way for client-oriented business to hear what their clients have to say, to react accordingly and evolve.
Artem Risukhin is a copywriter at eKomi, The Feedback Company. He is an accomplished specialist with experience in market analysis, content writing, and full-cycle project management. Previously, he was a writer for Cadabra Studio, UX/UI design company. He has held multiple analytic positions including senior commodity analyst at Core Consultants and steel markets analyst at Metal Expert. Devotee of solving complex problems which require business savvy approach, Artem organized and held international metallurgical conferences in Europe and Middle East.