Third party reviews have become a common feature on most ecommerce sites. 

This is mainly because they have been proven to drive sales, while many shoppers expect to be able to read reviews before they decide to buy. 

Yesterday's #EcomChat, was on the subject of reviews, and contained some interesting points of view from a range of ecommerce pros.

Here, I've rounded up some of the highlights from the discussion. 

1. How important are third party reviews for ecommerce sites?

Perhaps an obvious question, but a good starting point nonetheless, and most people agreed on the importance of third party reviews. 

The discussion then branched off into other areas. There's the question of whether it's better for retailers to gather and present reviews themselves, or to use reviews providers to do the job. 

It's an interesting question. While ideally sites would gather their own reviews as Amazon and others do, it's harder for some sites to reach a critical mass of reviews without using providers. 

Then there's the question of verification. We've all heard stories about fake or malicious reviews. Indeed, there is a whole industry in creating them. 

So how do customers know which reviews to trust? Well, one way is to use the same reviews providers as other ecommerce sites. 

People become familiar with the brand names and style of presentation, and the fact that these reviews are verified may create more confidence. 

Amazon has labelled its reviews more and more over the past year or so, labelling those where customers have actually purchased the product from the site. 

Then there's the question of the balance of expert and reviews from the 'average consumer'. Which do people trust, and are some products better reviewed by pros? 

In theory, a blend of expert and consumer reviews should provide the perfect balance, though it's hard to find examples of sites that do this. 

Another question is whether every kind of ecommerce site can use reviews. 

2. Can reviews improve SEO performance?

This is an important consideration, and a potential benefit of using reviews. 

One potential benefit is ranking for searches including 'product name' + review(s).

The automotive sector provides a good example of this at the moment, as very few manufacturer sites use reviews.

Thus, those that do use them can demonstrate the benefits. For example, BMW doesn't have any reviews on its website, so a search for the brand or one of its models + review returns results like this:

Page one of Google is taken up mainly by results from publishers. By contrast Kia, which provides reviews, ranks number one: 

Kia gets in ahead of the publishers, and is therefore more likely to attract researchers to its own site. The average automotive purchase takes time (10 hours of online shopping according to Google), and reviews are a big part of this. 

There's also the question of reviews allowing sites to use rich snippets in search results to (in theory) improve CTR.

This can work well, though in some areas  

3. What’s more important? Brand reviews (e.g. Trust Pilot) or product ratings (e.g. Bazaarvoice)?

This is a great question, and the answer is broadly 'it depends'. 

Much may depend on the status of the retailer. For example, a smaller and less well-know ecommerce site may need to work harder to establish trust.  

This is an interesting point. Is there a risk of trying too hard to create trust? 

This is a good point too. If you rely on PPC as an acquisition channel, then seller ratings allow you to optimise your ads. 

This is used a lot in some retail sectors, flower delivery being a prime example.  

However, the sheer volume of reviews collected threatens their credibility, as retailers aim to reach the required percentage of positive scores to qualify for these snippets in their ads. 

In summary, the focus on either brand reviews or product reviews will depend very much on the type of retailer.

Ideally, sites will have both, and services such as Google's Certified Shops scheme can help to reassure customers about service and delivery, while product pages should contain user reviews. 

EcomChat is a weekly ecommerce discussion on Twitter covering a new topic each week, run by @jamesgurd and @danbarker. For more info and news on the latest chats, please visit ecomchat.com.

Graham Charlton

Published 17 March, 2015 by Graham Charlton

Graham Charlton is the former Editor-in-Chief at Econsultancy. Follow him on Twitter or connect via Linkedin or Google+

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