In analysing online retailers with customer reviews, Bazaarvoice has found that more than 97% of the search terms used to find the review content are unique; in other words, without the user-generated content, the retailer would not have received search engine referrals for those ‘long-tail’ specific shopping terms.
Rankings versus conversions/long tail search: Rather than focusing on high rankings, smart marketers work to drive the most conversions — regardless of the keyword used. For example, the term ‘eye cream’ returns 67,900,000 results; however, ‘eye cream age 35’ returns 206,000 results. While still a large amount of options, the more specific searcher has a better idea of what she wants to buy and is likely closer to making a purchase.
The more specific, obscure terms are more valuable — though harder to pre-determine — to the retailer, and this is where customer-generated content comes into play. The more content that exists on your site about a particular product or brand, the more likely it is found by these long-tail searchers. Also, the more specific term mentioned above brings up more products that feature fresh, user-generated content. Our analysis has shown that searchers who land on Bazaarvoice-generated review landing pages use 3.5 to 4 words, while Google’s average search is 2.5 words.
Reviewers write like searchers search: Review content is also much more likely to contain misspellings and grammatical errors that would have been corrected in the product page editorial process. The natural language that consumers search in is often different than the language retailers use when writing marketing and merchandising copy.
While computer companies may shy away from the term ‘laptop’ in their marketing materials, searchers are searching for laptops — not necessarily ‘notebooks’ or ‘portable computers.’ A publisher would never misspell the title of a book, but a reviewer might. For example, if I search for Obama’s The Audacity of Hope but type in ‘Odasity of Hope,’ I can still find the book mentioned in a review on US retailer Overstock.com. Even while driving search, consumer-generated content democratises shopping, giving every type of shopper — even those who can’t spell (no one is perfect except marketers!) — the opportunity to find what he or she is looking for. In this case, Overstock.com could have won over a searcher who may have never heard of this online retailer.
How retailers can maximise user-generated content in search: To make the best use of user-generated content to drive sales conversion, it’s important that it resides within the purchase cycle, that it is amplified as much as possible and it is never duplicated beyond your site. Here are some recommended tactics when using customer review content to drive search:
- Segment review content from product-page content by creating two separate, interlinked landing pages, increasing ‘shelf space’ in the search engines
- Publish links in to review content within a broad content syndication network, taking care to not duplicate content on other sites
- Provide links to all of the review content to the search engines using XML sitemaps compatible with the specification at sitemaps.org
Microsites amplify search results: Additionally, the most successful retailers package their review content onto dynamic, link-rich microsites to improve ranking and clickthroughs. Unlike basic landing pages seen in lower-end product reviews scripts, content-rich microsites help some of the web’s largest retail brands drive thousands of unique search referrals through long-tail, highly converting search terms. Such microsites commonly increase organic search traffic by 142% over basic landing pages alone, according to a recent analysis of several Bazaarvoice retail clients.
A quality reviews-centric microsite (see an example at: reviews.petco.com) has been proven to:
- Connect all review content through search-friendly links, so search engines can easily find them
- Reduce ‘bounce rates’ (or ‘single page visits’) by providing visitors with context-sensitive navigation to similar products
- Encourage searchers to shop longer and read more reviews
- Create more pages per content or product
Reviews also narrow down less specific searches: As consumers become more discerning about their spending, more web-savvy, and less trusting of retailers and manufacturers, they are turning more to customer input. Today’s searchers are more likely to add the word ‘review’ or ‘reviews’ to their searches and such terms greatly narrow down the search selections — and can put retailers in the driver’s seat.
For example, a search for ‘Canon EOS Digital Rebel’ produced 8,370,000 results, with dozens of sponsored links. However, a search for ‘Canon EOS Digital Rebel reviews’ uncovered 508,000 more specific links, and only two sponsored links. The retailers who sponsored these links are closer to sale, spending less for those ads and have much less competition.
Also, more and more shoppers are searching specifically for reviews. A recent search for ‘Top Customer Rated Office Chairs’ in Google resulted in 8 out of 10 Bazaarvoice client review pages.
UGC also enhances paid search: Constantly refreshed customer-generated content is great fodder for search engines, naturally boosting search traffic, but it can also enhance paid search efforts. With a long history of paid advertising success, US-based office supplies retailer Office Depot incorporated review-related terms into its paid search advertising campaign to increase traffic to OfficeDepot.com, drive new buyers to the site, increase sales and position the OfficeDepot.com site as a ‘go to’ site for consumer-generated office product reviews.
They tested new keywords that included terms related to product reviews, which were intended to capture consumers during the consideration process. The tailored ad messaging around user feedback encouraged searchers to click on the Office Depot listings, and campaign keywords and ad creative were regularly updated so the most recent top-rated products were supported via search.
When they performed a split-serve creative test, they learned that ad creative featuring messaging around product reviews significantly outperformed the control ad creative (which did not contain product review messaging). Specific performance results include a 197% increase in revenue, a 183% increase in new buyers, a 79% increase in click-through rate and a 24% increase in conversion.
In short, online researchers and shoppers are interested in what others think. They want authentic content from their peers to find the best product or service for their specific needs and avoid buyer’s remorse during these challenging economic times. Specifically, they want to search using the same language that reviewers and other peer contributors use. And the beautiful win-win is that user-generated content has extreme value to retailers — they have proven to increase sales conversion, decrease product return rates and improve customer satisfaction for retailers who employ them — and search results add to the long list of such benefits.
• Brett Hurt is the founder and CEO of Bazaarvoice, the leading provider of product ratings and reviews and other social commerce technologies.