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What does Third party review services mean in SEO?

What others think about your website or business plays a heavy influence in internet user's decision making whether it's the decision to trust you or simply a decision about whether or not to visit your website at all.

Why use a review service?

The star ratings from third party review websites are being used more and more by search engines and other online services. They can appear by your advertisements, next to listings on shopping websites and even next to results in searches.

It's not clear whether or not these reviews influence where you rank in the search results (or where your adverts or shopping listings appear) directly but they affect how likely an internet user is to click through and visit your site ... and that is a ranking factor (known as the Click Through Rate or CTR).

So directly or indirectly reviews will affect traffic to your site which means that, like it or not, you're going to have to get your head around this part of online marketing.

I say "like it or not" because much of the whole review system is badly flawed in its own trustworthyness - more on that at the bottom of this page!

Are you ready for a review service?

General research has shown only about 1-2% of people will leave reviews after they have engaged with you so to build up a solid bank of ratings and feedback you are going to need a healthy level of users or customers.

Catch 22? Possibly. If you don't have high traffic numbers how can you get reviews and if you don't have reviews how are you going to get high traffic numbers?

In this situation a PPC campaign to bring in the traffic in order to build up the reviews is well worth considering.

Types of review services

There are dozens of websites which offer people the ability to leave reviews but they fall into two categories:
  • verified users/customers - only people who can prove they have purchased something from a website or business can leave a review.
  • unverified users/customers - anyone can leave a review about a website or business without having to prove they purchased something or even visited the website or business - mad but true!

Discount any kind of relationship with the second type straight away. If you want there to be a place on the internet with accurate reviews about you then it will never be a review service that lets unverified users or customers add feedback.

These third party systems inevitably become diluted with random reviews beyond your control. They also have no real way to make money and can start playing all sorts of shenanigans with your reviews in order to get cash out of you ... because they can't get it from the reviewers.

In my books the worst offender by far is Yelp! But that's only because it has had the biggest amount of investor cash thrown at it making it the biggest headache for more businesses than you can shake a stick at. For the individual low down on this read my blog post Why I don't recommend Yelp! To my clients.

Verified users and customers only

The only review sites you want to be working with are those which restrict feedback to customers and users who can verify that they have used your service, bought a product from you or visited your website - end of story.

Now reviewers aren't going to pay to leave a review so that means the cash will have to come from you.

There are a few freebie services around but they earn their income my asking the reviewer not only about you but about other things - questions sponsored by other research companies. The result however is that the review survey becomes so long few people actually complete it.

The problems with review services

It's no lie that I've long questioned the use of third party review services on two grounds:
  • Their financial stability seemed questionable - especially as none offer transparent pricing - here's Trustpilots 'call us and we'll talk prices' page.
  • All the reviews are held on their servers - so you could spend months building up a solid base of feedback only for it to disappear in the night if the service went pop!

Note the second point has to be true. Any review service that lets you keep the reviews on your server isn't going to be trustworthy in the eyes of Google, Bing, shopping sites, etc. because you could tamper with them. It's a necessary evil in that sense.

But these risks are beginning to outweigh the benefits now that those star ratings are appearing left, right and center.

The question now is who to choose.

Matching a review service to your needs

You're going to fall into one of two categories:

  • You sell a product or service - ecommerce websites
  • You have an information website

Information only websites

When you simply have a website with information, and you want people to leave a review about your site, then there are services that provide pop up style questionnaires. You've probably seen them around, the "Have you got a moment to tell us what you think" message that suddenly appears in the middle of your screen.

The most obvious mistake many make with this is to get the pop up appearing the moment the visitor arrives. Now think about it. How can a visitor leave feedback if they've only just arrived and haven't even had time to view your content!

So make sure any service you consider has some sort of timer delay before it goes demanding feedback!

Also be sure to use a review service whose star ratings are trusted by Google. Google provides a list to ensure you don't waste time setting up with the wrong company.

Ecommerce websites

Although you can go for the "What do you think about my website?" option (above) your feedback rate is likely to be incredibly low as buyers will be reluctant to leave some kind of review until they've seen how good you are at delivering whatever it is you are selling and how good whatever it is you are selling actually is.

As such services tied to purchases which follow through after the delivery are the better option.

The best place to start is to see if you qualify for the Google Trusted store programme. It's a bit geographically limited and you have to have hundreds of transactions every month to get on board but if you can there is no better place to have your reviews stored than Google itself.

After all if Google goes pop that's going to be a seismic shift for the entire internet!

If you don't qualify for that then Google openly lists the third party review websites it uses here:
Note they only use review services that offer 'verified' customer/user feedback systems ... so no Yelp! and the like.

As you can see that list is pretty extensive so where to start?

Now I'm going to go out on a limb here and recommend BizRate Insights on the simple grounds that it is now part of a much larger group of companies operating under the Connexity name. Connexity now operates many of the most well known price comparison websites such as Shopzilla, Beso, Retrevo, etc.

This gives it two income streams - one from those advertising on its price comparison services and one from those subscribing to their review service (now called BizRate Insights) - and makes it far more likely to be around in the long term. Big investment is happening here.

You're still going to run the risk of them ratcheting up your monthly fees once they see you have obtained a large number of reviews - all the data is on their server so where are you going to go? - but this is the same risk with all such services.

BizRate Insights will give you the code to put on your checkout complete page that will ask customers for feedback and then follow up those same customer a few days later to ask how the order delivery went and what they thought about your product.

You might also consider Trustpilot which is another leading brand but generally shop around and talk to a few to see which one is going to fit your needs best within your budget.

The real worth of reviews

I still grit my teeth when I say "use reviews" because fundamentally much of this industry is just flawed. If someone went out and asked 3 random people on the street what they thought of their own government and all 3 people gave 5 stars you wouldn't conclude the government of that country is brilliant.

You need to ask a decent amount of people and across the entire spectrum of society - old and young, male and female, employed and unemployed, etc.

Yet a very large proportion of internet users are happy enough to draw their conclusion on a handful of reviews. They'll even buy into those star ratings from services that don't even require the user to visit the business, buy anything from that organization or prove ownership of a product or use of a service they are talking about.

It's exacerbated by Google which is quite happy to show star ratings based on those handful of reviews in all sorts of places that internet users will be making decisions.

What they should really say is, when only a few reviews exist, "There aren't enough reviews yet to give X an overall star rating" and at least wait until fifty or so verified people have given their feedback.

But they don't and many of your potential customers or visitors are influenced by the stars ... so climb aboard the flawed system!

I'm Tim Hill, a Search Engine Optimization and Online Marketing specialist. I created this site to help others understand that SEO is not a mysterious black art!.

If your a newbie try the Getting Started in SEO page, otherwise feel free to dig around and learn more.

Find me on Facebook or get in touch if you need help.

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