Everywhere you go, you see reviews. Whether it’s a physical or digital product, if it’s worth talking about (in a good or bad way), it has reviews. Some of this feedback is simply comments on blogs and forums. But mostly, reviews exist on large e-commerce sites where companies sell their products.
The most important thing about reviews is that people care about them.
About 30% of Internet users check out reviews on Amazon before buying a product. And that’s just Amazon.
Another 13% head to Google.
Before, people would ask their friends about products. But now they rely on online reviews. People trust reviews to inform them about their decisions and reviews play a huge role in people’s purchasing choices.
Although there’s no way to definitively say reviews are good for business, just about every study or anecdotal case suggests that they are. For example, Capterra analyzed the effect of adding reviews for software products and found that conversion rates increased significantly as more reviews were added.
A more general analysis found that conversion rate could more than double if you had a large enough number of reviews. Although there is a mini-plateau after 20 reviews, conversion rate begins to increase again soon after.
You don’t have to be a big e-commerce site to add reviews to your personal website store. Adding reviews increased Figleaves.com’s conversion rates by 35% and eSpares.co.uk’s by 14.2%. These are massive increases in conversion rates that can result in tens or hundreds of thousands of dollars per year.
Potential buyers trust reviews for a few reasons:
- They represent a real-use situation
- They are less likely to be biased (than a sales page)
- They give visitors confidence to buy by proving there won’t be any issues with the purchase
Getting reviews is hard: If you’ve been selling online, you’ve probably noticed it’s difficult to get customers to leave reviews. People want their products, but they don’t really want to do any extra work. Writing a good review can take 5 to 15 minutes without providing much of a benefit to the reviewer.
People typically leave a review for one of three reasons:
- They hate the product
- They love the product
- They’re somewhere in-between but would like to clear up any confusion around the product for other potential buyers (essentially just doing something nice)
The first two reasons are pretty self-explanatory. Obviously, you don’t want people leaving reviews if they hate the product. That’s how you get negative and one-star reviews that actually decrease your conversion rates.
So, how do you prevent it? Simple: have a great product along with great customer service. If you create a product that everyone loves, you’ll get tons of reviews.
In reality, most products have customers that fall into all three camps. What you need to do is focus on the people who already love your product and the ones that like it. A solid three- or four-star review can still help your conversion rate. And that’s what the rest of this post is all about.
I’ll go over the best ways you can maximize the number of reviews you get from your customers.
You Might Not Like This, But it’s What You Have to Do…
Most business owners love to create products. But only some business owners love to sell those products. Selling often feels like you’re doing something wrong and imposing on the people you genuinely care about.
Asking for anything can be difficult. But it needs to be done.
You need to start by realizing that selling doesn’t have to be underhanded. If you create a truly valuable product, sales is simply letting people know about it. If your product is great, people will buy your product and thank you for the opportunity.
After you make the sale, however, you need to ask customers to review it. If you don’t ask, most will never even think of doing it, even if they don’t mind. Although it might seem like you’re imposing on them—asking for something without giving something in return—you aren’t.
Most happy customers are glad to help you spread the word about your product so others will also give it a shot. So stop thinking that you’re taking advantage of your customers and realize that you’re helping each other.
Ideally, you want to ask for reviews as soon as you can after the purchase is made and your buyer has had the time to receive and test the product. If you ask too early, customers can’t review the product because they haven’t had the chance to use it. If you ask too late, they’ll have forgotten about it and are less likely to review it (although late is better than early).
Amazon typically sends an email reminder asking you to review a recent purchase a few days after you’ve received it:
Customers Don’t Hate Giving Reviews—if You Ask Right
It’s important to carefully approach the subject of reviews with customers.
First, you want them to receive the product and be happy with it. The more satisfied they are, the more likely they are to not only leave a review but leave a positive one.
Before asking for a review, I recommend contacting customers and asking them if they had any problems with their order. If they have had problems, they’ll let you know, and you’ll have the chance to fix them.
If they haven’t had any problems, some will let you know, but the others just won’t reply. It’s safe to ask any of these customers for reviews.
Finally, the way in which you ask for reviews is important. Being persuasive with your request can double or triple the number of reviews you end up getting.
Tip #1 – Be appreciative: To be frank, reviewers don’t really get much out of the process. It’s just a nice thing they can do for other people reading reviews in the future.
However, many reviewers will do reviews if they know that they are important to you. After all, you’ve just created a great product for them.
Even though they have paid for it already, many customers will feel that they should have paid more. This leaves them feeling indebted to you. Many customers will leave a review if you tell them how important they are to you because then they can consider the two of you “even”.
For example, RealSelf is an online medical professional directory. It publishes reviews on all types of cosmetic doctors so that you can find one you can trust. After you have found a doctor through the service, RealSelf asks you to contribute a review to the site.
There are two parts of the email in particular that make it work so well:
- “…would love for you to share your experience…” – They’re not just asking you to leave a review for the fun of it. They’re making it clear that they appreciate and value it.
- “…will also help others make informed decisions” – Since the customer was just in the tough situation of trying to make a good decision, they are likely to be empathetic to other people in the same situation. Some customers will leave a review just to help others.
Tip #2 – Make it simple: So we’ve established that most reviewers leave reviews because it’s a nice thing to do. However, there is a limit to how much most people are willing to give to be nice. If you make customers jump through hoops to leave a review, most aren’t going to bother.
The solution is easy: make leaving a review as easy as possible.
First, if you’re asking for a review on any third-party sites, always link directly to the review forms on the specific sites:
Alternatively, if you’re asking customers to leave a review on your site, let them start the process by clicking on a star rating within an email. All the biggest sites do this for a reason. It works. The other benefit is that it makes it really clear you’re looking for the customer to leave a review (they know what stars represent).
Tip #3 – Do NOT offer an incentive: Want to get every customer to leave you a review? Just offer them $100 if they do.
Incentivizing reviews is a gray area. It has obvious moral issues. In some ways, you’re essentially bribing your customer for a good review. Even if you don’t intend your incentive to be a bribe, most people feel compelled to provide good reviews if they’re being compensated for it (without any other potential buyers being aware of it).
A potential problem that might be even bigger is that you could be fined huge amounts if caught by the FTC (if you do any business in the United States). Not all countries have these rules, so check if there’s an equivalent organization in your country and determine if you’re morally okay with incentivizing.
If you are going to offer an incentive, you should ask your reviewers to disclose that fact in their reviews. If the review discloses the incentive, not only is there no moral argument, but it’s also not violating any laws.
Tip #4 – Be clear about what you’re looking for: If you just have a single “your review” text box, customers could write about anything, even irrelevant things.
However, if you break down the review into descriptive fields, your reviewers will have a much better idea of what to include:
One way to improve the above form would be to add a description into, above, or beneath the “review” box. You can prompt the customer to talk about certain aspects of the product that you believe influence buying decisions (shipping, packaging quality, durability, etc.).
Speaking of Great Reviews…Here’s What’s in Them
You can dictate the contents of a review by prompting your customers to think about certain topics. This is important because most people don’t know what a good review consists of. They’ll often leave reviews like “great product” even though that’s not really very useful.
Instead, you want to prompt them with any (or all) of the following:
- including their background situation
- any special features of the product or buying process
- their overall impression
- would they buy again?
When you send your review request, just tell your customers that they can include any information they’d like. However, they should consider things like…(pick from the above list).
Part #1 – A quick background: Not everyone buys a product for the same reason or knows as much about a specific type of product as others.
The best reviews include a quick statement about why a customer bought a product. If another potential buyer is in a similar situation, they will automatically become more interested (it resonates with them). Additionally, any mention of expertise also makes the review more credible (e.g., “I have purchased x types of product”).
Here’s an example:
Part #2 (optional) – A brief description of product and buying process: Unless you’re selling your products through a well-known fulfillment service like Amazon, shipping speed and safety are still big concerns for online shoppers. They affect almost every purchase.
You should obviously make your shipping information very clear on your sales pages. But people also want to know how fast and secure your shipping is in real life, not just in theory. If a potential buyer sees multiple reviews praising your shipping process, they’ll feel assured.
Part #3 – The overall result: The most important part of any purchase is how good the product is. That’s going to be the focal point of any review.
If you’ve done your job right on the product creation end, customers will have great things to say about your product:
However, you can still guide what they mention. You could include a question in your email or on your review form like: “How did you like X feature of product Y?” They will be more likely to take some time to think about that specific feature.
Part #4 – Would you buy again? Customers can often find at least a few good things to say about a product. Nice people leave nice reviews—it’s that simple. However, the ultimate test of a great product is if it earns the loyalty of a customer.
When customers say that they will definitely buy from you again in the future, anyone reading the review will know that the reviewer is serious when they praise the product:
Get Automatic Reviews With a System
Getting reviews shouldn’t be something that you try to do periodically. It should be something that you do with every single customer.
To maximize the number of positive reviews you get, you need a foolproof system. We already looked at Amazon’s system:
- You buy a product
- You get the product
- You get a request to leave a review on Amazon a few days after
They’ve done their own internal testing and determined that this particular timing worked best for the majority of their customers. However, your customers may be different, so always test.
Timing is important: Why are customers different when it comes to this? Most of it comes down to the type of customer you have and the product.
First, certain people expect online shipping to be faster. They want their product right away so they can start using it. This is typically true if you have a young demographic.
Secondly, some products take longer than others to test thoroughly enough to leave a good review. A frying pan only takes a few minutes to test, but a large book can take weeks to read.
If your product takes a longer time to test properly, give your customers a bit more time.
How to get consistent results: The only way to ensure your customer gets your review request “X days” after they’ve purchased something is with an autoresponder.
After they buy something, add them to a new list just for customers. Then, set up your autoresponder to send out an email asking if everything went well. Finally, send your review request sometime after that first message.
I recommend trying different time delays to discover which one produces the most reviews.
The Best Way to Get Great Reviews if You’re Starting From Scratch
Every business faces its own unique challenges when it comes to getting online reviews. The hardest stage is right at the beginning when you have no reviews.
When you have no reviews (or very few), potential buyers are hesitant to be the first buyers. They want to see that other people have bought your product and liked it. To make things worse, people often don’t want to leave the first review. Unless they are an expert on your product, they don’t want to leave an opinion and look stupid if they’re wrong.
Instead, they’d rather look at other reviews first, get a general consensus, and then leave a review if their own opinion matches everyone else’s. This is also why it’s important to get off to a good start with a few glowing reviews.
Do not get fake reviews: Incentivizing reviews is a gray area, but buying fake reviews is clearly over the line.
If you go on Fiverr or Google phrases like “buy 5 star review”, you’ll find a ton of people willing to write you a five-star review without even seeing your product. Even without considering the ethics of doing this, it’s obvious that these reviews won’t be very useful. Sure, you’ll get five-star reviews, but they’ll include no actual information that your potential buyers will care about.
In addition, most fake reviews are extremely easy to spot. And if a potential buyer sees multiple fake reviews, their warning bells will go off and cause them to buy someone else’s product instead. So although you could buy reviews, you are better off focusing on earning them.
To do so, follow these steps:
Step #1 – Pick a site to focus on: There are tons of third-party sites that aggregate reviews on products or businesses. For example, both Google and Yelp focus on local businesses, while Amazon obviously focuses on physical products and e-books.
To start with, pick just one review site to focus on. You can always expand to other sites once you’ve gotten some traction.
Step #2 – Offer a free sample or product: As I said, you need to earn your reviews, which means getting them from actual customers. This is where it’s a good idea to offer a discount, sample, or even free product in exchange for a review.
Wait, what? “Didn’t you just say NOT to offer incentives?”
If you remembered that, well done. That means you’re paying attention.
Incentivizing reviews is murky territory, but only if you don’t disclose it. If you do, they are perfectly compliant with the law and just about anyone’s ethical code. And when you need those first few reviews to get the ball rolling, a few reviews that aren’t perfect are still extremely valuable.
Additionally, just because your customer needs to disclose that you offered them something doesn’t mean the review will suck. Here’s an example of what one might look like:
As one of the first customers to buy (product name), I was lucky enough to be offered a free sample to try.
I received the product after 3 days in perfect condition. Since then, it’s worked exactly as expected.
In particular, the (feature) is better than every other (type of product) I’ve tried.
I’ll definitely be buying more in the future.
Obviously it’s not a perfect review (since I’m dealing with a non-existent product), but if you could get started with 5-10 reviews like that, you’d be set. The disclosure reads naturally and doesn’t really take away from the rest of the review as long as the reviewer is being honest.
Step #3 – Provide instructions: Figuring out how to leave a review is easy for you and me. However, for the non-tech-savvy person, leaving a review might be a head-scratcher. To make sure customers have no problems leaving a review, provide detailed instructions on how to leave a review.
Even if they shop on a well-known platform like Amazon, most people have never left a review before. You need to walk them through it.
Step #4 – Make sure their experience is amazing: This is something we’ve already noted, but I want to re-iterate it.
To earn a great review, you need to provide a great experience.
The buying experience is composed of many different parts:
- the branding
- the packaging
- the shipping process
- the product itself
- follow-up/customer service
Too many businesses make a great product but ignore the rest of the buying experience. Then, they get three-star reviews saying the product was fine, but the shipping sucked, or they couldn’t get fast replies from the company when they needed help.
It’s not hard to determine that these other parts of the buying experience are great, but you need to spend some time and effort making sure they are. If you do that, the quality of the reviews will take care of itself.
One Other Great Source of Reviewers You Should Use
Let’s say you are starting from absolute scratch. I’m talking zero previous customers.
It’s hard to get customers to leave reviews to encourage more people to buy your product when you have no customers in the first place. In this case, you can go for paid advertising to get your first customers. This is great if you have a budget and a little PPC expertise. However, it can get costly since not all customers will leave reviews.
Otherwise, if you have a tight budget, you’ll probably be going the content marketing route, which can take months to draw any customers. However, there is one more opportunity that you can take advantage of to not only drive sales but also reviews.
Here’s the basic procedure:
Step #1 – Look for reviews of competitors: For this series of examples, let’s pretend that I just created the best keyword research tool ever.
Since there aren’t stores where you can sell this particular type of tool, I need to get some reviews to put on my sales page. To start, I need to assemble a list of all my established customers.
This is pretty easy. Just Google “best (type of product)”.
Ideally, you’ll find a big expert roundup that has all your competitors in one spot. Alternatively, you’ll just have to go through the first few pages of search results and record down competing products.
In my case, I was able to easily find the 10 most popular keyword research tools right away (lucky me). For each of these tools, I’m going to find people who have reviewed them and then approach them to get them to review my product.
To find reviews, just Google “(product name) + review”:
Then, make a list of all the reviews you can find (which can be up to 100 for each product).
Step #2 – Contact the bloggers and make a proposal: Now that you have a large list of reviews, you need to get in touch with the reviewer.
Important note: Bloggers get pitches all the time through their “contact” forms, and most of them are terrible and just get ignored. To stand out, the best strategy is to join the blogger’s email list.
When you join an email list, you obviously get emails from that blogger, which contain their email address. Then, you can create a personalized message that will definitely get to their inbox.
If you can’t find an opt-in form on the review page itself, go to the homepage:
You’ll usually be able to find an obvious opt-in either front and center on the homepage or near the top of the sidebar:
When you get an email from them, you can send one back, requesting a review of your product.
A template like this will work:
Hi (blogger name),
I came across your review for (competing product) today and was impressed with how detailed you were.
I actually just released my own keyword research tool, called (product name). I’m not sure if you’ve heard about it yet.
Considering how great your previous reviews have been, I wanted to see if you’d be up for giving my product a try. (I’ll provide you with a free license, of course.)
The reason I believe (my product name) stands out from all the others on the market is because of feature X: (describe feature).
If you’re interested, just let me know.
Thanks for your time,
Again, you are incentivizing the blogger to create a review, but as long as they include a disclosure somewhere on the page, there’s no issue. Most blog readers are used to such disclosures by now and don’t consider them in their decision-making.
Once you get a review, you can then publish the appropriate parts of the review on your website and attribute them to the blogger (let them know about it).
The results of different reviews: If you get a review done by a popular blogger, you can drive some serious sales.
That being said, popular bloggers are the toughest ones to get reviews from since they get pitched so frequently. I’m not saying don’t go after them, but be aware that you will face a lot of rejection.
Lesser known bloggers, on the other hand, will be more receptive to your approaches. If all you want are reviews (and you’re not too worried about immediate sales), target these bloggers first.
If you sell anything online, remember that reviews are one of the biggest factors affecting your sales, so don’t ignore them.
First, come up with a plan of attack to determine what type of reviews you need. Next, optimize your sales funnel to maximize the number of customers who leave you reviews—and not just any reviews, great ones. Finally, if you’re starting from scratch, use one of the methods I’ve laid out to start generating reviews for your new product.
Have any other ideas or questions about reviews? I’d be happy to discuss them in the comments below.
This post originally appeared on Quick Sprout, and is re-published with permission.
Subscribe to SEJ
Get our weekly newsletter from SEJ's Founder Loren Baker about the latest news in the industry!