Practical Ecommerce

SEO: Optimizing Ratings, Reviews and Comments

Content that consumers leave on an ecommerce site can improve the site’s search engine optimization, if the platforms and underlying code are set up optimally. Ratings, reviews and comments each play a part in SEO, utilizing the words and opinions that real shoppers voice to strengthen optimization.

In aggregate, these types of content fall under the label of user-generated content. I wrote in more detail about reviews and SEO here, in “SEO: Letting Customers Generate Long Tail Search Terms.” The gist of that article still stands. Optimizing a site manually for the millions of phrases that could drive one or two converting customers just isn’t scalable. User generated content such as reviews and question-and-answer sections can solve the problem by outsourcing long tail optimization to your own customers. In addition to reviews, though, ratings and comments have their place in ecommerce SEO as well.

Reviews for SEO

When review content displays on the relevant product page, it boosts the keyword theme for that individual product page. Most reviews vendors — such as Bazaarvoice — offer product variations that display the reviews on the product pages in a crawlable manner, but some don’t. At the same time, Google and Bing are getting better at crawling the JavaScript that has traditionally kept crawlers out of juicy review content. An easy way to check whether reviews content is crawlable is to just Google a random chunk of the review content and see if it appears in the search results.

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A unique review on Shoes.com's Asics Women's GEL-Blur 33 page

A unique review on Shoes.com’s Asics Women’s GEL-Blur 33 page

For example, the Asics Women’s GEL-Blur 33 on Shoes.com has six reviews. But are they crawlable? To find out, copy a unique-looking chunk of a review and Google it in quotes like this:

“Asics have never let me down! I love these shoes because they look good and they provide awesome support for all kinds of workouts and the best part is I can wear them out and get tons of compliments!”

The quote marks in the search query tell Google and other major engines that the only results you’re interested in are an exact match of the words entered in that order. If product page you’re looking for shows up for the exact quote from the review, then Google can crawl and index the reviews on that page. You’ll notice if you do this example search that not only do the product pages for each color of this model of shoe show up, but other athletic shoe category pages as well. Essentially, Shoes.com has used a mashup of customer comments from shoes relevant to that category to strengthen the keyword theme of their category pages as well as their product pages. That’s an interesting tactic, but I’m not sure that using the same quote on 9,720 pages is a fantastic idea. I’d like to see the mashup use more comments across fewer pages, but it’s still an excellent concept for harnessing the power of reviews content.

If no results come up for the quote, try another quote on a different page. It’s possible that that page hasn’t been indexed yet, or that the bit of text copied wasn’t unique enough to return the page you’re looking for at the top. If after five to seven tries you still can’t find any reviews indexed on the product page, there’s likely a crawlability problem. Contact the reviews vendor to find out more about the add-ons they offer to make reviews more SEO friendly by embedding the content directly into the product page.

One thing to watch out for is reviews pages that are separate from product pages. Historically the reviews companies would implement the reviews on a subdomain and link to the reviews content from the product page. The result was that the juicy reviews content that could be helping boost the product page’s rankings was instead hosted on a separate page that competed with the product page. For example, Shoes.com does make its reviews content available at a separate page as well as on their product pages, as follows.

  • http://www.shoes.com/en-US/Product/EC1274356-5157306/Asics/Black_Lightning/Women’s+GEL-Blur+33.aspx
  • http://reviews.shoes.com/2244/5157306/asics-womens-gel-blur-33-reviews/reviews.htm?scrollToTop=true

This isn’t necessarily a bad thing. In some industries, like consumer electronics, searchers are often looking for reviews of products, so having a separate page to optimize for product name + reviews is actually a benefit. But in most industries “reviews” searches are not very numerous, so having separate reviews pages for each product is typically not a benefit. Keyword research will help identify whether reviews keywords are important to your business.

Ratings for SEO

Ratings and reviews go hand in hand. When customers write a review, they usually also rank the product from one to five stars. Interestingly, the ratings seem to have little impact on traditional search results. Ratings can, however, influence the click decision if they’re included in search results as rich snippets. To accomplish this, just code the ratings portion of the product page using the hReview-aggregate microformat, a small bit of structured data that surrounds the ratings information to alert the search engines to the fact that this content is ratings content. Using microformats doesn’t guarantee ratings inclusion in the search results page, but the first page listed in the search results that uses the microformat typically shows stars.

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Search results with ratings stars in the snippets due to hReview-aggregate microformatting.

Search results with ratings stars in the snippets due to hReview-aggregate microformatting.

In these search results, Famous Footwear is the first result to use the hReview-aggregate microformat. The Shoes.com page, which also uses the microformat, ranked eighth in this Google search. Had it ranked above Famous Footwear, we’d be seeing its five-star rating instead of Famous Footwear’s.

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Famous Footwear's hReview-aggregate microformatting.

Famous Footwear’s hReview-aggregate microformatting.

Comments for SEO

Comments seem like a missed opportunity for SEO, until you factor in the prevalence of ecommerce blogging. True, the ecommerce platform may not include comments, but the blog most likely does. While many etail blogs fall prey to thin content and comment spam, the comments offered by real customers can benefit the keyword theme of that blog post and attract long tail organic search traffic.

For example, Shoes.com offers a blog called Sole Food with a crawlable comments section. Comments are few and far between, and many are spam comments as mentioned before. But even the spam comments can contain useful keywords at times. On competitor Heels.com’s recent blog post about Jessica Simpson heels, a commenter said, “I heard the Jessica Simpson heels are actually comfortable! They’re very cute :).” The comment does indeed echo the theme of the blog post, but also contains a link back to a retailer known for spam comments. When offering commenting features on a blog, always moderate the comments to weed out spammers. Even blogs that no-follow links in their comments attract spammers, to the detriment of the quality of the blog overall.

When choosing a commenting platform, whether its WordPress, Disqus or another one, make certain that the comments will be crawlable and indexable on the page. As with reviews content, comments that aren’t indexable on the page will have no SEO value. To determine whether your current comments are indexable, use the same method as shown above with reviews: Copy a unique chunk of comment text and Google it. When choosing a commenting platform, ask for other sites that use that platform currently and test their site for indexed comments. Disqus and Facebook both use JavaScript to insert comments into the page, but Google has proven it can index those comments on the page easily.

Summary

In summary, reviews, ratings and comments can all have a positive impact on SEO when implemented carefully. Encourage user-generated content, treat customer creators respectfully, and keep a critical eye toward would-be spammers. Always remember that user generated content should benefit the product page that it’s displayed on. If the content isn’t indexable on that specific product page, the SEO benefit may be lost.

Jill Kocher
Jill Kocher
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Comments ( 3 )

  1. Global Hemp February 21, 2012 Reply

    Good points made. We looked into using PowerReviews for our online store (http://store.globalhemp.com/) and since we are not a large company, we were referred to PowerReviews Express. While the feature of PowerReviews and PowerReviews Express are great, the #1 issue that was not clear on their website was if the content — the reviews — would be hosted on our product pages, or not. Following is their reply:

    "PowerReviews Express is not Google friendly. Our in line SEO at our enterprise level will be index across Google."

    This email response was sent to us fairly recently, 7/7/2011 so I assume this is still the case. So, for small merchants the "Express" version is good on features and for on-page visitors, but not good for SEO purposes. The Express reviews most likely will not show in Google search pages (prior to visitor seeing page). No snippets.

    Still looking for product reviews that do the following:
    1. Easily integrates (currently using Volusion)
    2. Data could be transferred to new store in future
    3. Review is SEO friendly (hReview-aggregate microformat)
    4. Can be managed in-house, not a 3rd party (monthly fees)
    5. Users who review can have their review posted socially

  2. Florida Health May 3, 2012 Reply

    We had the same needs as the first commenter. I’d spent a lot of time researching reviews apps but I couldn’t find a free or inexpensive off-the-shelf reviews feature that embedded the comments as readable html into our standard web pages.

    Since we don’t get all that many comments, i found that it was easy enough to write our own reviews plug-in with php. It’s very basic and i didn’t foresee the need for reviews to be shared with social media sites, but it works well enough for us. You can see our custom comments feature at the bottom of most pages at http://www.floridahealth.com

    You may want to check with your web developer or on one of those freelancer sites to see what it would cost to have a reviews feature written for you.

  3. Dorran September 15, 2013 Reply

    HI all, thanks first of all for this very informative article.

    I think nowadays we all agree about the importance of user generated Content and ist Impact.

    Nevertheless, I often can not beliefe how many businesses do not take this Topic seriously and make sth out of it.

    If you would not want to deal with customer Ratings and Reviews, no Problem but then get this stuff fixed professionally.

    A very good recommendation for product Ratings and Reviews is http://www.ekomi-us.com

    Hope I could help and add some value.

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