Your customers may take many steps along many paths before they make a purchase or sign up to your service, and it's important that at each contact point they get a positive impression of your business. You're likely aware of the way prospective users work their way through the marketing funnel, but let's just focus on Google Search, because in the majority of cases, everything starts there.
We'll talk about 4 ways that reviews can help you turn prospective customers into happy converters, and talk about how those customers find online reviews and become influenced by them. In fact, I'll use a recent online shopping experience of my own to illustrate, because everyone likes an example.
Let's get straight to 4 of the ways the presence of reviews can affect a customer journey.
Information Gathering - Reviews contain content outside of the manufacturer's description, often answering real-life suitability questions
Social Proof - Reviews contain the "me too" element - if other people use and like this product, then so will I.
More Clicks - Reviews get stars in Google search results. Stars attract clicks.
Better Conversion - Reviews give consumers one more reason to purchase and one less reason to look elsewhere for further information.
My recent shopping story
I quite like mountain biking in my spare time, so I've got a half decent bike with some suspension forks that work using compressed air. To change the amount of "spring" in the fork, you need to pump them up using a specialist "shock pump" (you can't use your normal bike pump that you'd use for your wheels on it). I recently needed to purchase such a pump, and in the process also needed to do some research into what type of pump I needed.
Sounds pretty standard. I was a customer with a need, and then used the power of the internet to do some preliminary research into satisfying that need.
At this point I wasn't really sure what constituted a good shock pump in my price range (around GBP £25 / USD $30) so I took to a quick Google search for a fairly generic term "bike shock pump". Immediately confronted by a selection of Google Shopping results, I clicked on a few to get an idea of what I wanted.
(This might be a good place to put a link to my earlier blog post 10 Ways To Fail At Google Shopping which among other things talks about bidding low for more generic search terms on Shopping).
I stumbled across the "SKS Mountain Suspension Pump", drawn in by the "36% price drop" listed in the Google Shopping Advert. I clicked through to the retailer page and had a read, but I wasn't going to make a purchase simply because I couldn't find any reviews on the product.
Because I knew literally nothing at this point about shock pumps, this was a big barrier to making a purchase at this point. Sadly for this retailer, they've spend a quid or two on a paid Shopping click that hasn't resulted in a sale.
All was not lost for the SKS Mountain Suspension Pump, however. It was within budget at almost half the RRP, so being the price-conscious customer that I am I thought I'd do some more research.
The next step was to Google "SKS Mountain Suspension Pump" to see if I could get some more information. I really just wanted to read some reviews, because I wanted some social proof that I wasn't about to waste my money.
Luckily, the top hits included 2 results with product star ratings, a Google Shopping and an Organic result.
One click later and I'm reading through a selection of consumer reviews. I'm trying to find out more about this product and see if suits my needs.
There were some concerns overall about its ability to pump up the rear bike suspension (which I don't have anyway), as that needs a much higher pressure, but the general consensus was that for front forks it would perform ok. As a customer, all my boxes were ticked. Price, delivery, suitability.
I knew delivery and service would be good without doing any research because I happened to be a returning customer to this particular store.
How did reviews affect my buying journey?
The steps I took here were as follows (and in fact this is a relatively short customer journey because I was already aware of the retailer I made my final purchase from).
Google Search Results - With or Without Reviews.
I found a product with good pricing that seemed to fit my needs, but there weren't any reviews in the form of Google Stars present. I clicked the link here only to get more information, I wasn't going to make a purchase at this point.
Landing Page - Something Lacking
I confirmed the product was available and at the target price, but no reviews were available, so I didn't feel comfortable making a purchase yet. Had product reviews been present, I probably would have been more likely to make a purchase at this point, but I'd already made my mind up before even getting to the site.
More Specific Search - Actively Looking for Reviews
I knew what product I was likely to buy, assuming it met my needs. I searched for more detailed information about that specific brand and model of product by Googling its's exact name. A few more results have appeared in Google, some containing a star rating for the product.
Another Landing Page - This Time with Reviews
A product page, this time with product reviews present. Because I'd clicked on an advert with review stars on it, I knew I was going to get the information I needed. I already knew what the price was because it was on the Google Shopping advert. I'm getting much closer to making a purchase at this point.
I've clicked the ad and now had a quick scan through the reviews to make sure the pump would work for my needs. I'm already sold on price at this point, and I quite like the look of the product.
Conversion - I'm fully informed
Having read the reviews, I find that the product fits my needs, is at the right price, delivery time is acceptable and it's a brand I'm already aware of and have purchased from. I click the Buy Now button and complete my purchase.
And here it is. It even came in a handy carry pouch.
This is just one example of a customer buying journey and how the presence (or absence) of reviews affects purchasing decisions. In summary, then, there are a number of steps any customer will take before finally making a purchase. In the journey above, the presence of reviews were the critical factor in my purchase decision. I am not unique - your customers will be going through many similar processes (some far more complicated than mine) before converting.
It's really important then to collect and publish reviews. Not only will they give you stars in Google which give you more clicks but also the right kind of clicks (in my case, someone who was certain that the click would result in reviews about the product being available on the landing page).
Reviews on the product page dramatically increase the chances of a customer making a purchase. Did you notice that I didn't leave the second landing page to go back and purchase the product from the first? The price was the same, the retailer was just as well known, and delivery would have been about the same as well. But I, like many other people, am lazy. Too lazy to press the back button and start again. And why would I? Everything I need to make this purchase is right in front of me.
To see how reviews, and specifically product reviews, can help your business, click here.