Leveraging feedback and reviews to empower SEO and branding

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They are technically not part of SEO, but they can indirectly influence a brand’s SEO and organic visibility. We are talking about customer reviews, a key aspect of any company’s online presence. Although the expression “for better or worse, as long as it’s talked about” – a paraphrase of a phrase from Oscar Wilde’s The Portrait of Dorian Gray – often recurs in marketing to emphasize how in communication it is important to be heard and perceived by the audience “regardless” of the type of sentiment, actually learning how to properly manage user feedback, comments and criticism can become a lever to drive our products and services and, more generally, to fortify our brand.

What user feedback and comments are

In the world of marketing and business, the term “feedback” is ubiquitous, but perhaps it is appropriate to explain what exactly it means in the context of online products, services, and brands.

In this context, feedback, comments or reviews are all user-generated content on any Web site or platform that supports this type of interaction. It is thus a written opinion left directly by a customer, who his or her experience with that particular item, providing, for example, detailed descriptions of how a product works, evaluations of the usefulness of a service, comments on a brand he or she has come into contact with, and so on, thereby also answering common questions and concerns that other users and potential buyers may have.

Feedback is thus a form of two-way communication: it is the way in which customers communicate their experiences, impressions and perceptions to companies, and through which brands themselves can obtain useful and vital information to try to improve and grow.

What are online feedback and comments

There are different types of feedback, which can be classified according to their nature, and in general, a comment can be constructive or critical, positive or negative, quantitative or qualitative.

Constructive feedback provides specific suggestions on how to improve, while critical feedback might merely highlight a problem without proposing solutions; a positive opinion celebrates what the company is doing well, while a negative opinion highlights areas of weakness. Quantitative commentary is based on numbers and statistics, such as customer satisfaction scores, while qualitative commentary focuses on detailed descriptions and personal opinions.

On the practical side, as mentioned, online feedback can then be about products, services, and brands/companies. In the case of products, the content can range from detailed reviews that examine the quality, effectiveness, or usability of the item to simple star ratings that provide a quick and intuitive judgment. For services, feedback tends to be more focused on the overall customer experience, and the focus of reviews often includes elements such as professionalism, speed, and service efficiency.

Finally, when they are of interest to brands, comments can take on an even broader dimension: consumers not only share their opinions on specific products or services, but also express their perceptions of the brand as a whole, with assessments of brand identity, reputation, and the values it represents. Positive feedback in this area can strengthen customer loyalty and attract new consumers, while negative feedback may require careful crisis management and brand repositioning.

For companies, collecting and analyzing these different types of feedback is essential to understanding customer needs and expectations: using tools such as surveys, online reviews, focus groups, and social listening platforms, it is possible to get a full picture of how their products, services, and overall image are perceived, allowing them to make targeted adjustments and improve their marketing and product strategies.

What are user comments and opinions for

On an intuitive level, we might think that it is better to receive no reviews at all rather than read critical notes: in reality, any kind of interaction with customers should be welcomed, whether positive or negative, structuring an operational way to collect, process, and respond to user reviews in a beneficial way.

This kind of exchange allows us to shape our products, solve any problems, step in to give advice, and so on.For this reason, feedback should always be appreciated and stimulated, not least because word of mouth remains one of the main information channels available to users, as we were saying when discussing SEO online reputation.

The “as long as it’s talked about” mentioned earlier we could consider it somewhat akin to the assumptions of brand awareness, according to which we need to inform the public about the existence and characteristics of a brand, of which they initially have an essentially neutral opinion, neither too good nor too bad, building our narrative.

But marketing also exploits another never-disproven rule, that “the greater the media exposure, the higher the appreciation of a brand,” which is based on the unconscious mechanism of imitation by simplification.

In practice, it is as if people automatically convince themselves that something very well known cannot be too bad, while conversely when they stumble upon a new product or brand they are more reluctant – statistically – to make an immediate purchase and seek more information (or more likely to turn to something known). In short, what matters is collective awareness, even unrelated and independent of reputation, because it is in itself an indicator and a factor in choice.

From this perspective, feedback is crucial because it is a direct signal coming from customers that can guide us through the changing currents of consumer preferences and market trends: it can serve as a thermometer for customer satisfaction, for understanding whether or not a product or service meets expectations, and it is also a powerful tool for dialogue. Through comments and reviews, in fact, people can (explicitly or not) suggest improvements, point out flaws, or express new ideas that may not have been considered.

They also help build and maintain trust. When companies show that they are listening and acting on input received from customers, they are sending a powerful message: “We care about you and your opinion,” and this can strengthen customer loyalty and improve brand reputation.

In practical aspects of marketing, feedback is also content that can enrich promotional materials with authentic testimonials: positive reviews can be used in advertising campaigns, on websites, and on social media, serving as powerful endorsers to attract new customers.

The value of online user feedback and reviews: what the statistics say

To recap, reviews prove useful for at least five practical reasons:

  • They elevate trust in new consumers, who are better predisposed to trust the positive and reassuring experiences of customers who have purchased and tested a product or service and recommend it.
  • They represent “social validation,” an unbiased opinion outside the brand that can confirm what we communicate and promise with brand image and content about us.
  • They are a lever of brand credibility, helping to demonstrate our competence and professionalism.
  • They improve conversion rates: reading a review “at the right time” can give a hesitant user the final push to purchase.
  • They help SEO, visibility and the overall reputation of the brand/site, which is seen by search engines as an authoritative and reliable reference in that field.

But there is an even more relevant aspect that “encapsulates” all that we have written: not only do people write reviews, but more importantly they basically read them all the time before making a purchase or using a service, and this greatly influences the purchase decision, somewhat like what happened and happens with word of mouth.

Today’s consumer is savvy and knows how to handle the means at their disposal to find the information they are interested in, and in numbers show that most online shoppers research products before they buy and, more than 9 times out of 10, dwell on online reviews.

Expert Louisa Zhou has gathered on her site the key statistics on online reviews in 2023, which reveal precisely that:

  • 95% of consumers consult online reviews before proceeding to purchase a product.
  • 89% of consumers dedicate time to reading reviews before purchasing products online.
  • 49% of users place as much trust in online reviews as they do in recommendations received in person.
  • A remarkable 94% say that negative reviews helped deter them from interacting with a company.
  • 97% of consumers read reviews related to local businesses.
  • Positive reviews can lead to a 31% increase in customer spending.
  • More than 81% of consumers tend to check reviews on Google before proceeding to a site.
  • 74% of people believe that reviews help increase trust in a business.
  • 53% of users expect brands to respond to negative reviews within a week.
  • 68% of consumers do not fully trust a 5-star rating unless it is accompanied by a substantial number of reviews.

In short, the statistics make it blatantly clear how and how reviews are in themselves a powerful marketing engine, because they connect, humanize the brand, and provide real and immediate data that can be turned into concrete actions, whether it’s changing a product, improving a service, or refining the overall customer experience. Listening and acting on feedback is not only a smart business practice, then, but a commitment to excellence that customers will be sure to notice and appreciate.

Where feedback is found: sites and platforms that collect and display feedback

Customer feedback is scattered across the digital landscape, becoming a now ubiquitous piece of content for businesses and consumers.

The first place where feedback finds a home is Google: thanks to rich results and appropriate markup, already in the SERP it is possible to see at a glance the level of satisfaction achieved among users through the star rating system or review excerpts. In addition, with the Business Profile Tab (the former Google My Business) people can comment on their experience quickly, and brands can respond directly to these messages.These feedbacks are visible in local searches and often appear next to business cards in search results, strongly influencing user perception.

Outside of Search, there are dedicated platforms such as Yelp and TripAdvisor, which have established themselves as benchmarks for feedback in specific industries such as dining and tourism. Another fertile ground for writing (but also finding and reading) reviews are social media, such as Facebook, X and Instagram, where comments and opinions are often shared in real time and brands have the opportunity to interact directly with customers in a public and transparent way.

We also cannot forget online forums and communities, such as Reddit or Quora, where discussions about products and services can provide detailed and often technical insights; although this content may not have the same immediate visibility as a Google review, it can strongly influence the opinions of community members and is often indexed by search engines.

Turning specifically to e-commerce, platforms such as Amazon and eBay have built-in review systems that are essential to buyers’ decision making: product reviews on these sites not only help build or erode trust in a seller or product, but can also influence a product’s ranking within the platform itself.

Finally, company websites themselves often host testimonials and case studies that serve as official feedback: although these are generally curated by the company and tend to show its more positive side, they are still an important point of contact for potential customers seeking confirmation of the quality of a product or service.

In any case, managing online feedback is a delicate task that requires attention and strategy, because as mentioned, a company’s visibility and reputation (not only online) can be significantly affected by the quality and quantity of the comments it receives, making it essential to constantly monitor these different platforms and intervene when necessary.

Which sites should curate customer reviews

In short, it should be clear that online sites benefit particularly significantly from customer feedback, and in particular e-commerce, service platforms, review sites, and companies operating in the tourism sector are among the main stakeholders in this form of communication.

Let’s start with e-commerce: in an environment where physical contact with the product is impossible, customer feedback becomes a key guide for other consumers. Not only do product reviews provide reassurance and trust, but they also enrich the site with original and relevant content, which is valued positively by search engines-and it is no coincidence that Google has a specific ranking system for evaluating review content, favoring those who offer useful and original information.

Service platforms, such as those for booking accommodations or renting cars, rely on feedback to build trust with listed providers: in these cases, opinions act as a rating system that helps users make informed decisions, and active management of reviews, through responding to comments and resolving any problems, can improve online reputation and encourage customer loyalty.

In the tourism sector, hotels and restaurants see feedback as a powerful marketing tool: positive comments can turn into an attractive showcase that invites new customers to experience the offer; in addition, positive reviews on specialized sites can increase visibility in local searches, a key aspect of attracting tourists and visitors.

In all of these cases, feedback helps to create and maintain a positive brand image online, while at the same time providing signals to search engines that the site is relevant and appreciated, which can potentially and indirectly lead to better rankings in search results. At the same time, careful management of feedback can help mitigate the impact of any negative reviews while maintaining a strong online reputation.

Feedback and SEO: the impact of user reviews on organic visibility

The voice of customers, once confined to mostly telephone reviews and surveys, now spreads powerfully through the Web, influencing not only the reputation of companies but also their online visibility.

While not catalogable as a direct ranking factor in complex search engine algorithms, the impact of customer reviews and user feedback nevertheless has a tangible and significant impact on SEO, acting on several levels of the online ecosystem.

First and foremost, they fortify the brand, making it more authoritative and trustworthy: positive third-party opinions help build a company’s online reputation, which is a crucial factor for SEO, and they can also help make the site a recognized authority in its industry-an element that can facilitate link earning, the winning of backlinks from other websites.

In a holistic site management so to speak, creating a profile on a third-party review platform can emphasize off-page SEO efforts, which describes all the actions taken to create a digital footprint outside of our actual website.

From the user’s perspective, then, brands that actively respond to comments, both positive and negative, show that they value their customers’ opinions, demonstrating a human and relational aspect that can build customer loyalty and prove (even to search engines) that there is a legitimate, consumer-focused business behind the site.

In addition, high ratings and rave reviews can influence user behavior on the site, improving CTR and leading to more conversions, lower bounce rates, and longer dwell times-these behavioral factors can be used by search engines as clues to the quality of the user experience offered by a site, potentially influencing its ranking.

Feedback also plays a role in local SEO, because reviews on Google and other local review sites can directly influence visibility in local searches and in the “Local Pack,” the section of search results that highlights local businesses.

How to get users to leave comments and reviews

It is not always easy to get these feedbacks because people often get bored of “wasting time” telling about their experience: usually, the comment comes naturally at the end of a remarkably positive experience or, even more frequent case, an exceptionally poor one.

Encouraging users to leave feedback is an art that combines psychology, technology and a dash of creativity. An effective strategy begins with facilitating the review process and intercepting people “hot,” at the moment of maximum satisfaction and enthusiasm for the journey.

In addition, making sure that leaving feedback is simple and intuitive can make the difference between a customer who shares their experience and one who opts out by focusing efforts on the channels most relevant to the business-site, social, or Google profile-perhaps using a third-party platform to quickly manage the flow or providing for follow-up emails to ask for feedback at a later date.

For example, e-commerce sites often integrate review systems directly into their order confirmation pages or send post-purchase emails with direct links to the product review page.

Another method is to incentivize feedback by offering some benefit to users, such as a small discount on future purchases or other benefits (but without compromising the authenticity of the reviews), or simply with a message showing gratitude and appreciation for taking the time to write a review.

The power of dialogue should not be overlooked: responding to feedback, both positive and negative, shows that the company is engaged in active listening and is willing to work to improve, and this attitude can encourage other customers to share their experiences, knowing that they will have a voice.

Finally, you can use social channels to promote feedback sharing. Through posts and stories that highlight customer reviews or invite experience sharing, companies can create a feedback culture that values customer opinions.

The importance of negative feedback – and troubleshooting

It is almost inevitable that we will also have to deal with some criticism and negative reviews, we said: what is important is not to react badly or just ignore (or delete) the comment as an attempt to protect our image, but rather to take advantage of each and every feedback to improve our service and possibly discover current weaknesses that, with optimization work, can be solved and overcome.

In the case of negative feedback, our task is precisely to understand what went wrong with the user experience and how we can solve the problem.

By taking a proactive approach, every comment-and even more so a criticism-is an opportunity to see one’s company through the eyes of the customer and to identify areas for improvement that we may have missed. We must also convince ourselves that a timely and thoughtful response is essential: ignoring negative comments will not make them go away and may even make the situation worse, just as merely deleting “what we don’t like” may make the situation worse, setting off a full-blown crisis. The Net does not forget, and there is always the possibility that someone has noticed the criticism, the deletion of which could lead to the emergence of a “case” that undermines our reputation.

On the contrary, forcing yourself to respond courteously and professionally shows that the company takes customer concerns seriously, trying, if possible, to offer a solution or remedy.

Handling critical comments

There are a number of methods for handling these critical situations, and a searchenginewatch article suggests, for example, a four-step process that starts with direct contact with customers who have left negative or contentious feedback, to figure out precisely what the problem was and make things right.

  1. Thank the person for sharing their feedback and reporting a problem or malfunction.
  2. Regardless of the cause of the negative impression, show that you are sorry and willing to make it right.
  3. Check what exactly went wrong and how you can take action to remedy the situation: depending on the type of business, we can offer a remedial benefit, such as a demo session, extended trial access, an extended subscription, or a promotional code.
  4. If we have identified and remedied the problem-and thus feel that the user can be satisfied with our efforts-we ask that the review be updated and modified.

Changing approach to criticism

For the purposes of growing our project and our reputation, we should not be concerned about the negative review itself, but rather about the fact that we are providing a poor service: therefore, our task is to try to turn the negative experience a user has had with our brand into a positive one, which can also serve as an example for other people and grow the brand’s trustworthiness.

It is not possible to ensure perfect services all the time, and mistakes are just around the corner in every area of our lives, including online.Showing ourselves to be able to listen to problems, intervene quickly to solve them, and interact with even the most difficult customers are factors that can help build a positive image of our brand and our work much more than fake reviews or ignored and hidden criticisms.

In essence, negative feedback is not to be feared, but embraced as an integral part of the path to success and-why not? – as a form of engagement: a customer who takes the time to write a negative review is often still interested in a dialogue with the company, and by managing this communication well we can turn a detractor into a promoter, using the opportunity to demonstrate the company’s commitment to excellence in customer service.

Negative reviews and Google: forbidden to promise users incentives to change feedback

Of course, there are easier and more direct ways to ask users to change a negative review, and in particular many companies offer (or would be willing to offer) some form of incentive in exchange for a positive change. In addition to being unethical, these practices are expressly forbidden by Google, which in its latest revision of its guidelines on “Maps user-provided content standards” (which apply to all formats, including Reviews, Photos, and Videos, and serve as a compass for other products in the ecosystem as well) makes explicit precisely the prohibition “on paying for, incentivizing, or encouraging the posting of content that does not represent a genuine experience, or incentivizing positive reviews in exchange for discounts, free goods and/or services.” Similarly, another entry has also appeared that explicitly emphasizes that companies must not “discourage or prohibit negative reviews or selectively solicit positive reviews from customers.”

In Google’s view-and users’, too, if we think about it-manipulating a customer’s opinion basically means falsifying their experience and thus exposing subsequent customers to similar negative experiences.

For this reason, in addition to activating an automated review processing system (capable of detecting inappropriate content such as fake reviews and spam), Google has added this additional specification, sharply and clearly prohibiting brands from incentivizing feedback and content “in exchange for discounts, free goods and/or services,” including even “merchant requests to review or remove a negative review through offered discounts, free goods or services, or other incentives.”

Therefore, even Google implicitly confirms that the only way to change a negative review into a positive one is to intervene on the problem and try to resolve the situation that frustrated the user: only after actually making their actual experience better can we then contact them in the hope that they can precisely describe the case in an updated way and reevaluate the brand, improving on the initial feedback (and somehow becoming a testimonial of the company’s positive work, even in the face of a critical case).

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