Ecommerce Success – It’s Written in the Stars

Jenny Pearse | November 12th 2015

Over the past few months, local search results have been hit with several big changes, and although they didn’t get an animal-named algorithm update, they are just as important as the Pigeon updates of a year ago. While these local SEO updates were rolling out, the topic of online reviews has become much more heated, with their correlation to local results and CTR growing ever more noticeable.

One of the biggest changes was the familiar looking local pack being reduced from seven listings to just three, which affected many local businesses’ visibility in organic SERPs.

Appearing in one of the top three is definitely a big achievement but it’s understandably worrying for those who don’t quite make the cut. The button to reveal the links ranking 4th to 7th is hardly conspicuous, so a negative outcome was always inevitable.

On the day of the local pack update, Mozcast showed a huge fall in the number of US search results no longer showing the seven-pack. This change didn’t affect the ranking factors – only the way information was displayed – but the 62.1% drop was felt by many.

What’s Next?

local-pack-dropSource: The SEM Post

As you can imagine, ranking locally within the three-pack has become much harder. With businesses struggling to compete against Google’s top three and the increase in ads showing above the fold on mobile results, these combined changes were bound to affect the amount of organic traffic some local businesses received.

As outlined in my “Stop the Pigeon” post, I’d recommend reviewing your website if drops in organic rankings have been noticed. Reviewing onsite optimisation, local listing and citations are all important factors. There’s little point in having an all-singing, all-dancing ecommerce website if your existence is unknown to your target audience. Brand awareness can only get you so far, especially if you’re new on the market, but by ensuring your business is optimised in the right locations and for the right keywords, this is definitely a step in the right direction.

But that’s not all – there are also customer reviews. They may have never crossed your mind but it’s amazing what a positive impact they can have, when done correctly. According to a recent article written by Graham Charlton from Econsultancy:

“61% of customers read online reviews before making a purchase decision, and they are now essential for e-commerce sites.”

The Good

Helping customers to make decisions is just one of the reasons why ecommerce reviews are important. This helping hand is absolutely necessary for some customers, especially if you’re as indecisive as me. I’ve bought tons of products online purely from reading reviews and it still remains a big part of my buying process.

There’s a handful of other reasons why reviews can be beneficial for ecommerce businesses, some of which are outlined below.

  • Increased conversions and traffic: Receiving encouraging reviews not only reflects well on ecommerce brands but it can assist with the buying process.
  • Opinions count: It might not seem like a big deal but giving customers the option to speak freely makes them feel important. Encourage them through surveys, feedback forms and social media.
  • Returning customers: If you did such a great job the first time, why wouldn’t they return?

Things to consider:

  • Directory value: First, think NAP to ensure reviews are connected to your business and not lost in the abyss. Links are an excellent way to improve search engine rankings and aid searchers.
  • Be realistic: Not every review is going to be positive but learn to embrace the negative ones. Not only do they add legitimacy to your business but they create conversation around your brand – it’s how you deal with them that reveals your professionalism.
  • Mark me up: Enabling rich snippets for reviews and ratings that display in SERPs could increase click through rate (see example below).


Source: Google

The example below shows how a local business acknowledged a customer review on TripAdvisor, making them feel valued and building rapport.


Source: TripAdvisor

The Bad

We all know that business reputation is extremely important and should be taken seriously, but negative reviews don’t have to be all doom and gloom. They can also reveal areas of your business that may require improvement. There are a number of ways that bad reviews can be handled; some of them are outlined below.

  • Respond promptly: Put yourself in your customer’s shoes. Would you be happy waiting hours, days or even weeks for a response? I thought as much.
  • Review Online presence: Keeping track of what customers are saying and where will allow you to reply in good time.
  • Be polite: Remember, as your mother once told you, good manners cost nothing. Expressing empathy and remaining calm could help disarm a difficult situation sooner.

Things to consider:

  • How they work: All rate and review sites work differently. It’s worth educating yourself to understand the basics. For example TripAdvisor reviews are approved around 24-48 hours after being submitted, as long as they meet guidelines. Alternatively, Yelp uses an algorithm to recommend reviews.
  • Make things private: Take the issue away from the public domain, via email or phone (see example below).


Source: Yelp

In some instances there might have been a completely different outcome if companies stopped to assess a situation before jumping the gun. There has been one too many cases recently were this didn’t happen. One example is shown below (and contains strong language).

Source: Metro

… And The Ugly

With the good and the bad it would be remiss of me not to include the ugly. It was just last month that ecommerce giants Amazon were in the news for suing one thousand people over fake product reviews. According to a recent article written by the Huffington Post:

“Its lawsuit alleges that individuals would write five-star reviews about products they never even tried, and plotted with product makers to subvert Amazon safeguards that are meant to bolster confidence in the website’s reviews.”

Source: Huffington Post

With site like knocking around, some smaller businesses might see it being more cost efficient to buy positive reviews rather than pay for advertising. Fake reviews may work as a way of drawing in customers, but in the long run this can have a damaging effect on your company image.


Source: Fiverr

Don’t Forget Google+

These days Google+ seems like a dying breed of social media. This year there have been numerous changes including the removal of Google+ reviews from the knowledge graph and the removal of review stars from the SERPS (excluding directories). Despite all these tweaks Google+ still plays a huge role in customer reviews. Although reviews are no longer linked to business Google+ pages they are still pulled into the knowledge graph. You have no doubt seen them:


Like a digital business card, the knowledge graph pulls vital information about your business – address, phone number, reviews, opening hours etc. That’s why it’s so important to ensure company details are correct, especially ecommerce companies with multiple local stores. Here is a snapshot of how reviews are now displayed on Google+ businesses pages. The rating and number of reviews mirror the information shown in the knowledge graph:


Not Just Desktop

Since “mobilegeddon” this year, we must remember that reviews aren’t just for desktop. According to a recent survey by Myles Anderson, the founder and CEO of

“62 percent of 18–34-year-olds have read reviews on a mobile device.”

Source: Search Engine Land

Have you ensured that your website is mobile friendly? Google’s mobile friendly test will examine your URL and report back any usability issues that it finds.

Tackling Review Spam

With the increased pressure from Google and many local businesses fighting for a space in the three-pack, what does the future hold for companies if fake reviews are on the rise?

You’ll be happy to know that some big business names are already on the crackdown. Examples of some of these are outlined below.

  • TripAdvisor: Alongside a review moderation and fraud detection policy, their 300-strong team uses fraud detection techniques to sniff out any bogus reviews.
  • Yelp: Tactics involve putting a 90 day “consumer alert” message on a business page, warning consumers that reviews might be misleading.


Source: Yelp

Ready, Steady, Tweet

Last month, outcries from restaurateurs, food writers and diners have been heard across Twitter under the #noreceiptnoreview hashtag. Starting off as an email, which can be read here, individuals backed the idea for sites like TripAdvisor to allow only users providing a scanned receipt to review a business.



If you have few or no reviews, I would highly recommend proactively asking your customers for their feedback. If you don’t ask, you don’t get. This can be done in several ways including:

  • Surveys: These can be used to gather statistical insight about your website and your users’ shopping habits. This information can then be turned into blog posts or even infographics.
  • Follow up emails: Similar to Amazon, you can ask your customers to leave a review every time they purchase something. You could even consider offering a discount or gift to those who take the time and respond.
  • Social media: According to Ofcom, the average user spends 9.54 hours per week on social platforms. So it’s not surprising so many people now turn to Twitter, Facebook etc. to leave reviews.
  • Onsite: Why not set up a page onsite? Reviews can be seen as unique content, so allowing customers to leave reviews directly on your site could help with page rank.
  • Offsite: Take control and direct your customers to external sites where you’d prefer them to leave reviews. E.g. Google+, directories etc.

Whatever you do, just gain your reviews honestly. Not only will this help you sleep better at night but when your business is flourishing you’ll know it’s because your customers value your products.