The 3 ROI Zones of Consumer-Generated Content

This year's Cyber Monday was the busiest on record, with comScore reporting $2 billion in online sales.

If this holiday season provides any indication, the way people shop has changed. Shoppers continue to migrate away from the traditional confines of brick-and-mortar retail to the expansive digital environment. These days, people want the option to do their shopping in whatever arena makes the most sense - online, in-store, on their mobile, etc. - but not every environment allows shoppers to spend hands-on time with the product. Instead, many look to like-minded consumers to share honest opinions and provide important product details that can help inform their purchase decision. Given this, consumer-generated content (CGC) - photos and videos on social media, product reviews, and questions posed on company websites - serves a valuable role in creating a better shopping experience in today's digitally-driven environment.

Though consumer-generated content manifests itself in many different forms, one of its most recognized is online product reviews, as they give consumers the freedom to share in-depth knowledge of a particular product and help brands better serve their customers. Reviews have always been viewed as beneficial for consumers, though their true value extends far beyond what many businesses use them for. The Bazaarvoice Conversation Index, Volume 8 delves into the value of reviews, breaking their business benefit into three distinct zones - Conversion, search engine optimization, and Product Insights. Each zone represents a specific stage in a product review program's maturity cycle, yet all three provide incredible value to business of all sizes.

Zone 1: Conversion
Reviews are a proven sales driver, as they tend to serve as validation for shoppers that the product under consideration is worth their hard-earned money. With as few as one review, businesses can see the value of displaying reviews on their product pages. In fact, adding just a single review to a page can result in a 10 percent lift in orders, and that number jumps to 30 percent with the accumulation of 50 reviews.

When it comes to review volume, the ROI is clear: more product reviews lead to higher page views, which in turn, increase consumer purchases. As reviews stack up, conversion rates see a steep incline, and they continue to show incremental increases well past 1,000 reviews. Though this holds true even at high volume levels, the conversion benefits of a review are more visible and immediate during early stages of volume growth.

Zone 2: Search Engine Optimization
Search engines love fresh content. In fact, 'freshness of content' is one of Google's five factors in algorithm updates, helping to explain why SEO experts preach the importance of new, relevant site material on a regular basis. Unfortunately, the average product page on a website is full of stale content - 100 words in both the header and the footer and 150 words of product description - which does not translate to an SEO-friendly page.

Incorporating reviews on a product page can completely transform the way it appears to search engines, and companies can reap the SEO benefits with a mere eight product reviews. Those eight reviews add approximately 800 words of user-generated content, which reduces the amount of duplicate content from 57 percent to a palatable 17 percent and increases the total product-specific content to 83 percent of the page. When moving to subsequent site pages, where the number of reviews per page goes up to 30, the unique page content jumps to an impressive 90 percent. This is important because Google search engines place as much significance on the amount of unique and relevant content available on product pages as they do on fresh content.

A higher volume of reviews on a regular basis helps maintain the product page's freshness and content diversity, and allows for a great depth of content to be indexed by search engines. Through our network, we've found that adding reviews to a product page typically results in a 15 to 25 percent increase in search traffic. In other words, even the smallest number of reviews create business value.

Zone 3: Product Insights
Though every company can realize ROI almost immediately after implementing reviews on their site, some of the most exciting benefits result once a product has accumulated a minimum of 100 reviews. When businesses have reached this level of review volume, they have a large enough sample size to conduct deeper analysis on consumer product sentiment and brand opinion. Trends within the text of consumer reviews can provide direction for improvements within existing products or innovation for new products. Volume is particularly important in this zone because a higher number of reviews allows for a more accurate understanding of customer needs.

Businesses always hope for 5-star reviews across the board, but reviews of all star-ratings become important when taking product insights into account. Product reviews with 1-3 stars tend to provide the most content around product flaws and shortcomings, while products in the 3- to 4-star range serve as a good source for product suggestions. When analyzing those 3- to 4-star reviews, look for pivot language within the text - words like "however," "wish," "only problem," and "if only," which signify a shift in tone or sentiment and deserve careful analysis. Just remember, not all pivot words signal a problem; many actually indicate opportunities for growth and additional chances to connect with the customer.
Heavily reviewed products serve an additional purpose for businesses - they help establish patterns for review fraud. Nearly 48 percent of consumers believe that one or more of the reviews displayed on a product page are fake, so businesses can (and should) use the breadth of data available within their online reviews to discern overarching fraud trends and work to eliminate those as a way to help build consumer trust in the brand.

Whether shopping happens on a tablet, smartphone, website, or in the retail aisle, the role consumer-generated content like reviews plays in the decision-making process will only grow. Brands should look to this consumer reliance on CGC as an opportunity to drive additional review submissions, further engage with their customers, and realize the full ROI of their network. From a business perspective, a network that uses content created by the very people who are using the product or service can allow for powerful insights into the pulse of entire industries - a fact that would benefit businesses - new or old, big or small - as they evaluate their ongoing online strategies for 2015 and beyond.