Boosting natural search through user-generated review content

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Jeff Watts
Jeff Watts

I'm often asked, “How can I get my pages to rank number one on Google for my keywords?” This is a valid question, but it's a backward way of defining search engine success.

Rather than focusing on high rankings, smart marketers should work to drive the most conversions, regardless of the keyword used. For example, someone searching for “2008 white Toyota Camry with sunroof Austin, Texas” is more likely to buy a car than someone searching for “Toyota.” The more specific term is closer to the point of sale, so though it is used less frequently, it converts much better.

This analysis is a very simplified view into the long tail of search; that is, the collection of search terms that are only used a few times each, but which collectively account for more traffic than top keywords for a site. Your best bet for driving long-term, high-converting search traffic lies in effectively targeting terms that are close in proximity to purchase intent.

Past reports from Jupiter Research and ComScore have indicated that that most consumers use product reviews and ratings, and ratings and reviews are the most preferred type of information sought by online shoppers and researchers. The popularity of product reviews among shoppers coupled with the usage of search engines to conduct pre-purchase research has resulted in an interesting symbiotic relationship between search traffic and customer reviews, especially as it relates to long-tail searches.

When analyzing online retailers with customer reviews, our company found that more than 97% of the search terms used to find the review were unique, meaning that without the user-generated content, the retailer would not have received search engine referrals for those terms. Retailers can maximize the effectiveness of their user-generated content by segmenting review content from product page content by creating two separate, interlinked landing pages, increasing “shelf space” in the search engines. They can also publish links to reviews within a broad content syndication network, and provide links to all of the review content to the search engines using XML sitemaps compatible with sitemaps.org.

Additionally, the most successful retailers package their review content onto dynamic, link-rich microsites to improve ranking and click-throughs. Unlike basic “landing pages” seen in lower-end product reviews scripts, content-rich microsites help some of the Web's largest retail brands such as Petco and Overstock.com drive thousands of unique search referrals every day through long-tail, high-converting search terms. Such microsites commonly increase organic search traffic by 40%-100% over basic landing pages alone.

A quality reviews-centric microsite can do the following:

Connects all review content through search-friendly links, so search engines can easily find them

Reduces “bounce rates” (or “single page visits”) by providing visitors context-sensitive navigation to similar products

Encourages searchers to shop longer and read more reviews

User-generated review content drives untapped search traffic for retailers, especially for long-tail, high-converting search phrases. Smart marketers measure success through conversions, not Google rankings.

Jeff Watts is product manager at Bazaarvoice. Reach him at jeff@bazaarvoice.com.

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