4 Predictions About the Evolution of Online Reviews

Evidence of the growing importance of online reviews is hard to ignore. Nearly nine out of 10 (88 percent) of consumers trust online reviews when considering a business. Seventy-two percent say positive reviews make them trust a local business more.

Even more telling — consumers will spend 31 percent more on a business with excellent reviews. If you don’t pay attention to online reviews, your business will suffer.

Online reviews have had a profound influence on consumer behavior. They’ve shaped Google’s search algorithms, and they’ve inspired the creation of new corporate titles such as Manager of Online Reputation and Customer Experience Officer.

And marketers are catching on quickly — putting online reviews at the core of their marketing strategies. Feedback in reviews helps marketing teams understand customer pain points and behavior, and adjust campaign and branding plans accordingly.

The Inevitable Evolution

But what’s next for online reviews? We have a few ideas. As the power of online reviews continues to grow, we expect to see changes in the the way they’re created, socialized and used. Here are four predictions:

1)    Reviews will be aggregated by reviewer on social networks, adding credibility and restoring waning consumer trust.

SearchEngineLand found that half of the 88 percent of consumers who trust online reviews only do so if there are multiple reviews. The other half cares more about authenticity, that is, whether the reviews seem genuine.

But trust in online reviews has been waning. A global study by Cone Communications confirms that consumers are more suspicious than ever, with 52 percent assuming companies are behaving badly.

As it turns out, consumer suspicion may be justified. One study found a third of all online reviews and user-generated content discussing a product were fake. And Gartner reported up to 15 percent of all online reviews are fake.

Building trust requires providing credibility — which may lead to major review sites integrating with social pages and aggregating reviews by reviewers. Anonymity will disappear — you’ll have to own up to the reviews you write. Shoppers will be able to see the authors of reviews, because they’ll be linked to the reviewer’s real identities on social networks like Facebook and Twitter.

When this happens, trust in reviews will return to its previous levels, and reviews will be all the more relevant and powerful.

2)   Aggregating reviews by reviewer will lead to the emergence of micro-review sources.

Review aggregation could surface trusted reviewers in various market segments. Today, if you find a reviewer you trust — someone whose customer experience preferences seem to align with yours — you can search reviews by that reviewer for products and services of interest.

In the near future, this may give birth to new review models. Imagine “playlists” of reviewers for various product and service groups. “See what these consumers have to say about coffee shops in your area” could be an intro to a list of real people who frequent coffee shops and post reviews. Such aggregation will make it extremely easy to determine where to spend your money.

3)   Data analysis will become more insightful.

Analysis tools are getting more sophisticated all the time. For example, Reputation.com’s word cloud and tornado charts provide granular information about customer sentiment and competitive benchmarking.

As these technologies continue to develop, determining reviewer’s emotions based on word choice, sentence length and other semantic factors will help businesses understand customer feedback more fully.

Other advancements may include the ability to categorize sentiment by various factors, such as gender, age, geographical location, income and more, enabling marketers to take persona targeting to new heights.

Reporting will play a large part in helping to assimilate and analyze the growing volume of reviews. We’ll begin to see “review snapshots” and “feedback summaries” that eliminate the need for shoppers to read through numerous reviews to get an overall sense of consumer experience or quality of service.

4)   Why Visit Websites When There’s Google?

Today, 81 percent of shoppers conduct online research before they make a purchase. And 89 percent of all internet searches are carried out by Google. Logically, if Google starts aggregating lists of reviewers and displaying those in search results along with photos, videos and other information about products and services — why bother visiting a company website?

Eventually, everything a consumer needs to make a buying decision may be available on Google. Company websites may become secondary — or at least significantly less important as a marketing venue. More effort will be spent on optimizing social profiles and SERPs, and less emphasis will be placed on driving traffic to the company website.

Preparation is the Best Strategy

The future is sure to throw a few curveballs at marketers as they struggle to take control of their online reputation. Discover how a comprehensive platform like Reputation.com can help you prepare for the evolution of online reviews.