Product Review Vendors – Solutions to Fit Your eCommerce SEO NeedsPosted by Everett Sizemore on August 22nd, 2013 | Filed Under:
The aim of this post is to help you choose the right solution for adding product reviews to your eCommerce website with a focus on search engine optimization. It is a very long article. I suggest grabbing a cup of coffee before you dive in, or skip down to the summary at the bottom for a quick overview.
Table Of Contents
- PowerReviews (acquired by BV)
- Zen Cart
- OS Commerce
Before we get into platform-specific options I’d like to cover the platform-agnostic vendors that offer product review solutions for just about any online store, regardless of how it is built.
This is the company I’ve had the most experience with. When implemented a certain way, which is not out-of-the-box, BazaarVoice is a very good review platform. I recommend going with the version of this solution that includes the review content on the product page, and blocking the reviews subdomain (more on that below). Depending on your implementation, the review content may end up going inside a hidden div or a noscript tag on the product page in addition to the viewable content pulled in by the BV script, or via an iframe. In a perfect world the content would appear in the code and on the page without noscript tags or hidden divs, but we can’t always get what we want. I will share examples of several different types of implementation below.
Bottom Line: If you view the source code of the page and use the browser’s search feature to look for a phrase from one of the reviews showing on the page you need to be able to actually see the words in the code. If you can’t find the review in the code then it is not helping your product page rank better, nor is it helping you obtain the coveted star ratings and review count on the search engine result pages (SERPs). This goes for all of the solutions for product reviews.
However, even if you can find the reviews in the source code that doesn’t mean you are free and clear. Many times the review will exist in multiple locations, including elsewhere on your domain, and/or on the vendor’s own website. In the case of BazaarVoice, reviews are going to show up several times on your own subdomain, often called “reviews” by default, but I believe the name can be changed. Not only will the content be on the product page and the reviews subdomain page for the product, but it will appear on several category pages on the reviews subdomain as well. This is why I block the reviews.yourdomain.com subdomain from being indexed, and often from even being crawled (if crawl budget is a concern, as it is for most large eCommerce sites). This way the only version of the review is the one on the product page, assuming it appears in the code on that page and is not just pulled in from a script. Not everyone agrees with this approach, however. Assuming you can get the reviews subdomain ranking (you will need to put in some effort here in most cases), it could be a good way to tap into searchers who are in the researching phase of the buying cycle. This is what Petco.com does (see screenshot below)…
* BV also has a Q&A product that creates duplicate content by reproducing content, sometimes including the product description, on a “questions and answers” subdomain. For the most part, the examples and recommendations for BV’s product review solution go for their Q&A product as well.
Now let’s have a look at a few different implementations and weigh the pros and cons of each.
Ashford.com – Luxury Watches, Jewelry and Accessories
In their partnership with BazaarVoice, Ashford has done some things really well while dropping the ball on one major issue. Overall, their implementation is SEO-friendly, though they need to keep the duplicate review and product content found on their reviews.ashford.com subdomain from being indexed. To highlight the one major issue with their implementation of BazaarVoice, here is a screenshot of a Google search with 30 results for a quote from one of the reviews…
Below is a side-by-side comparison of the indexable content on an Ashford product detail page and an Ashford product reviews page. Keep in mind much of this content is duplicated on dozens of other pages within the Ashford reviews subdomain provide by BazaarVoice as well…
Ashford.com actually has one of the better review site implementations that I’ve seen because they are getting some key things right. For one, we’ve already seen in the SERPs screenshot above that they have implemented microformatting markup for videos and aggregate review ratings, which are showing up on Google. Something else they are doing right is having the review content appear within the code on their product pages, which is something many eCommerce sites miss out on. If the reviews subdomain were to be blocked I think Ashford would have a fantastic implementation of the BazaarVoice product. Here’s one more screenshot to round off this example before moving on to a site that doesn’t even have the review content on their product pages.
Samsung.com – Electronics and Appliances
For every product Samsung has a half-dozen different URLs, all indexable, without any rel canonical tags or robots noindex tags. The ones we’re concerned with in terms of product reviews in this particular example are as follows:
http://www.samsung.com/us/video/tvs/UN85S9AFXZA – Indexable, canonical product page with one or two reviews that seem to be hand-picked. These are indexable and duplicated on the reviews subdomain.
http://reviews.us.samsung.com/7463/UN85S9AFXZA/samsung-85-class-uhd-s9-series-smart-tv-reviews/reviews.htm – Indexable product reviews page. This subdomain is the only part of Samsung’s website where the reviews can be found. Due to the duplicate content issues inherent with the BazaarVoice reviews subdomain you end up with dozens of pages where the review can be found from search, none of which are the actual product page…
We see similar situations with other BazaarVoice clients from Walmart and Sears to Chico’s and Gaiam. It is possible to get it right, and this is a great product when you do, but very few businesses seem to get there. Here is some advice on how to approach a BazaarVoice Reviews implementation.
- Block the reviews subdomain from being indexed. I would do this from the robots.txt file on that subdomain. One could argue that it would be good to let search engines “crawl” but not “index” the domain, but I think that would waste an enormous amount of crawl budget. One could also argue all kinds of other reasons to leave that subdomain indexable, but we can discuss the pros and cons (mostly cons) of this in the comments if you like.
- Mark up the aggregate review ratings using a micro-format to obtain an enhanced search listing for product pages. Hreview seems to work well for now, but I think Schema.org markup is going to be the long-term winner.
- If you’re going to use tabbed displays on product pages make sure the URL doesn’t change when a new tab is selected. It is OK to append a hashtag to take the user to another section of the page, or to display a previously-hidden div, but changing the URL or adding parameters could cause major duplicate content issues. If you absolutely have to append something to the URL (e.g. ?tab=reviews) the next tip is doubly important…
- Use rel canonical tags.
OR – You could go with the PetCo type of implementation if you plan on building the trust and authority of the reviews domain to rank for keywords shoppers use earlier in their buying cycle. In this case you would…
- Not have the reviews indexable on the product pages. Writing useful, unique product descriptions becomes even more important if you lack user-generated content.
- Link to the reviews subdomain from category pages and, if possible, get quality external links to build up the authority of this subdomain, as it probably will not rank well or get many links on its own.
- Keep the category pages on the reviews subdomain from being indexed (leave them crawlable), as they are rife with duplicate content (see screenshots above).
Warning Update: I just got off the phone with a technical support rep. from BazaarVoice and was told they were about to roll out a new solution that clients could opt-into. In his words, it would “Look at the user agent and if it was a search engine we would show the review content inside a noscript tag, and if it was anyone else we would not include the content in that way.” This is the very epitome of cloaking. Even if the “intent” behind this cloaking is above-board, a bot is not going to know your intent. It will, however, see that what you serve Googlebot is different than what you serve everyone else, and that is a very, very bad idea. My hope is that this representative was mistaken.
This company is now owned by BazaarVoice. It will be interesting to see how the features of PR are integrated into the BV product. My guess is BV will take some of the great social features from PR, such as the community leaderboards and Facebook integration. Like BazaarVoice, Power Reviews can be implemented either well or poorly. Here are two quick examples…
Skechers.com – Shoe Store
The Skechers store is also listed as a case study on the BazaarVoice website though they are using Power Reviews currently. Unfortunately for Skechers, the review content does not appear in the code on product page, and is duplicated across several pages within the Power Reviews directory instead…
shop.advancedautoparts.com – Advanced Auto Parts
Finally a store that gets it right! Each product page URL has the propensity to bloat with URL parameters like navigational paths, but they take care of this well with a rel canonical tag. Advanced Auto Parts illustrates that it isn’t the vendor so much as the implementation. I tried a dozen different products and the only page to show up for a snippet from one of the reviews was the actual product page, which often sported an aggregate star rating.
How do they do this? It is a revolutionary idea! Just put the review content that appears on the product page within the code of the product page just like you would do with any other content, as shown below…
This company boasts a ton of social and commerce engagement feature, but we’re going to focus mostly on reviews for the purpose of this post. As a review platform, Pluck is one of the better ones I’ve seen in terms of SEO. The review content is on the page, in the code, and nowhere else. It doesn’t require a URL change to show the review content, with most stores opting to show it in a tabbed display that may or may not add a benign “#” to the URL when clicked.
The microformat used for product review markup seems to be up to the store, with some opting for Schema.org markup, some using hReview, and others having none at all. This would make sense, as one of the features Pluck brags about on their “Why Us” page is complete customization:
“No two Pluck deployments are the same, for good reason. We didn’t build Pluck to accommodate our vision of a brand social experience. We built it to support your vision. Pluck gives you complete control over the customer experience you deliver to your audience.”
As with most product page review solutions, Pluck can be deployed well or poorly from an SEO perspective. Let’s look at a few of them below…
Target.com – Big Box Store Reviews
Target has marked up their Pluck-powered reviews with Schema.org markup, though at present it does not seem to be generating any enhanced listings for them. The review content is placed in the code on the product page, and is indexable. However, some of the review content is also located on category pages and shows as a pop-up window when the user clicks the (#) next to the average star rating for the product (see below). The review content on category pages is also indexable, and partially duplicate of the product page review content.
BlackAndDecker.com – Black & Decker Power Tools
In regard to Pluck and SEO, Black&Decker is doing two things differently from Target.com (one good, one bad). These are what I’d like to cover below.
#1 Black&Decker does not show review content on category pages, thus eliminating the huge duplicate content problem faced by Target, as illustrated in the screenshots above. However…
#2 Unlike Target.com (which has only a minimal deployment on their mobile site), Black&Decker has deployed the full user-generated-content profile section for reviewers. This creates a section on the site (…/My-Black-and-Decker/) in which reviewers have their own profile page, sort of like a social network. In theory, this is great. It incentivizes shoppers to become brand enthusiasts and participate in conversations about the products, thus providing free user-generated content and other benefits to the store. In reality, however, very few brands (Amazon.com being one of them) can pull this off. What you end up with instead of a thriving community of brand enthusiasts is a bloated site with thousands of thin-content user profile pages like this one:
Pages like this present a problem in a post-Panda SERP landscape. This is especially true when, like Black&Decker, you have about 126,000 of them indexed on Google. For most brands I would recommend not rolling that out as a feature unless you are going to go out of your way to incentivize participation and create a community. This would include hiring a community manager and keeping unfinished profiles (such as the one in this screenshot) from being indexed. If you do end up rolling out these pages, and most of them are thin-content such as this, I highly recommend blocking the directory from being indexed using the robots.txt file. This will allow visitors to use the feature on the site without bloating the index with hundreds of thousands of thin-content pages.
Mothercare.com – Strollers (prams), Baby Clothing and Toys in the UK
This popular UK baby store has a fairly straight-forward implementation of Pluck reviews. The review content appears in the code on product pages, and is not duplicated on category pages.
Like Black&Decker, Mothercare uses the “personas” feature from Pluck, which they leave indexable. This results in about 60+ pages of thin content being indexed on Google, nothing that would cause a site like this to be penalized or filtered, but which will surely grow over time. Again, in theory these pages are great. You can follow/friend other shoppers, write your own personal shopping blog, keep track of your reviews, earn badges, share photos… On the left side below is how Pluck shows ones of these pages with an active user that has an engaging profile. On the right is how it is probably going to look on 99% of sites out there:
To be fair, Pluck has built a robust, beautiful, useful product. It’s not their fault of most clients take a set-it-and-forget-it attitude toward community building. Certain types of eCommerce sites do really well with this sort of thing. For instance, any site that sells cooking products should consider something like this so users can share recipes. And really hard-core collectables are also a promising niche for this type of brand-specific, on-site community. See these
creepy interesting and active “Barbie collector” profiles on a site that sells Barbie Dolls for an examples user-generated “Pluck persona” content worth having indexed (images link to profiles):
This company takes a slightly different approach than those above in that they also feature product reviews on their own website, and clients can show reviews left for the same product on other stores in the Reevoo neetwork:
“These consumer reviews, recommendations and conversations have been gathered and shared by Reevoo on behalf of over 185 leading brands. As part of the network, these businesses share their social content and benefit from content that has been shared by others.”
Yes, some of the reviews on their site will also appear on your site, BUT these reviews are located on the mark.reevoo.com subdomain, which is completely blocked in their robots.txt file:
Many Reevoo customers don’t actually rely on the vendor for most of the product reviews shown on their website. I found several that used BazaarVoice, for instance. Some businesses, including ebuyer.com, do seem to be using Reevoo as their primary means of collecting and displaying product reviews on their eCommerce site. However, there are at least three very prominent links to Reevoo from the ebuyer product pages. For most users these are going to bring up a lightbox window, rather than actually taking the visitor to Reevoo.com, but the branding does seem a little distracting. Count the Reevoo logos on this page, for instance.
What I like about Reevoo is that eCommerce stores can have the best of both worlds: The “Revoo Mark” product allows businesses to display reviews for the product that were left elsewhere (great for sites with low review volume of their own), yet avoid duplicate content issues and keep their own reviews unique on their site. This is because only the reviews left on the merchant’s own site will be indexable via the “Revoo Traffic” product, whilcl the rest are displayed in a lightbox window, and are not indexable by search engines.
Reevoo could be an interesting option for stores that want to display user reviews that do not yet have many of their own, or for those who want to leverage the supposed “trustworthiness” of the “Reevoo Mark”.
Carbon Fiber Gear’s reviews were bringing up the product page in the SERPs. However, Car Part Kings’s reviews were not. Instead, the reviews subdomain was showing up. After looking into the issue it seems as though the only difference in implementation is that Car Park Kings was appending a (?___store=cpkdefault) parameter to the end of the URL set as canonical by the reviews page – while Carbon Fiber Gear, and other Yotpo clients, set the rel canonical tag as the product detail page.
What this means is: Even though the Yotpo review content does not appear in the code on the product page it is still getting “credit” for that content, and the content is being cached by Google, because (I assume) it does appear in the code on the reviews page, which has a rel canonical tag pointing to the product page. Very interesting! This has major ramifications for a lot of other review platforms. It seems to work – for now.
Dr. Pete from wrote a fantastic overview of “Rel Canonical” on Moz.com back in April. He mentioned that “rel canonical chains” should be avoided as a best practice, though – technically – they are supposed to work.
Here is Google’s advice [emphasis added]
Can Google follow a chain of rel=”canonical” designations?
Yes, to some extent, but to ensure optimal canonicalization, we strongly recommend that you update links to point to a single canonical page.
I guess there is a reason for best practices after all…
We’ve notified Car Part Kings about the issue and hope they will be addressing it soon. We will try to update this page with the results when that happens.
This is more of “plugin” than a full-scale review solution. It leverages social media networks, most often Facebook, to allow users to log in and write a comment / review about a particular product. However, the content of their review, though it appears on the screen, is not crawlable by search engines.
@mattfieldingSEO on Twitter for suggesting this one. Feefo goes beyond just putting code on your product pages to gather reviews. You feed them data about your customers, including their purchase, email address, etc… and Feefo sends them an email asking for feedback. They also send the merchant lots of useful reports for merchandising, customer service and more.
However, I can’t recommend feefo at this point for two reasons. First, the quality of the reviews seems at times very low, as if non-native English speakers in India or China were hired to leave a bunch or reviews. I’m not accusing them or their clients of actually doing this, but for whatever reasons I found a lot of less-than-stellar reviews on their site, and their clients’ sites. Here are a few examples…
The second reason I can’t recommend them is because they put the customer reviews on their own site (see screenshot above). Luckily the content is no longer indexed once it is pushed off of the merchant’s first page on feefo because someone there has applied a rel canonical tag to paginated pages telling Google that the canonical page is always the first page – thus keeping content from subsequent pages from being indexed. I doubt this was intentional, but probably a misuse of the tag.
There are plenty of other review solutions out there that help merchants collect reviews, but which are not actually published on the merchant’s site, or are also published on the vendor’s site. Shopzilla’s “Bizrate” service comes to mind. Generally, even when free, I advise against using such services. Do not give your valuable review content to another company.
I’ve tried to cover all of the major platform-agnostic product review solutions above. If you have another for suggested inclusion please use the comment form and we will look into it.
Below are some platform-specific review options, often in the form of plugins, widgets, and ad-ons – though increasingly as part of the out-of-the-box solution. Let’s start with the most widely used content management system on the planet (by far)…
Tripwire Magazine has a great post about 10 Useful WordPress Rating Plugins, which I highly recommend, but it covers mostly review plugins designed for bloggers who write about products and services, or for businesses who want to display reviews about their company. Getting product-specific reviews on a WordPress-hosted eCommerce website can be a bit trickier, especially if you are using a non-eCommerce theme, or a custom-built eCommerce theme. If none of the options below fit your needs have your developers look into using the GD Star Rating plugin to get ratings on custom sites.
For the purpose of this article I’m going to stick to a few of the major “frameworks”, “plugins” and “themes” which cover probably cost to 90% of the marketshare in terms of eCommerce-focused WordPress sites. If you know of another plugin, theme or framework that does a better out-of-the-box job handling product page customer reviews please let us know in the comments so we can take it for a test run.
WooCommerce has a pretty good solution for product reviews right out of the box. All you have to do is make sure the “Enable reviews” box is checked under the “Advanced” tab when editing an existing product or adding a new product.
As with most WordPress-based review/rating solutions, WooCommerce ratings uses the underlying post page commenting functionality of WordPress to achieve individual product ratings. Most of the themes for WooCommerce I’ve seen put the reviews within a tab next to the product description. This means the reviews don’t show up on the page-load visually until the visitor clicks that tab. However, the change of views only adds a named-anchor (#one-of-these) to the URL, which doesn’t create any duplicate content problems via non-canonical URLs. It is also important to note that all of the content appears within the code, and does not appear anywhere else other than the main product page. Below are two examples, including the product page and SERP for each.
WP e-Commerce is an “online store plugin for WordPress” from GetShopped.org. This is a very popular and robust plugin, but it falls short on the product views issue. In order to display product “ratings” (not reviews, just ratings) be sure to adjust the Product Settings:
I searched their entire gallery of sites hoping to find an example of someone getting star ratings, or combining the ratings feature with reviews (i.e. commentary as opposed to just a star rating) with no luck. There was a moment of excitement when I looked at the City Surf Shops UK site, until I realized they had switched over to WooCommerce, which explains their star ratings in SERPs and commentary reviews on product pages. All I could find were very simple implementations of the rating feature (see settings screenshot above).
Cart66 Does not seem to offer this feature. I have a question into their Twitter account manager and am waiting back to hear from them.
Shopp is an e-Commerce plugin for WordPress with plenty of useful features. Unfortunately, product page reviews isn’t one of them. Admittedly, I do not have experience with this particular solution, so I scoured the documentation looking for information about how to get product reviews or star ratings, or for Shopp customers who have done this. The only thing I found was a year-old question on the WP Forums in which a Shopp customer asked if she could use the WP Customer Reviews plugin since Shopp didn’t offer reviews out of the box, and another member telling her that, even if she did end up finding a way to do this, it would break the next time Shopp updated, along with a few choice words about their “support”.
I am positive that there are more WordPress related eCommerce solutions out there for collecting and displaying product reviews on an eCommerce site, but I can’t cover all of them. With the exception perhaps of a few up-and-comers that I don’t know about, WooCommerce would be my choice if I was going to operate an eCommerce site on WordPress.
Drupral is one of my weaker spots, admittedly, though I know enough to understand what to look out for. The thing to be concerned with about modules that allow visitors to leave reviews on a Drupal site is the tendency for each review to create a separate, indexable “node”. You want the review to appear as indexable content on the product page (which is also a “node”), and only on the product page.
There are modules, like Node Vote and Simple Vote, that do not create a new node. However, these are typically only for rating e.g. 4 our of 5 stars) and not for “reviews” or commentary. Other modules, like NodeReview and UserReview, allow both ratings and review comments, but create a new node for every review. Be aware that modifying the code of any module will make it more difficult to update when other bugs or security risks are patched in future updates of the module so you typically want to avoid this.
So far the best solution I have come up with is to use a module that allows visitors to both rate and comment/review, and then to block the review-specific nodes from being indexed, and/or 301 redirect the review nodes to the product page, where the review content also shows. In this way the only indexable version of the content appears on the product page. This can probably be achieved with NodeReview if you wanted to customize the code, but I’ve read in the “Issues” forum for that module about some people (example 1, example 2) having trouble redirecting users back to the product page after they leave a review. Instead the reviewer ends up on the review node page. If you know if a solution – or combination of solutions – that will accomplish the following, please share in the comments so we can update this section with your suggestion (once verifying that it works):
- Users can rate and review a product from the product page.
- Upon completion of the review they are redirected back to the product page (or can review without ever leaving it).
- Preferably the review would not create a new node, but assuming it does (since we can’t find any that don’t)…
- The content from each review also appears in indexable form on the product page.
- The review-specific nodes can be blocked from being crawled and/or 301 redirect to the appropriate product page.
- An aggregate rating is taken from the reviews and included in the code in a micro-format suitable for enhanced SERPs on Google.
Ubercart is an open source eCommerce solution for Drupal users. This means, theoretically at least, that your developers can alter the code to accommodate any need, including SEO-friendly product reviews. It seems the most common way Ubercart merchants are implementing product reviews is by combining the core Drupal “comment” module, and the Fivestar rating module. Here are instructions on how to set this up.
Drupal Commerce is also an open source eCommerce framework for Drupal. Since we’re not reviewing eCommerce frameworks for Drupal I won’t get into the pros and cons of Ubercart Vs Drupal Commerce, except to say the product review/rating issue for each have many of the same problems and solutions (e.g. using the Fivestar module and comments).
I do not generally recommend Drupal for eCommerce sites, which is why I don’t have much experience with it in that particular situation. If you already have a Drupal site I hope some of the links above can help. Otherwise, it might be better to choose another platform for your store.
While WordPress and Drupal are general “content management systems” that can accommodate just about any type of website, including an online store, the platforms below are strictly focused on eCommerce websites, often making them more expensive, robust, and feature-rich. I can’t possibly cover all of them, but the five below represent the vast majority of marketshare for entry-level to mid-level online retail businesses.
The latest version of Volusion offers a robust product review solution for merchants that is mostly SEO friendly and has other useful features, like average ratings and automated follow-up emails to solicit reviews from real customers. For an out-of-the-box solution it is very good. The one thing you need to look out for is the indexation of pages with a URL containing “ReviewsList.asp?” as this is a duplicate version of the review content found on product pages. There are lots of other ways to address it depending on your situation. For example, you could 301 redirect the ReviewsList.asp?ProductCode=…. URL to the respective product page if those review pages have external links, which is doubtful. You could also use rel canonical tags on the ReivewsList.asp pages, but I don’t think this is an appropriate use of the tag since it isn’t technically the same page (e.g. the product description doesn’t appear on those pages). My advice is to keep it simple and just block the ReviewsList.asp pages from being indexed by adding this to the robots.txt file…
To be extra safe for all search engines you might consider also adding the following:
To enable the Review feature in Volusion…
- Go to Inventory > Products and select All Products Settings from the Settings dropdown.
- Select Enable Customer Reviews.
- Click Save.
Watch this video series from Volusion to learn more about their product reviews feature.
The Reviews & Ratings module for Magento, which seems to operate about the same for both “Go” and “Enterprise” merchants, has some unique features that I’ve not found in other out-of-the-box review features. Sadly, it also has some of the SEO-issues typical for review solutions – namely additional, non-canonical URLs. I also could not find any stores that were achieving enhanced star-rating SERPs when using Magento’s default review module.
As with Volusion,my usual Megento review module recommendation is to A: display the reviews on the product page, and B: block the /review/ folder from being indexed.
Deering Banjos is an example of a site that does not show the reviews on the product page, but instead shows them on the review page that gets generated whenever a user leaves a review:
Although the rel canonical tag referencing the product page solves some of the duplicate content problems inherent in this set-up, it is not ideal. Google can, and often does, choose to ignore rel canonical instructions when they feel they are done improperly. In this case the store has their review page ranking instead of the product page, despite the use of a rel canonical tag:
A better way to approach this would be to display the review content on the product page while maintaining the rel canonical fix they have implemented to deal with “review” page URLs. This is what Zumiez is doing…
Zumiez deals with the product review page duplicate content issue by adding a rel canonical tag to them. For example, this page rel canonicals to this page (the one in the screenshot above). They also do not even show the review content on the review page (only on the product page) which makes this an even safer approach. They would probably rather not even have those pages to begin with, but sometimes you have to work with what the platform vendor gives you.
The ability to allow visitors to review several different aspects of a product (e.g. price, quality, general, value, durability…) makes for a much more interesting set of reviews. This module also collects the reviewer’s name, summary and complete commentary/review in addition to the ratings. However, the added features may also be contributing to the difficulty I’ve seen with Magento sites getting enhanced star ratings in the SERPs…
Though I have known of Bigcommerce for a couple of years now, it wasn’t until a few months ago that I had the opportunity to look at the back-end of a site that uses this eCommerce platform. My friend’s website, WOD Authority, sells CrossFit gear and he recently asked if I could have a quick look at how he had things set up from an SEO perspective. So far I am very impressed with this platform, and may end up writing an entire post about these guys (OMG clean URLs, alternate product views, user reviews, smart taxonomy, videos on product pages…). But for now let’s just stick with the review stuff…
Bigcommerce shows indexable review content on the product page, and only the product page. They do not change the URL when you select the “reviews” tab on a product page, or when you click “write a review”. Everything happens right there on the product page under one URL, which greatly reduced the possibility of having duplicate review content and/or non-canonical review pages. They use a five-star rating system out of the box, which will eventually be highly compatible with Google’s enhanced search results. I say “eventually” because there is not currently any micro-formatting of this data and I could not find any examples of Bigcommerce stores showing up with star ratings on product pages in Google SERPs. However, thanks to Andrew Bleakley there is a fix below…
Note: You may want to ask the team at Bigcommerce how this is going to be affected in future updates of the product. My guess is this is something they’re going to be adding in a future release, but until then you don’t want your customization to be overwritten. Also be sure to back up your product.html file before editing!
Open the product.html template and add the code below at the very bottom of the file:
<!– start rich snippet –>
<div itemscope itemtype=”http://data-vocabulary.org/Product”>
<span itemprop=”brand”>YOUR BRAND</span>
<img itemprop=”image” src=”%%GLOBAL_ProductTinyImageURL%%” />
Category: <span itemprop=”category” content=”YOUR CATEGORY NAME“>YOUR CATEGORY NAME</span>
Product #: <span itemprop=”identifier” content=”sku:%%GLOBAL_SKU%%”>%%GLOBAL_SKU%%</span>
<span itemprop=”review” itemscope itemtype=”http://data-vocabulary.org/Review-aggregate”>
<span itemprop=”rating”>%%GLOBAL_Rating%%</span> stars, based on <span itemprop=”count”>%%GLOBAL_ProductNumReviews%%</span> reviews</span>
<span itemprop=”offerDetails” itemscope itemtype=”http://data-vocabulary.org/Offer”>Regular price: %%GLOBAL_ProductPrice%%
<meta itemprop=”currency” content=”USD” />
Available from: <span itemprop=”seller”>YOUR NAME OR URL</span>
Condition: <span itemprop=”condition” content=”new”>%%GLOBAL_ProductCondition%%</span>
<span itemprop=”availability” content=”in_stock”>In stock</span>
<!– end rich snippet –>
Assuming you are happy with the small product image and your default currency is $USD you should only have to edit the code in red, which is fairly self-explanatory.
The visual layout of reviews on Bigcommerce product pages is completely up to the merchant. Out-of-the-box it is typically put into a tab on product page, but it can appear below product description text, in a second column, as expanded text within a drop-down section (i.e. display:none / hidden div) or just about any other way your designers and developers can think of to fit the code into the site visually. Here are a few examples…
Though certainly not my first choice in eCommerce platforms, Zen Cart is free, open source shopping cart software – and you can’t really beat that in terms of budget. As with any open source platform it is sometimes difficult to tell when bad review implementations are due to the platform, or merchant-error. In this case it seems to be a bit of both, though Zen Cart, in my opinion, makes merchant-errors much more common than many other eCommerce solutions.
Here is a product page from Elegant Eye Glasses, a prescription eyeglass store built on Zen Cart. That particular page, at the time of this post, was not indexed. However, the “reviews page” for that product was. As with most Zen Cart stores that have reviews, you can find several non-canonical versions of the review content starting with the main “Reviews” index page, such as this. None of these problems are address out-of-the-box with potential solutions like robots meta noindex tags, robots.txt blocks or rel canonical tags.
Another open source shopping cart platform, osCommerce boasts over 7,000 free “add-ons” and an active community of shop owners helping each other with problems in the osCommerce support forums. However, I cannot recommend osCommerce handles product reviews. It simply sucks. Here is a bulleted list of why OSCommerce sucks for product reviews:
- The product reviews don’t appear on the product page. They appear on a separate review page instead.
- Every product has a review “stub page”, whether there are any reviews or not.
- Since most products in most stores don’t have any reviews, you essentially end up with dozens, hundreds, possibly even thousands of “thin content” pages (i.e. completely or nearly empty of unique or useful content), thus putting your site in danger of being affected by Google’s Panda algorithm.
- The use of indexable “stub pages” is against Google’s published Webmaster Content Guidelines: “Avoid publishing stubs: Users don’t like seeing “empty” pages, so avoid placeholders where possible. For example, don’t publish pages for which you don’t yet have real content. If you do create placeholder pages, use the ‘noindex’ meta tag to block these pages from being indexed.“
- There is no micro-formatting of structured data to provide context to Google about product reviews.
- In other words, you won’t get the enhanced search result with the starts that can be so beneficial to your click-thru rate.
- osCommerce generates a page (or set of pages if they become paginated) called /reviews.php on which a truncated version all reviews for all products are listed, which makes every product review an instant duplicate content problem.
Some of the issues above are elaborated on with the following screenshots…
I used the osCommerce demo site in the examples above, but you can easily find these rampant issues across hundreds of thousands of other osCommerce customer domains…
Some business owners out there may already be using osCommerce, in which case I’d like to offer my
condolences constructive suggestions:
- Install an ad-on that puts review content onto product pages. This only solves part of the problem, since the content will also exist on the product review page and the review index page, but it’s a start. Here is a product page example on a site that has done this, though they did’t implement the other suggestions below, which means – in addition to the product page in the example link – that review content also appears on the product review page and the reviews index page. Though I can’t vouch for the efficacy of specific osCommerce Add-Ons, you can check into this one and this one and this one.
- Either rel canonical or 301 redirect the product review pages that have reviews to the product detail page, or apply a robots noindex meta tag to the html header of the page to keep them from being indexed. This suggestion assumes you’ve implemented suggestion #1.
- Block useless, duplicate content, and thin pages (e.g. reviews.php and empty review stubs) from being indexed in the first place. The various ways of doing this, which one would be best for any given situation is beyond the scope of this post. However, a good place to start is this thread on the osCommerce forums. It is a bit dated (2007) but worth looking into, especially given this part of the conversation..
Just because a review product vendor or eCommerce platform offers a way for merchants to put product reviews and ratings on their site does not mean it is “SEO-friendly”. Sometimes it can even do more harm than good. Fortunately, it seems there are work-arounds that will allow business owners to span the gap between good and great until the vendors reach the next level.
If you need to find a product review vendor that is platform-agnostic I’d suggest BazaarVoice, though you will want to block the reviews domain from being indexed, and you will want the review content to appear on your product page WITHOUT cloaking – That is, you want to show Google the content in the code too. Never, ever, treat Google differently than other visitors. I really hope that rep. I spoke to didn’t know what he was talking about.
You might also look into Pluck, though the “SEO-friendlyness” of the implementation is very much in the hands of your developers.
If you’re using WordPress there are several options. I suggest WooCommerce or WP e-Commerce, but if you’re already using a different eCommerce framework you can look into plugins like WP Customer Reviews.
Drupal users need to get creative, possibly by installing a module such as NodeReview or UserReview, and blocking the individual review nodes from being indexed.
I’m going to lump Volusion, Magento and Bigcommerce into a mid-level eCommerce platform group. Their pricing is similar and each can handle everything from a small mom-n-pop shop to an enterprise-level retail brand. Out of this group I think Volusion has the best product review offering, though you will want to add a simple line to your robots.txt file to make the most use of it. Bigcommerce, unlike Volusion, does not yet allow you to obtain the star ratings without hacking the product.html template code. However, once done I think this is an excellent product in many ways. I can’t recommend Magento if you have the choice, but those using it already can use the work-arounds above to get a decent product review implementation. I do like their multi-faceted approach to ratings though.
Zen-Cart, oSCommerce, and several other platforms that range from free to cheap are typically a case of getting what you pay for. It is possible with any open-source code to get what you want, but by the time you pay a developer to do it you’d be better off spending that money on a more robust product.
A Few Last Words
Having the the technical side of a good product review solution implemented well is only the first step. There are lots of sites out there with well-done product review solutions that don’t have any reviews. Your next step needs to be figuring out the best way to get your customers to leave reviews about your products. One of the easiest ways to do this is to send a follow-up email after purchase. However, you can improve your chances of getting better reviews by segmenting your list and emailing your best customers (i.e. repeat shoppers whose first purchase was X years/months ago, who have spent $x, etc…), or targeting those who have already said their experience was positive. For example, customer service reps can often provide some indication as to whether or not the customer was happy with their purchase. A follow-up email several days after the expected delivery date asking if they were happy with their purchase, or if they have any suggestions has multiple benefits, one of them being that you know who to ask for reviews. Use your imagination, but the important thing is that you don’t just take a “set it and forget it” approach to product reviews because, most of the time, people aren’t motivated to review something unless they were unhappy with the purchase and feel the need to complain about it. That doesn’t mean you should be afraid to offer reviews on your site, or that you should filter out the bad ones. It just means you need to be proactive about gathering positive reviews.
The eCommerce world moves quickly. Review companies and CMS plugins are coming and going all the time, and features are constantly being updated. If you know of another outstanding option please feel free to mention it in the comments below. And if you know that any of the information above has changed since this post, please let us know in the comments, as we’d like to keep this resource as up-to-date as possible.
About Everett Sizemore
Everett has served as in-house SEO specialist in diverse corporate and startup environments, as well as running his own agency, learning the needs and roadblocks of clients in eCommerce and other hyper-competitive niches.