Editor’s note: This article was originally published in 2018. It has been updated for accuracy and to reflect modern practices.
Everyone knows that product reviews are essential for eCommerce sites. They boost conversions and, when implemented properly, can also positively impact your organic SEO.
Most importantly, your customers expect them. In fact, nearly 9 out of 10 customers make the effort to read online reviews before making a purchase.
But these benefits depend on you actually having reviews — and not just a few.
In today’s eCommerce ecosystem, you need consistently full review sections, across most or all of your products, to drive sales. Empty product review sections can be seen as a distrust factor for your brand and can harm conversions.
Herein lies the problem: Customers expect and use reviews — but don’t tend to leave them.
Sourcing enough customer feedback to fill out your site can be very difficult.
But there’s a solution: syndicated reviews.
In this blog, we’ll discuss the pros and cons of using syndicated reviews for your eCommerce site — including their impact on search engine optimization, conversion rate optimization, and more — to help you make the right decision for your online business.
Let’s get started.
What are Syndicated Reviews?
Thanks to syndicated reviews, brands and retailers no longer need to rely solely on their own customers to have extensive review sections.
Instead, they can use review syndication services, which gather reviews from product manufacturers (and sometimes other retail sites) to display on your eCommerce site.
Popular review syndication software includes:
But Mike, you might ask, isn’t copy-pasting reviews from different sites considered duplicate content?
When implemented poorly, syndicated reviews can be read as “duplicate content” and can have a negative impact on your product page SEO, harming your search rankings and organic performance. But, in reality, the likelihood of your site being negatively affected is actually lower than you think.
That doesn’t mean that syndicated reviews don’t come with other considerations, too.
We’ll walk you through the common pros and cons below, so you can decide for yourself.
Pros of Syndication
First, let’s start with the positives.
Obviously, the biggest advantage of syndicated reviews is that you don’t have to chase down your customers for their opinions on your products. You can easily and more quickly populate your product reviews, which can be a key factor in your eCommerce conversion rate (as we’ll discuss below).
1. Increases Your Revenue
Research shows that the more reviews you have on your eCommerce site, the more likely your customers will be to make a purchase — and the higher your revenue will be.
According to PowerReviews, when shoppers are exposed to product pages with one or more reviews, conversion rates lift by 52.2%. Even more impressive: When products reach 101 reviews or greater, those rates increase by more than 250%.
As expected, an increase in conversion rates also leads to an increase in revenue. Consider these figures from reputation management platform Womply:
- Businesses with more than 82 total reviews earn 54% more in annual revenue than average.
- Businesses with 200 reviews or more earn nearly twice as much revenue as average.
Remember that correlation does not always equal causation. After all, larger sites with significantly more shoppers often have a much easier time sourcing new reviews. This, in turn, helps future sales. For smaller sites or those new to product reviews, getting even a couple of reviews per product is a chore.
In a way, it’s the classic chicken-and-the-egg question: Which came first for these businesses — revenue or reviews?
Regardless, there is a lesson to learn here. By pulling in syndicated reviews from other platforms and brand websites, you can boost your overall reviews and potentially increase your revenue at the same time.
And, because syndication will increase the number of reviews per specific product, you may see an increase in conversion rates, too.
2. Adds Value Product Keywords
However, user-generated reviews also present an SEO advantage — the natural addition of valuable keywords to your product pages. See the Amazon example below, where the customer reviews for an espresso machine includes high-value keywords like “coffee” and “easy to use.”
Cons of Syndication
Now, let’s get into the trickier side of syndicated reviews: the effects on SEO.
You’ll find conflicting opinions on whether syndicated reviews will harm your SEO efforts. In our experience, the effects are few and far between, for many reasons — mainly, that so many sites are using this strategy and Google is well aware of the purpose it serves.
Still, to be safe, keep the following risks in mind if you’re considering using this review strategy.
1. May Increase Risk of Duplicate Content
The oft-quoted risk of syndicated reviews is that Google might read them as duplicate content and penalize your site.
But, when they’re implemented properly, we’ve found little (if no) effect on SEO rankings.
Google has always been cagey about the impact that using syndicated reviews might have on a site’s rankings. Its Webmaster Guidelines simply suggest that marketers “syndicate carefully,” because Google will only show one version of the content to users in each search — which may or may not be the version your brand prefers.
- Ensure that each site on which your content is syndicated includes a link back to your original article.
- Ask those who use your syndicated material to use the noindex meta tag to prevent search engines from indexing their version of the content.
Most platforms that syndicate product reviews report little to no effect on their client’s websites. Take BazaarVoice, which states:
“Bazaarvoice syndicates content across hundreds of brands and retailers and is not concerned about duplicate content causing issues. When content is duplicated or syndicated between a brand and a retailer (in either direction), it is beneficial because it provides a good user experience, causes no issues with partner search engines, and accounts for the delay in syndicated content.”
When in doubt, speak with your eCommerce SEO team for their opinion.
2. Makes Your Site Indistinguishable
On one hand, syndicated reviews create consistent product ratings across websites, leveling the playing field for online retailers.
Reevo, another product review platform, sums it up as so:
“A product reviewed on Retailer A’s website may show five stars, while the very same product, reviewed on a different retailer’s site by different people, may show two stars … For brands, this can be a major problem, because the types of educated consumers who are most influenced by reviews are also the most diligent in their research. Finding wildly different reviews and scores for a product will make them immediately suspicious, and devalue any trust mark displayed alongside the reviews.”
On the other hand, when your product ratings look like everyone else’s, your site loses the benefit of standing out among your competition. In our opinion, this is the bigger risk to your organic performance.
If people turn to your site because they trust your brand and want reviews from people that feel the same, they’ll expect different ratings. However, if you include syndicated reviews from another site on yours, those reviews might be from people who use the product differently or have different standards.
In addition, the higher your ratio of unique review content to syndicated or repeated content, the more competitive your website will be in Google’s eyes.
Bottom line: Having different star ratings and reviews can help your site stand out.
And, if your site is filled only with syndicated reviews, you won’t.
Case Study: Syndicated Reviews in Action
On smaller sites, the majority of reviews found on a given product page may be syndicated. But, should those reviews ever be removed, the impact on conversion rates and traffic can be much more outsized than for sites that focused on generating original, high-quality reviews from their customers.
For this example, we’ll use Electronic Express, a small electronics retail site. Back when we first evaluated their site in 2018, they incorporated syndicated reviews. In this older screenshot, you can see all of the reviews for their Bose surround sound speakers were originally posted on Bose.com — and were not original to Electronic Express.
Even though the page contained no original reviews at the time, it still ranked well in Google search results: #10 for “bose wireless surround sound speakers” and #12 for “bose wireless surround sound.”
As far as first-page results for those same searches, the SERPs populated with listings from the brand (Bose), as well as much larger retailers, including Best Buy, Target, and eBay. While it’s difficult to compete with these larger sites, at the time, Electronic Express ranked higher than other smaller retailers that didn’t use syndicated reviews and even larger retailers like Walmart offering fewer reviews.
However, four years later, the SERPs tell a very different story, reflected in the product page’s dramatic drop in organic traffic in April 2021. (Coincidentally, the drop in traffic occurred the same time as Google released its first product reviews algorithm update.)
As of August 2020, the product page still included syndicated reviews — but, today, there are no reviews at all to be found, syndicated or original.
Therefore, at some point between now and then, the syndicated reviews were removed. We can only guess as to the reason why.
And, while we can’t conclude the organic traffic drop is due to the syndication alone, the combination of zero product reviews and the fact that the product is no longer available online has made this product page less than valuable for Electronics Express.
What you can learn from this case study?
Don’t just focus on syndicated reviews. Build up your own inventory of original customer reviews so you can avoid potential drops if you get hit with a duplicate content penalty or eventually decide to remove those syndicated reviews from your site.
Best Practices for Syndicated Reviews
If you decide that the potential benefits outweigh the risks, we’ve gathered a few best practices for avoiding the “duplicate content” problem and making the most of syndicated reviews on your site.
1. Use Syndicated Reviews to Jump Start Product Review Sections
As the case study above indicates, syndicated reviews shouldn’t be the only reviews your eCommerce site relies on.
When our clients are new to collecting and displaying reviews, we recommend only showing syndicated reviews while they’re sourcing feedback from their customers. During this time, using only syndicated reviews will show consistency across the site and improve customer experience by giving them something to consider during the purchase process.
It typically takes about six months to source enough responses from your customers to have consistent reviews for most or all of your products.
Then, you can integrate your own reviews into the syndicated ones for fuller review sections.
2. Ensure Syndicated Reviews Link Back to Their Original Post
In accordance with Google’s guidelines, your syndicated reviews should always reveal where they originally came from. This way, Google can understand where the original content lives — and can associate both the brand and outside retailers as places for relevant content.
A good syndication tool will do this automatically. Often this attribution is visible, like in this example from REI, which uses reviews syndicated by BazaarVoice.
3. Make Sure Reviews Are Indexed In Only One Place
Reviews aren’t just aggregated from other companies. International companies and companies with large sites can aggregate their reviews to be shown on different pages, too.
When those reviews and indexed and searchable across multiple pages, this can become a real SEO problem.
Regardless of whether you use a syndication service, it’s important to make sure that all of your product reviews are only indexed in one place on your own website.
When reviews are found on both category and product pages, they can be read as duplicate content by Google and other search engines. In turn, those search engines may choose to ignore the reviews from one (or more) of the pages.
If you need reviews listed in multiple places on your site, make sure that all but one of the pages use the “noindex” meta tag. You can also stop robots from crawling (searching) certain pages by specifying those pages within the robots.txt file.
4. Don’t Give Your Reviews to Other Retailers
In two-way syndication, reviews flow both ways between a brand or manufacturer’s site and their retailers’ sites. This is perfect for brands, who want their products to sell well, regardless of where they’re listed.
However, retailers might not want to syndicate their reviews to other retail partners or to providers, such as Testfreaks, that aggregate reviews from all over. After all, if your site has spent time and money gathering quality reviews, you don’t want to give those to your competitors!
To maintain a competitive advantage, we recommend that eCommerce sites not share their reviews with these review sites or other retailers. That way, you’ll keep your more unique and useful product information to yourself.
If you decide to use syndicated reviews, ensure that you’re only receiving reviews and/or sending reviews to a manufacturer (and not other retail websites).
Deciding What’s Best for Your Brand
When done correctly, syndicated reviews can make a positive impact on conversions and SEO. But they shouldn’t be a replacement for sourcing reviews straight from your customers.
By combining both original and syndicated reviews, your business can provide more valuable information and transparency for your customers — increasing the chance that they purchase from your site over your competitors.
Before you incorporate syndicated reviews into your strategy, make sure you:
- Speak with your SEO and CRO teams for their opinions
- Choose the perfect product review platform
- Create a strategy for gathering unique, original reviews from your customers
Remember: Product reviews are just one factor in SEO and conversion success. To learn more about optimizing your site’s product pages, request a free audit from our digital marketing teams today. We’ll evaluate your site and propose customized strategies to boost your search ranking and conversions.
In the meantime, check out more of our helpful resources below: