Google has changed its Seller Ratings

28 February 2014

What is going on with Seller Ratings?

“Seller Ratings” refer to the stars that appear in paid Google search results, that link through to reviews providing that the merchant has generated the feedback through a Google Partner such as Feefo.

Number of Reviews VS Rating out of 5

Until recently, the number of reviews that a merchant had generated in the eyes of Google would be clearly visible.

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This has recently changed to a rating out of 5, with no indication of how many reviews it is based on.

mandm-new-adwords

The implications of this change are debatable, and the intention behind the move difficult to speculate upon.

My first reaction would be that Google’s updates or changes are normally predicated on making their services as efficient as possible. Google constantly split-tests to see how even very subtle variables influence browser behaviour. As I see it, two explanations seem most likely:

  1. Optimisation

I wonder whether a number (particularly if it’s high) is a more temping link to click on, as opposed to a rating. Perhaps with the more generic rating, the landing page becomes the obvious click, eliminating one step from a potential conversion – meaning the Google Ad, over a large number of impressions can become a more efficient sales tool, by driving traffic to the purchase page earlier.

From a customer feedback perspective, there is an obvious change in what is important in a consumer’s first impression. The rating is now all-important, and the numbers of reviews largely irrelevant. In the name of transparency and the ‘spirit’ of what Seller Ratings are intended for, I wonder whether this move will incentivise ‘gaming’ the system, by collating reviews until a desired rating is reached and then refusing to collect more… Meaning that the rating would no longer be a true reflection of their current level of service, as judged by recent customers. The balance between optimisation and transparency dramatically shifted to one side.

2. Does the number of reviews eventually become meaningless?

I previously discussed this topic with Econsultancy, and I stand by the position that I expressed then.

Is there a ‘risk’ that, after a few hundred the numbers [of reviews] become meaningless, and perhaps even less credible?

It’s a difficult question to answer, as it’s somewhat subjective how to define ‘meaningless’ and would likely differ between individual consumers and how recognisable the business is.

For example, consumers are likely to require less reassurance about a business they have heard of than those they haven’t.  

I would say that there is likely a critical mass (depending on the size of the business) to which initially the number of reviews is what matters most, and after that the most recent feedback alongside the relevance (eg are there reviews specific to the product a consumer is intending to purchase?) become more important factors. 

Historic data also gains significance for the merchants themselves. An often missed aspect of reviews is the business intelligence offered directly by genuine customers.

You might be able to track how your service has improved from the previous year, or identify a particular product / aspect of your customer journey that is generating negative feedback for example. You can then use this data to improve your offering.  

I never quite understood the ‘credible’ issue – once reviews are from a verified source, it would surely be less ‘credible’ to have fewer reviews that were ‘cherry-picked’ as being useful or positive?

There is a genuine point to be made however, that as Seller Ratings age (they were introduced in 2010), it would be largely pointless for reviews to still be counted and displayed as a number into the hundreds of thousands. To keep the display universal, perhaps it simply makes logical sense to move to the rating system regardless if a brand has 5 or 50000 reviews.

I would still speculate however that for smaller businesses, (that a consumer might not be already familiar with) the number of verified reviews they have generated (combined with a good score of course) is a more effective first impression in paid search. For big brands, especially if they have a high street presence, consumers may simply require a quick reassurance that their mode of delivery is efficient, or that there are no glaring issues in ordering online from them.

What happens next?

If we accept the speculation that landing pages from Ad campaigns will have slightly higher click through rates, the importance of displaying on-page reviews would become that much more important. We previously discussed why product reviews in particular are such a powerful sales tool, and their importance simply shifts towards later in the sales funnel.

On the subject of the age of reviews that I discussed earlier, while reviews can maintain relevance for merchants in monitoring trends and providing business intelligence, how long before they are no longer useful for consumers?

Is the experience of a customer from 5 years prior less relevant than one left yesterday? Should there eventually be a weighting, or consideration of this in Google’s rating out of 5?

What else is being tested?

“Seller Reviews” versus “Advertiser Rating”

On certain Ads the phrase “advertiser rating” is appearing alongside the stars rather than the previous “seller reviews”.

ultimate-travel-company

advertiser-ratings

Location of Ads – top versus bottom of the page

Ads occasionally only appear at the bottom of search results.

ads-at-bottom-of-search-results

How Ads are Identified

Occasionally Ads appear against a white background, with a more prominently identified ‘Ad’ icon.

Expedia-adwords

What do you think about the number of reviews versus ratings debate? And what of the other variables that seem to be being tested?

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