Anyone who has shopped online can attest to the value of product reviews. We utilize online reviews to learn more about a given product, see if people similar to us are happy with their purchase, and generally assuage our concerns about the product's usefulness in our lives.

Yet while most of us understand the importance of online reviews from a consumer perspective, many businesses still fail to take advantage of this valuable sales tool. Maybe that's because business owners worry about how to get positive reviews or fear the potential fallout from negative ones. But here's the good news: Reviews of all types can actually increase your conversions and boost customer acquisition and loyalty.

Before we dive into the benefits of online reviews, it should be noted that reviews can take several forms. They can exist on your own site and be generated by everyday customers (such as the individual product reviews on, say, this ground pad for sale at REI), or they can be off-site on a third-party review platform (such as Security Baron, a third-party site that reviews security systems or Brain Wiz, a third-party site that reviews nootropics). Both forms can have a positive impact on conversion rates, but for the purposes of this article we'll focus exclusively on on-site reviews. Here's what these reviews can do for you.

They can increase sales.

If you start utilizing reviews for no other reason, do it for this one. Study after study finds that including customer reviews on your product pages can boost conversions. Approximately 70 percent of customers read reviews prior to making a purchase, and the mere presence of reviews can influence their buying decisions. One study found 63 percent of customers are more likely to complete a sale for a product with user reviews. Others have found including reviews on your site can increase sales by anywhere from four to 18 percent. When you consider that most e-commerce sites hover around a one to three percent conversion rate, those stats are nothing to sneer at.

They can boost SEO.

Reviews can provide an effective SEO boost in a number of ways:

  • They offer content that search engines love. Search engines prioritize frequently updated, relevant, and uniquely worded content--and that's exactly what product reviews provide (without you having to lift a finger).
  • Reviews tend to contain long-tail keywords, because people writing reviews are likely to use language that's similar to how people will search (e.g., "best hiking pack for short women"). This can improve your page's ranking for these terms.
  • Reviews provide rich snippets of content that can boost click-throughs from search pages.
  • Reviews help you rank for search terms that include "review" or "ratings".

This SEO boost means your product pages are more likely to turn up in search results. And when people who are expressly searching for a relevant product land on your site, they'll be more likely to convert.

They can establish credibility.

When customers buy something online, they have to overcome the anxiety of not being able to handle a product in person. Reviews help bridge this gap by providing potential customers with social proof, or a sense of security resulting from the product (and the company that sells it) being vetted by other people like them.

This is the primary reason why it's important not to censor negative reviews. Customers are looking to reviews to confirm the product isn't a scam--and a sea of 5-star ratings is going to look fishy. In fact, customers are more likely to trust reviews overall when a few negative reviews are included in the mix--so much so that the presence of a few negative reviews can actually improve conversion rates. (Of course, the ratio matters. If your product is producing more negative reviews than positive, that's not going to be good for business.) Quickly and effectively addressing customer complaints is also a proven way to generate repeat business.

They can improve product quality.

Reviews aren't just valuable to other customers. They're also packed with useful insights for merchandisers and manufacturers. For example, if reviews consistently speak to a certain shortcoming of your product, this can provide your team with insights into how the product could be improved. Or if customers are always gushing about a certain product feature, that's a sign you may want to include this feature in future products.

They can assist your marketing efforts.

In addition to boosting product quality, reviews can also improve the quality and effectiveness of your marketing in a number of ways:

  • They can help marketers identify which products warrant enhanced visibility. For example, products that routinely receive glowing feedback might be primary candidates for a feature page.
  • They can provide marketers with a sense of what really matters to their customers, which can inform which product features are most strongly highlighted.
  • They can give marketers a sense of the language used by their customers so they can tailor their product descriptions and marketing copy accordingly.
  • They can afford insights into any friction that crops up along the sales funnel, which gives marketers an opportunity to assuage those concerns right out of the gate via well-written marketing copy.

All told, user generated reviews provide a goldmine of audience research.

From higher conversions to better SEO and more strategic marketing, product reviews can provide a boost for virtually every aspect of your sales strategy. And they do it all for free. If you're not already utilizing online product reviews, it's high time you allowed your customers to have their say.