Recently, Google made an announcement that should prove immensely impactful for online retailers who sell to shoppers in the US: You can now include user-generated images in the Google Shopping reviews submitted by your happy customers. For now, prospects will only see your customers’ photos when browsing on mobile. In the coming months, however, Google plans to expand user-generated images to more countries and more device types.
An example of a user-generated image in a Shopping review. Via Yotpo.
We’ll kick off this guide by taking a look at the update Google has rolled out and talking a bit about the power of user-generated images to boost your Shopping reviews. Then, to make sure you’re fully prepared to capitalize on this update, we’ll share three basic tips for accumulating more Shopping reviews going forward. Finally, we’ll wrap up with some insights from WordStream’s ecommerce marketing experts: Kelly McGee, Holly Niemiec, and Sam Drane.
A key advantage that brick-and-mortar retailers hold over online retailers is that a shopper browsing a physical store has the ability to touch and try on different products. This, in turn, allows the shopper to easily visualize what post-purchase life would be like. When a recent college graduate tries on an outfit and clearly sees the confidence boost it will give her to thrive at her upcoming interviews, that’s a powerful moment—probably powerful enough to convince her to make the purchase.
By allowing you to include user-generated images—photos taken by your customers—alongside your Shopping reviews, Google is essentially giving you the tools to enjoy that advantage long held by your brick-and-mortar competitors. With customer photos, you can give Shopping users windows to the future—snapshots of what it’s like to use or wear your one-of-a-kind products.
Another example of a user-generated image in a Shopping review. Via Google.
Here’s how you can get it on the action.
Shopping advertisers are eligible for a Google-owned program called Product Ratings. If you’re a participant, a star rating on a scale from one to five—based on aggregated review data compiled from multiple sources across the web—will appear in Shopping ads for the products you sell. Participating in the Product Ratings program—you can sign up here—is required for anyone who wants to sway review-conscious prospects with user-generated images.
Once you’re signed up and onboarded, you can create a product reviews feed and upload it to Google Shopping through your Merchant Center account. (Note that you must have a minimum of 50 customer reviews that meet Google’s quality requirements.) Now that your reviews feed is up and running, you can use the brand new <reviewer_images> schema to include the photos your customers have taken of your products in action.
Now that we’ve established the power of boosting your Shopping reviews with user-generated images, there’s a big, important question we have to answer: How do you get your customers to review your products in the first place?
Here are three best practices for accumulating customer reviews.
As Wayne Gretsky (or Michael Scott, depending on who you ask) once famously said, you miss 100% of the shots you don’t take. Gretsky’s point, of course, was that you can’t score in hockey if you don’t put the puck on net.
In the same vein, you can’t accumulate reviews and add them to Google Shopping if you don’t ask your customers to submit them. So, I recommend that you use email marketing automation to contact everyone who buys something from your store soon after they do so.
How soon, exactly, depends on what you sell. It stands to reason that you should give your new customers a chance to use or wear your product before asking them to review it. If you sell something people tend to use immediately, like a water bottle, it’s probably safe to email those customers a few days after their orders are delivered. Alternatively, if you sell something that people might procrastinate using, like a high-end blender, you may want to give those customers a little extra time.
You should never buy customer reviews. It’s both forbidden and unethical—an all-around bad idea. Under no circumstances would we recommend it to our beloved readers.
That being said, there’s nothing wrong with giving prospective reviewers a little extra incentive. It’s a bit counterintuitive, but it’s completely fair to encourage your customers to review your product with a small financial incentive—a promo code for a related product, a credit for your online store in general, etc.—without paying them outright.
The key is that whatever incentive you’re offering is redeemable no matter how positive or negative a given customer’s review is. As long as you’re not emailing customers to say “We’ll give you $100 in exchange for a 5-star review,” you’re in the clear.
Note: Offering a promo code for a related product is an especially smart tactic because it allows you to personalize your messaging and make your customers feel extra special.
If you think about it, successfully convincing a recent customer to submit a review of your product is just like driving any other conversion. There’s an action you want people to complete, and you’re trying to find ways to incentivize them to do so.
There’s a marketing axiom you’ll often hear mentioned within conversations about conversion rate optimization: The easier it is to convert, the more conversions you’ll drive. Following that logic, it’s wise to make the process of submitting a review as easy and as fast as possible. Very few people are willing to spend more than a couple minutes writing a review.
You don’t want to ask for any pieces of information that aren’t absolutely essential. You already know your customers’ names and purchase histories, so there’s no reason to ask them to rehash those things. If you can get away with asking for nothing more than a brief review and a high-quality photo, do that.
To get a better understanding of Google’s intentions with user-generated images in Shopping reviews, I got in touch with Kelly McGee, Holly Niemiec, and Sam Drane—veteran account managers on our in-house agency team and the top ecommerce marketing experts in the office.
“I think this is Google working to compete with Amazon and make the Shopping marketplace the one-stop shop for online consumers,” Kelly told me. “User-generated images help shoppers get a better idea of what they can expect from a product and convince them to make purchases.”
No arguments here. Over the course of this year, we’ve written quite a bit about the intensifying ecommerce rivalry between Google and Amazon. In addition to Google’s recent reimagination of the Shopping platform, ecommerce-friendly updates to YouTube, Discover, and Images demonstrate that the company has every intention of becoming the hub of online retail.
According to Holly, however, Amazon isn’t the only ecommerce platform Google is emulating with these updates to Shopping. From her perspective, giving users the ability to browse user-generated images brings Pinterest to mind:
“The addition of user-generated images makes the Shopping marketplace feel less like a collection of ads and more like a curated platform for consumers to shop around and explore new products.”
Sam agreed, and she pointed out that Google’s attempt to replicate the Pinterest experience isn’t simply about adding a flashy new feature:
“User-generated images offer a sense of reliability in the product. By allowing real users to share their own images, brands are able to build trust through transparency.”
But what does all this mean for you as an ecommerce marketer? According to Kelly, good things lay ahead:
“The addition of user-generated images to Shopping reviews should drive a slight lift in conversion rates as consumers feel more confident about their purchases.”
Incentivizing your customers to submit images with their product reviews will likely require some extra creativity and brainstorming on your end. That being said, if the end result is an increase in revenue, that additional effort will all be worth it, right
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