Leafing through the pages of the latest issue of DMNews, I saw an interesting article that got me thinking about the role of superlative keywords (i.e. “best” , “greatest”, “most exciting”) in search engine optimization for ecommerce websites. Customer reviews have become an integral part of the online shopping experience. Reviews provide potential buyers with more information about the e-store’s merchandise and can grow the customer’s trust in the transaction. Most major online retailers allow customers to submit product reviews. Amazon.com and Walmart.com are two online retailers that probably house the largest base of buyer reviews on the web.
Intent of the Superlative Search
The superlative search engine query provides a lot of insights about the user’s intent. For example, the query “best seafood restaurant in Massachusetts” can imply the following:
- the searcher is likely planning to go to an eatery in the near future.
- the searcher is likely seeking the advice of other seafood eaters, food critics, or from the restaurants themselves in selecting a restaurant.
- the searcher could be seeking information on how to evaluate a seafood restaurant.
- the searcher is likely looking for only one restaurant, the best restaurant.
- the searcher is looking for information which may be subjective or qualitative.
My conclusion about the superlative search is that it is innately a social query. In other words, people are using search engines to find opinions written by past purchasers, presumably to act on the information they find at a future point. This is different than a basic informational search. For example, had the user typed the phrase “seafood restaurants in Massachusetts” (without the superlative) we could conclude that a simple list of Massachusetts restaurants could suffice as response. The second conclusion is that the the superlative query has both an explicit informational component and a prominent, but implicit action component. The user is looking for information that will help him or her do something.
From a search engine optimization standpoint, it may not simply be enough to have a website that ranks algorithmically if the searcher includes a quality modifier. You’ll get a click, sure, but will you get the user’s patronage without third party confirmation? Unlikely. The fact is that the searcher is not expressly looking for information about your product; the user is searching for the opinions of others regarding the merchandise or services you offer. Furthermore, the self-declared best of something must be supported by another party for the assertion to be meaningful. This is where hosted user evaluations (such as the ones on Amazon.com) and review websites such as Yelp intercede.
Hosted Product Reviews and Search Engine Optimization
The problem with using superlative adjectives on ecommerce website is that they cannot be integrated into product descriptions without compromising the objectivity of the narrative users must read in order to understand the product offering. Product descriptions are intended to tell the shopper what the product is, how to use it, and present technical specifications. Product descriptions are much more important online because the user does not always have direct access to the product or service to inspect first hand. So, using words like “best” and “greatest” demote the objectiveness of the product description and can often sound like unsubstantiated salesman speak. How confusing would it be for buyers if every product description found in an online store used the word “best”?
This is why many online retailers capture and display customer comments next to product descriptions. A glowing review from a satisfied customer is worth much more to a user and to the bottom line of a website than an evangelical product description. Additionally, review pages can give a website a boost in search engine standings. Superlative phrases in comments left by past customers can help increase the website’s ranking for queries containing quality modifiers. In this way, creating good products, providing timely delivery, and offering great customer service can aid in the SEO of a website. Thus, online shopkeepers should leave the singing of praises to their customers, and instead focus on making sure the search engine spiders have a path to find user reviews on their website.
Review Websites and Search Engine Optimization
Yelp and Epinions are two popular review websites. Review websites, in addition to providing unbiased (in theory, but not always in practice) reviews, are also crucial components of online reputation management. Customer opinion websites can cosign any claims of positive superlatives made by sites promoting a product or service. There exists an interesting relationship between search marketing and online customer review aggregators – although a listing in the search results for an opinion website may initially attract a user’s click for a superlative search, they are unlikely to be the user’s final destination because these types of websites do not resolve the implicit action component of the superlative query. After reading the opinions others have posted on the website, the user is likely to go to another location to act on the information they have obtained even if it is at a much later time. To resolve the action component the information seeker may then look for information about the company or product encountered on a review website using a search engine or by navigating to the website directly. In some ways, a good user review can be as valuable as a direct link from a review forum both in terms of providing referral traffic or by leading a user to conduct a search for information about your business, resulting in an increase in your website’s natural traffic volume.