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Can Negative Reviews Increase Conversions?

by Peter Boyle

It’s finally happened.

After years of running a successful business you’ve finally got your first negative review.

You know the effect customer reviews can have on your sales. Positive social proof helps drive sales and conversions whilst negative reviews and comments can immediately turn new prospects away from your business.

So what do you do?

Do you throw in the towel? Pat yourself on the back for a job well done, call it a day and move on to your next business idea?

Of course you don’t. You need to take action and combat the potential damage this review can cause. So you put your thinking cap on and consider the three most popular strategies when it comes to negative reviews:

  1. Ignore the review. Don’t feed the trolls and all that.
  2. Delete/censor the review to stop new prospects from gaining an unfavorable view of your business.
  3. See how you can turn the tide in your favor.

In nine out of ten situations the first two options are a terrible idea. The only time you should ignore a review is when it truly is someone trolling for laughs – and censoring, well, that never goes down well. 

The best option is almost always to address the issue and see how you can turn the tides on your negative Nancy.

Turning the tide doesn’t have to be putting some horrible PR spin on the review to make it seem like you were always in the right. Sometimes it’s about accepting you were wrong and rectifying the situation.

Contrary to popular belief, accepting the faults in your business and not deleting or spinning negative reviews can actually help increase your overall conversions and lift sales.

Here’s how it breaks down.

Why Even Bother With Reviews?

Knowing that things could take a turn for the worse there’s a temptation to completely forego utilizing product reviews on your site.

Why risk receiving negative reviews? Surely it would be easier to simply disable all comments and never have to deal with negating those who aren’t happy with what you offer.

There’s good news and bad news with this approach. The good news is yes, you will reduce negative feedback and probably save time by not having to counter negative comments. The bad news, you’ll also lower your conversions.

Wait… what? By disabling reviews you’ll lower conversions? Even though you’re also reducing the amount of negative feedback?

That’s what the data says.

According to Revoo, the potential uplift from including reviews on your site is around 18%.

Sales uplift from reviews

An 18% uplift in sales is nothing to be scoffed at. However, what really drives the point home is the differing success rates of products with and without reviews.

Bazaar Voice analyzed the effect of reviews on figleaves.com, a UK based clothes retailer. They found that products with 20+ reviews had an 83.85 higher conversion than those without.

I know what you must be thinking. You’re looking at those stats and assuming that it’s referring to the inclusion of positive reviews. After all, no one’s going to trust a brand that has negative feedback, right?

Apparently, they will. In fact, having negative feedback on your site can do wonders for building trust. It’s not about presenting an image of faultless perfection to your prospects, it’s about building trust.

Trust isn’t built on a facade, it’s built through honesty. That’s why you should include all reviews on your site. Both the good, and bad.

It Shouldn’t Be All Good

Have you ever been introduced to a seemingly perfect individual?

They’re great with people, have the perfect job, never swear, don’t drink or smoke, are always smiling and never have a bad word to say about anyone.

For all their outward appearance something seems off. Somewhere at the back of your mind you’re trying to figure out what their dark secret is. No one can be that perfect and not have some huge flaw they’re trying to hide.

It’s the same when it comes to a business.

Every time I’ve looked at the reviews for products and see nothing but over zealous positivity I think one thing. Scam.

Anyone who’s been involved in business before can attest to the fact that things do, and will, go wrong at some point. No company has a 100% record of success and happy customers. When you see nothing but five star reviews you start to question the legitimacy of the business.

Are they censoring negative reviews? If so, how many? Are they paying people to provide fake reviews? Are they creating fake reviews themselves? It all leads to a lowering of trust in your brand.

According to a study by Revoo 30% of readers suspect censorship or fake reviews when shopping online. On the other side of the coin, 68% of customers trust reviews more when there’s a healthy mix of both positive and negative reviews.

Negative reviews also draw in more qualified prospects. Today’s consumers are smarter than ever before and have access to a wealth of information about you, your brand and your products. That same Revoo study monitored the purchasing habits of those who actually look for negative reviews. Any guesses on what they discovered?

Negative reviews convert higher

Image Credit

Yup, prospects who look for negative reviews actually convert at a higher rate than those who don’t!

Sometimes having a little negativity on your page isn’t all bad. However, if you really want to turn that negative review into a conversion driving force, here’s what you need to do.

Negative Reviews Should Open Customer Dialogue

The average customer isn’t going to seek out a way to leave a review that’s beneficial to your company. This study by Max Woolf shows how over 80% of Amazon customers left only one review.

Amazon distribution of reviews

Max also goes on to note how, aside from the perfect reviews, most reviewers tend to give either a four or one star rating.

Amazon review ratings

So out of the small percentage of your customers who leave reviews you can expect them to be either a glowing reference to your brand’s awesomeness, or a damning account of your incompetence.

So much for the middle ground!

Looking at the above stats and noting my previous point on how negative reviews are a necessity you might think everything’s going to work itself out. After all, the positive still outweighs the negative.

However, people respond to reviews in different ways. If left unanswered a negative review could prove a deal breaker for new prospects or cause further negativity to build.

Fortunately these negative reviews also provide the perfect opportunity for extra engagement which can turn into an extra persuasion point.

A short while back I was doing a little review mining research for a client. One of my research targets was a large UK Martial Art’s equipment retailer.

During my research I noticed how this brand had managed to turn an error into a positive review. If left alone, there’s a good chance this could have turned into a deal breaking negative review instead of the positive testimonial it is today.

Below is the comment in question that was published on Facebook.

Negative review feedback

Now, even without knowing what the hiccup was it’s easy to see that it affected this customer. It’s highly likely that, if not addressed, this customer would have left a negative comment and feedback which could have put future prospects off the company.

However, by addressing the problem Blitz managed to turn a potential negative into a complete positive. In fact, I’d argue that the above is far more persuasive than a straight positive comment as it demonstrates the company’s duty to their customers.

Of course in this case the problem was solved before the review was written, however, the same tactic should apply when retroactively addressing a customer problem. Sure you might not get the initial complaint removed, but you’ll likely gain a review that contradicts the initial review and builds further trust in your brand.

There’s also data that suggests quickly resolving the problem leads to an increase in repeat business. According to a Lee Resource Inc study, 70% of your complaining customers will return to your business if you’re able to quickly resolve their problem.

Negative reviews aren’t all bad. In fact they offer the perfect opportunity for you to turn the tide on your reviewer, rectify the problem and get yourself a positive review to counter the initial negative outburst.

Negative Reviews Clue You In to Areas for Future Improvement

One of the most important aspects for increasing conversions is understanding your audience.

You need to know their likes, dislikes, elements of your UX that confuse, what copy best resonates with them and of course, the elements of your product they love and loathe.

Audience research is a big deal in product development and reducing the friction along your funnel. When done well it can help you find the major changes and minor tweaks that increase sales and revenue.

However, most of the methods used to get a better understanding of your audience require you to make the first move whilst also being very time intensive.  Sending surveys to then analyze the results or going old school and picking up the phone are all very labor intensive.

One method of audience research that’s often overlooked is good old review mining.

If you’ve activated reviews for your products then this is the perfect way to find out exactly what the general public has to say about them. But best of all is that you have to do very little to gather the raw data you need for analysis. The honest answers are already there for you to analyze!

All you need to do is sift through the various reviews to find recurring themes, problems and language. Before long, you’ve got a great insight into the needs of your audience, the language that will best resonate with them and the best ways to improve your product.

When it comes to product development you’ll find that the negative reviews are the most useful. However, you should still be taking every effort to keep the negative reviews in check. Yes they might be useful, but if you’re seeing more than a 1/10 ratio of negative to positive reviews, then something’s gone really wrong. It’s time to stop optimizing and look at rectifying the problem.

Even Bad Reviews Can Be Good

You’re no stranger to the effect of social proof on conversion rates. However the focus is always on gaining the most positive reviews and testimonials possible, perhaps even going so far as to censor negativity.

Whilst this is understandable, all research points to negative reviews adding a much-needed boost to your trust rating. Left alone they can help your company seem more accessible and legitimate. No one believes that a business has never stumbled.

Yet, if you really want to make the most of your negative reviews to drive conversions, use them to open dialogues and show the aggrieved party and future prospects that you’re a business who cares. It’s this step that will really boost trust and have a positive effect on your overall conversions.

6 Comments

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Peter Boyle

Pete Boyle is a conversion focused copywriter and marketing consultant. He helps brands increase their revenue through compelling copy and smart email campaigns. Click here to connect with Pete or download one of his free marketing guides.

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  1. diane sheldon-ku says:
    October 5, 2015 at 7:42 am

    Hey Peter,

    Great article! Can’t wait to share it with one of my clients — new owners of a local vet. They are doing a really good job of getting out into the community to become known and 99% of their customers love them. They are gaining Facebook subscribers daily and building great reviews. These new owners have taken big steps to make the vet practice fresh and new and love feedback from their patients and their patient’s owners. 🙂

    So…Maybe you have some insight on this one. The 3-4 bad reviews are on YELP and these remain at the top of the listing; in fact, most of them are old 2008 and 2010 from the previous owner. The higher star ratings and more current 2014 and 2015 reviews are in the “Reviews that are not currently recommended section.” I’m wondering how we might get out of Yelp purgatory other than advertising with them (which they say is “not” part of the equation.)
    Thanks for your help.

    • Peter Boyle says:
      October 5, 2015 at 5:12 pm

      Hi Diane,

      Thanks for the comment.

      Seems as though you’re in a bit of a predicament. As far as I’m aware Yelp’s “Recommended Reviews” are chosen by automated software. This software bases it’s choice on how Yelp perceives the reviewer.

      Reviewers with lots of varied reviews often have their reviews recommended as Yelp believes them to be “real people”. It’s an attempt to cut out any fake reviews posted by spam accounts or multiple reviews that come from the same computer.

      Yelp trust this system implicitly which makes it very hard for you to convince them to change a business’s reviews. Even if you were to advertise with Yelp I doubt they’d change their recommendation selection and I’m positive they wouldn’t delete the negative reviews.

      Whilst I would say that a few negative reviews help establish a more legitimate image of the brand, if they’re the only ones being recommended it can give the wrong impression. Especially as recommended reviews are the only ones that contribute to the overall star rating on Yelp.

      From past experience and a little research I don’t think there’s anything Yelp will do to help so I’d recommend one of three options.

      1 – Look into displaying a public message that brings the change of management (including the date of change) to the attention of the public.
      2 – Try to contact the initial bad reviewers. Perhaps ask them to come back and re-evaluate the clinic to see if they then want to amend their reviews.
      3 – The least beneficial method would be to wait it out and try to attract new, positive reviews from more customers and hope some of them are people Yelp deems trustworthy.

      Sorry I couldn’t be more help with this one. Yelp pride themselves on being an impartial holder of reviews meaning they rarely get involved in arbitrating disputes making your situation a very difficult one to be in.

      Let me know if you have any other questions.

  2. Juan Mendoza says:
    October 1, 2015 at 2:34 am

    Hello Peter, I admire the topic you have covered.
    Customer feedback holds a major place in sales conversion and consumer satisfaction. You are right, we must never hide any kind of negative feedback or bad reviews, it will provide us with insight that we can use to improve our business, products and overall customer experience. We can turn our errors into our improvements, which will eventually increase customer’s trust and reliability towards our brand or company.

    Here, I am sharing some ways to get consistent feedback from customers (hope you don’t mind): surveys, feedback boxes, reach out directly, user activity, usability tests.

    Hope you find it useful !

    • Peter Boyle says:
      October 3, 2015 at 2:29 pm

      Hey Juan,

      Of course I don’t mind you sharing a few good tactics for getting consistent feedback! All of your recommendations are right on the money and necessary for turning mistakes into improvements.

      Thanks for the comment and tips Juan!

  3. Ethel Paderes says:
    September 29, 2015 at 8:45 pm

    Negative reviews do increase the buzz. Haters gonna hate, as this pop song goes. 🙂

    Well, there’s a good side on this. For one, you can’t improve or upgrade your product and/or services without comments, especially the negative ones. It’s a great avenue for providing more options to the customers. Dealing with it is the best way unless the the complaint doesn’t make sense or just ranting on your page. So the point is, you can turn this into something positive to your business.

    • Peter Boyle says:
      October 3, 2015 at 2:25 pm

      Hey Ethel,

      You’ve hit the nail on the head. Sometimes the negative comments are the most useful in upgrading your product. The trick is, as you’ve mentioned, to identify the genuine complaints and ignoring the rants/trolls.

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