April 22, 2010, 12:24 PM

Google incorporates ratings and reviews from e-retailers in search results

Ratings and reviews vendor Bazaarvoice is tying in with search engine giant Google Inc., enabling its 800 retailer and manufacturer customers to display ratings and reviews from their web sites in Google search results. The reviews will appear in Google Product Search, Google’s shopping search engine, and on Google.com both in natural search results and paid ads placed through Google’s AdWords system.

Ratings and reviews vendor Bazaarvoice is tying in with search engine giant Google Inc., enabling its 800 retailer and manufacturer customers to display ratings and reviews from their web sites in Google search results. The reviews will appear in Google Product Search, Google’s shopping search engine, and on Google.com both in natural search results and paid ads placed through Google’s AdWords system.

The reviews will appear differently depending on how a consumer is using Google. A consumer using Google Product Search will see full-length reviews, complete with the retailer’s name. Those reviews will link back to the merchant’s product page. General Google.com search results will contain a small snippet of ratings content from the retailer’s site. The snippets do not contain the retailer’s name but do link back to the retailer’s web site. Lastly, retailers using Google’s paid search program will be able to add star ratings to their paid ads showing how well consumers like products. Goolge says it will enable advertisers to add reviews to paid ads in the future.

The optional service is free for Bazaarvoice customers and the vendor will automatically feed product reviews to Google on behalf of the retailers. Bazaarvoice’s roster of clients includes Best Buy, Costco, Dell and QVC.

Reviews aren’t new to Google, but the way the search engine is leveraging them is. Before, Google pulled a small subset of reviews from a handful of sources including large e-commerce sites like Amazon.com and Overstock.com and from opinion portals such as ePinions. The Bazaarvoice tie-in is different because it posts reviews from many brands, uses the retailer’s names and links back to their retail sites. This will enable e-retailers to leverage their review content to drive more traffic from Google, as well offer more exposure, Bazaarvoice says.

“Consumers get immediate access to opinions from other customers as they research purchases on Google, and Google is able to bring search closer to the purchase process for Google users,” Bazaarvoice says. A Google spokeswoman says Bazaarvoice customers will not get special preference in search results.

Google’s move to better help searchers find the products they want to buy sounds a lot like Microsoft’s Bing, says Paula Rosenblum, managing partner at Retail Systems Research LLC. She thinks the move may be an answer to Bing, which markets itself as a decision engine, not a search engine. Bing contends it provides more relevant results and information than do conventional search engines (read: Google).

Google itself says it is trying to go beyond simply producing a list of search results.

"You can't just show users a list of what's out there. You have to give consumers tools to help them find what they need quickly and easily,” the spokeswoman says. “Reviews from peers are becoming more and more important to consumers, and therefore more and more important to this decision-making process.”

She adds that Google is looking to grow its commerce offerings and the number of merchants it works with.

Other experts suspect the program could be a big boon for e-retailers, boosting sales and exposure and perhaps even natural search results. Nikki Baird, also a managing partner at Retail Systems Research, thinks the program will make customer reviews more important than ever for e-retailers.

“If a retailer has a lot of product reviews on an item, it might improve their natural search result for the item,” Baird says. “A highly popular review might have the ability to drive traffic to a retailer’s site and give retailers an incentive to reward customers for detailed reviews.”

User-generated content, such as reviews, has always been an important ingredient for ranking high in Google’s natural search because Google’s crawlers like fresh content. But this latest development could make consumer feedback even more potent, experts say.

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