How effective are product ratings in converting the casual googler into a buyer? Google is betting they are very effective, or so its latest move would seem to indicate.

Google intends to start displaying a 5-star rating below each product featured in the shopping module that frequently appears at the top of search results pages, according to a company blog post from July 29.

Never seen one of these modules? Here’s an example. That link takes you to a search results page that displays a five-product box entitled “Shop for nespresso pixie on Google.” Clicking the small “i” in the corner of the module reveals why you’re seeing it:

Based on your search query, we think you are trying to find a product. Clicking in this box will show you results from providers who can fulfill your request. Google may be compensated by some of these providers.
Prices do not include shipping costs. Additional shipping costs may apply. Prices shown include VAT and applicable fees.

Google’s adoption of a 5-star rating system — one that is identical to the system used by — is intended to “help differentiate products across and and will help merchants drive more qualified traffic through Product Listing Ads.”

If you’re one of Google’s merchant partners, this should seem like a no-brainer, right? Well, maybe.

Merchants don’t have to have a rating displayed against their products; they aren’t obliged to participate (for now). But do you really want your product to be the only one of five displayed in that module that doesn’t have a rating? Google is quick to remind partners who might be reticent that “In initial tests, product ratings also helped increase click-through-rates of Product Listing Ads.” Pow. How can you not participate knowing that?

But therein lies the catch: If you do want to participate, you’re going to have to add your site’s product review content to the list of data points that Google requires for each displayed product.

This means that all participating partners are effectively donating valuable ratings data to Google, without any additional compensation. Moreover, participating and sharing this data in no way guarantees that ratings will appear beneath your products, as the blog post somewhat ominously warns: “please note that just because a product has reviews does not mean that we’ll always show ratings.”

Why this caveat when a partner agrees to share its data? Presumably it’s Google’s way of covering its butt in the event that the merchant’s review data is the only data available and thus less likely to be a trusted assessment of product quality. According to Google, “the 5-star rating system represents aggregated rating and review data for the product, compiled from multiple sources including merchants, third-party aggregators, editorial sites and users.” By that definition, a single source of ratings data will not meet Google’s criteria for display purposes.

While there’s no question that Google is the ultimate beneficiary of this new ratings display scheme, there’s an upside for shoppers too. As merchants quickly figure out which of their products have a high aggregated rating score and which don’t, they’ll likely favor the highest-rated products for inclusion in Google’s Shopping module, in the hopes that the higher rating will offer the most converted clicks from shoppers.

Being shown the highest-rated products at the top of a search results page is a time-saver for shoppers.

For now, the ratings display system will be limited to merchants targeting U.S. consumers, but Google plans to roll it out to internationally targeted ads “soon.”


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