By Rafael Lourenco

If you’re in the business of selling things online, customer reviews are among your most important sales tools. That’s because more than 90% of consumers look at online reviews, and about a third of online shoppers will only buy items that have at least one positive customer review, according to USA Today. To help its Marketplace merchants collect these valuable pieces of information and boost their sales, Amazon recently rolled out a paid review-sourcing tool. in an environment where customer voices carry tremendous weight with other shoppers, every online seller needs to know how request reviews properly, showcase them, and (when needed) improve them.

Sourcing customer reviews the right way

If your shop has few or no reviews of your products, you probably need to encourage your customers to leave reviews of their purchases. It’s important to make your review requests in ways that comply with both Federal Trade Commission rules and Google’s guidelines.

What does the FTC say about online reviews? Honesty and transparency are the keys to compliance. Any customer reviews you share must be real reviews from real customers. If customers are reviewing products that your shop gave them for free, their reviews must include that information. And if you provide incentives to customers for reviewing your products, a practice the FTC discourages, you should let your customers know they need to disclose the incentives in the reviews they write. For example, if you send a customer a gift card for posting a review of one of your products, the customer needs to mention the gift card in the review.

Google has its own rules for online customer-review SEO markup that are designed to prevent inauthentic and cookie-cutter reviews from boosting stores’ search rankings. For instance, store owners can’t markup third-party or paid reviews using the SEO tactic schema, which would make it look as if the reviews came from the store’s customers. Store owners are also prohibited from sifting out and removing negative reviews, because doing so creates misrepresents customers’ experiences.

For online sellers who also have physical retail locations and Google My Business listings, it’s important to know that Google will remove online reviews that come from a shop’s owner or employees, from customers who were paid or given a free product to write reviews, or which were written by third parties presenting themselves as customers.

To get genuine reviews that meet FTC and Google standards, the best option is to politely ask your customers for a review after they’ve made their purchase. Automated post-purchase emails are an easy way to follow up with customers to make sure they’re satisfied with their items and to ask for feedback in the form of an online review. Some merchants also include a printed review request in shipped orders.

Maximizing the value of your customer reviews

Customers want to check reviews while they shop. Include reviews on your product pages to keep customers from navigating away in search of more information. You can also include reviews in social media posts and marketing emails so prospective customers can start gathering information right away. As noted above, marking up customer reviews in your SEO schema can raise your store’s visibility in search results, as long as the reviews are authentic and original.

Getting better feedback from your customers

Many store owners dread the prospect of a negative customer review, but experts say that nearly 1/3 of an item’s reviews have to be negative to affect consumer purchasing decisions. Not only will an occasional weak review not hurt your overall sales, it also shows that your business is posting authentic reviews instead of just flattering ones. That builds trust among your customers.

However, if you’re getting high numbers of poor reviews, there are steps you can take to correct the problem. First, respond online to the negative reviews in a way that shows shoppers you care about customers’ satisfaction. You can offer to replace the item in question, offer a refund, or propose another solution to the problem. Customers care about product quality, of course, but they also care about how stores handle complaints. Next, re-evaluate products that are the targets of frequent negative feedback to see whether they can be improved or discontinued. Another, longer-term approach is to counterbalance negative reviews by requesting more reviews specifically from customers who you know are satisfied with their purchases.

Managing customer review programs takes time and effort, but omitting reviews from your store and marketing campaigns isn’t an option if you wish to stay competitive. By giving shoppers a voice in your store, responding to their feedback, and following FTC and Google review guidelines, you can build trust, improve your product offerings, and earn more revenue based on customer reviews.

Rafael Lourenco is the Executive Vice President at ClearSale, a Card-Not-Present fraud prevention operation that protects e-commerce merchants against chargebacks. ClearSale is the only solution of its kind that does not auto-decline, its manual review process ensures that suspect transactions are never denied outright which provides the highest approval rates industry-wide and virtually eliminates false positives. Follow on twitter at @ClearSaleUS or visit