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A/B Testing Online Review Incentives Via Email Campaigns

In the past we’ve discussed the risks and rewards of incentivizing online reviews. While Yelp is notoriously strict and believes (wrongly) that even asking for a review biases it, other review site publishers are more, um, rational. Sites that have a predominantly professional audience recognize that their reviewers’ time is valuable. Providing a small reward for their time can actually motivate more unbiased reviewers to participate. But it has to be done the right way.


Last week, we collaborated with the awesome B2B software review site G2 Crowd on an email campaign to get our latest crop of Grade.us customers participating in writing reviews. Because honestly, if an online review marketing and management platform lacks online reviews, then how can you trust their value proposition? ��

G2 Crowd actually encourages and facilitates providing reviewers a small reward to review products like ours. With review incentives being a hot topic–and one that’s misunderstood or over-simplified by both proponents and detractors–we saw an opportunity to A/B test the effectiveness of incentives on online review acquisition.

We had a few questions that we wanted to answer:


  • Does mentioning an incentive in the subject line of the email increase open rate?



  • Would the inclusion of an incentive in the email increase the click through rate?



  • Would we earn more reviews via incentivized emails versus non-incentivized emails?


  • How would the star ratings compare from incentivized reviews versus non-incentivized reviews?

Discussion: The controversy around incentivizing online reviews seems to center on incentivizing positive reviews. But offering an incentive regardless of sentiment falls into another category. G2 Crowd says their research indicates that an incentive does not influence sentiment.

Where do you stand on this controversy?




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Great writeup Garrett, I always appreciate seeing actual statistics too. Many articles seem to think assertion and opinion is a good foundation for their conclusions, it's always great to see some numbers to back up your beliefs. The case looks pretty strong from here too, no surprise, but offering an incentive helps.

My own two cents, there's no inherent problem in incentivising reviews, other than potential risks to a client if you recommend they incentivise reviews for one of the review sites that might penalize for that.

A related conversation that I didn't see mentioned, whether or not you incentivise isn't just a conversion decision, it's a branding decision as well. Unless your copy and your case is rock solid, offering someone a kick back for writing you a review will give a very different impression than asking 'as a friend'. I think it would be especially challenging for a small personality driven business (where the owner is the face of the business) to pull off an incentive smoothly; it's something that fits more with a corporate voice in my opinion.

I remember a story (one of Dan Kennedy's?) of a business selling fire department training videos. When they called and asked if they would be interested in watching a short sales video to see if it would benefit their best practices, it went smoothly, they had a decent success rate. When they tested offering a free popcorn machine if the fire chief took the time to watch the sales video, they got a huge negative reaction. In some cases at least, trying to appeal to someone's magnanimity and someone's greed at the same time can cause problems.

For what it's worth though, sounds like incentivising is a no brainer for most businesses and most review sites. Thanks for the share, great post as always Garrett!
 
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Thanks for the comment James!

You make a great point about how when using incentives, companies need to think about how that impacts the perception of their brand. I agree that if it's a smaller business with a very personal relationship with their customers, then incentives might not be the right course of action. In fact, receiving a face to face request with someone from the company that you've personally interacted with is probably the most effective way to earn a review.

The other point not made in the article, is that it's near impossible to provide an incentive that's universally appreciated. There most likely would be someone who does not see the value of the offer and might have a negative reaction to it. That's why it's helpful to continue to evolve buyer personas and truly understand your audience.
 

Linda Buquet

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Great writeup Garrett, I always appreciate seeing actual statistics too. Many articles seem to think assertion and opinion is a good foundation for their conclusions, it's always great to see some numbers to back up your beliefs. Thanks for the share, great post as always Garrett!

I wanted to echo what James said. Your posts are always so thoroughly researched and detailed Garrett!

I wrote about a safe, REALLY smart way to offer an incentive. It's a twist on incentives really.
And the cool thing is it does not cost the business ANYTHING! Think it might fit to reshare it here.

<a href="http://www.localsearchforum.com/local-reviews/11989-reciprocity-gift-keeps-giving-google-reviews.html">Reciprocity - The Gift that Keeps Giving... Google Reviews that is</a>
 
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Thanks Linda! And thank you for sharing that thread. I agree, it's incredibly relevant.

One of the major takeaways that I think counters the 'detractors' of incentives, is we shouldn't be asking for a positive review when providing an incentive. By simply offering the incentive whether they write the review or not, whether it's positive or not, should not bias the reviews. A neutral offer is a nice way to delight customers while garnering new reviews. And if the product or customer service is exemplary, there should be no fear in reaching out to all customers.
 
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