Do you trust internet review sites?
August 26, 2011 2:46 AM   Subscribe

Which review sites you trust best? Homemade looking ones or professional looking ones?

I have a website that mainly publishes reviews of a certain kind of product. It has been running for two years and has a decent amount of traffic. I am a person with interest in the subject and good experience, having worked for the main players in the product department for a good number of years.

My current webdesign is a blog. It's a pleasant-looking blog (if I might say so myself) but still a blog like a million others out there.

I am looking into redesigning it (having it redesigned) but I have a fundamental doubt: if i go for a cleaner and more professional design, would people trust me more (hey, this is not just a guy in the basement, it's actually a website that does this thing professionally) or less (hey, I don't want a big company to review this product, I want to know what joe-nobody thinks about it) ?

Reviews will be the same, done by me or some of my trusted reviewers - the look and feel of the website though would be different.

So - who do you trust? or the dude who writes reviews in his mom's garage?
posted by madeinitaly to Computers & Internet (26 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
What's the product? Perhaps link to your site in your profile?
posted by tavegyl at 2:50 AM on August 26, 2011

I will send the link to anybody that PMs me!
posted by madeinitaly at 2:55 AM on August 26, 2011

The only way to actually know how this will play out on your particular site is to A/B test for bounce rate. In general, my (and the wider industry's) stats show that personal sites - be they beer reviews or independent porn - capture more audience with a more home made design. On the other hand, it really depends on the industry, the relative value of the product, and where you want to position yourself. Low brow was not the winning strategy for, say, Gary Vaynerchuk as he built his brand.
posted by DarlingBri at 2:57 AM on August 26, 2011

I generally trust more personal sites, especially for products where there are huge companies building particular images.

That said, this probably doesn't apply to your specific review site. It's very much a corporate styled blog already. From the 1-2 articles I looked at, the style and presentation is impersonal enough that a slicker feel would fit in great. In fact, I think a cleaner look, but with a more intimate feel around the edges than you currently have would make me trust it a great deal more. So in my (uninformed) view, I'd say say you should redesign, but have the reviewers less faceless than they are.

For what that's worth. Disclaimer: I'm not hugely into your product so am probably not your target audience.
posted by tavegyl at 3:40 AM on August 26, 2011

Speaking only for myself -- and I am Joan Q. Public, not involved in any way with the online economy, except as a consumer -- in a review site, I want to instantly find the review of the one thing I am searching for. I don't want to click my fingers to the bone trying to find what I want. I don't want to scroll forever. I don't want Flash or javascript unless it truly serves me in some way, which it never does (but if it is really cool-looking, that is OK). I don't want to register. If I find the review helpful, I'll bookmark the site and explore a little more later -- but on my first visit, if gratification is not immediate, I'll go to the next search result. So to the degree that your proposed site redesign increases usability, that's 100% positive.

As far as professional vs. amateur appearance influencing perception of integrity, I don't know. I think most people know that Joe Blogger and Acme Website Company are both very likely to be shilling, and the one not more likely than the other. After all, vendor swag, review copies, whatever, are pretty motivating for the guy in his mom's basement. It's the tone of the reviews that I either trust or don't, not how the site looks.

One other thing -- if the comments are unmoderated, and full of spammy crap, that's another clue that this is not a labor of love so much for the blogger.
posted by pH Indicating Socks at 3:47 AM on August 26, 2011 [1 favorite]

Note: OP has put link to the site in question in his profile.
posted by DarlingBri at 4:11 AM on August 26, 2011

I personally would not trust your site. The stock photography and the content-mill feel all put me off immediately.

posted by devnull at 4:23 AM on August 26, 2011 [2 favorites]

Doesn't matter - I really believe that it's the content that counts, with the look making little difference in the end so long as it's not outlandish or unusable. It's true a "professional" look raises a different set of potential danger signals, but I couldn't say they were overall any more worrying than those raised by the home-made style.
posted by Segundus at 4:48 AM on August 26, 2011

It's not that I prefer homemade, it's that I prefer sites that seem to have been put together by a person who is clearly an expert at what he or she does first. Usually that means a ton of information -- otherwise it's just a crappy site that didn't even get a decent design.
posted by michaelh at 4:51 AM on August 26, 2011 [1 favorite]

It's not about style--it's about the efficiency of the data. Are there too many distracting ads? Is it hard to find what you're looking for? Are the articles written in a way that gets the best info front and center?

Good sites have heart.

This means they are really cared for and everything is considered. This can happen well on either a slick looking site (that communicates power, but risks warmth) or a home-made site (that communicates warmth, but risks power).

What's the best power-to-warmth ratio? Completely depends on what you're talking about and your voice as a writer. This is art, not science.
posted by Murray M at 5:10 AM on August 26, 2011 [2 favorites]

I believe most consumers make an instant value judgment based on what they see. The site design has that content farm look, in my opinion. It was immediately off putting to me. It looks like a site designed to make money via affiliate programs, not a site that is a labor of love by somebody with way too much interest in shoes.

When I'm looking for reviews I frequently try to find the forums where the hard core obsessives about the subject hang out.
posted by COD at 5:34 AM on August 26, 2011 [4 favorites]

I had the same reaction as several above - the site design is nice and clean and professional, but also generic looking. In a market where content-farm and shill sites all tend to go for "nice and clean and professional" and land at "generic-looking" you as a real person are better off trying to set yours apart.

That doesn't mean that the only alternative is something that looks handmade. Suggestions to build on what you have:

- Introducing yourself (and other contributors) on the front page would help - photo and brief statement about why you're doing the blog. Don't be afraid to use a more personal tone throughout - I skimmed copy here and there but didn't get any sense of the voice of the person writing it.

- Take your own photos. Anyone who is looking for reviews wants to see the real product they'll be getting, not a glammed-up marketing shot. Even if yours are a little lower quality, this is a case where that won't really hurt you, and it WILL make the site look more authentic.

- Maybe add some related non-markety content for those who really love running - I'm assuming that you love it yourself and visit lots of other related blogs, so folding that kind of passion into yours would be another step away from "this dude's getting paid to sell me stuff."
posted by ella wren at 5:52 AM on August 26, 2011 [2 favorites]

Hi all - thanks for all your insight!

I am shocked to hear that my website looks like a content farm :( I am not here to make you into visitors so pls don't see my words as a sales pitch for my website.

I am truly shocked because every single article in there is written either by me or by one of my reviewers (which are all quite experienced runners) and each article contains real pictures taken by us (when it's a review ). We do run a lot of miles in each shoe we review.

I always thought my problem was opposite (ie - it looks too homemade) and never thought it could look like a content farm, especially because it really is not!
posted by madeinitaly at 5:53 AM on August 26, 2011

When I'm researching a product to buy, I look for short, pithy reviews written in the first person by ordinary people who have actually purchased the product themselves—not for review, but for their own personal use. I look for these reviews in aggregate, i.e. I wouldn't generally visit sites that contained the reviews of only one person. I trust Amazon, Tripadvisor, etc—sites where I can scan a large number of reviews and look for commonalities in praise or criticism.

I make an exception for blogs where the personality and credentials of the reviewer are clearly apparent through the writing style, quality of criticism, and overall presentation.

I do not visit or trust sites where the the reviews resemble advertising copy or content mill content. I do not generally trust reviews that are written in the third person, seem SEO optimised to the hilt, begin every paragraph with the full product name, or are flanked by huge numbers of ads.

I'm sorry, but at the moment, your site falls into the third category for me. With some changes in writing style and presentation, you may be able to turn into the second.
posted by hot soup girl at 6:03 AM on August 26, 2011

Your answers are making me realize one thing. On top of our reviews, readers leave a lot (not on the newest ones, but with time) of comments on how _they_ liked the shoes and the issues the encountered with them.

Do you think it would add usefulness (for you, the reader) if I modified the _comment_ part of the review in a _user review_ part and present it somehow higher up at first glance?

In this way you could see a "professional" review of the shoe (I used to market and merchandise them, so maybe even my personal style is very corporate, but at least I know what I am talking about) but together with that also user reviews (with stars?)

would that be a plus?
posted by madeinitaly at 6:17 AM on August 26, 2011

I always thought my problem was opposite (ie - it looks too homemade) and never thought it could look like a content farm, especially because it really is not!

Yeah, I am also not at all your target audience, but my quick look gives exactly this impression. You most certainly do not want a "slicker" or "more professional" design, you want to try to look a little more homey and personal.
posted by Meatbomb at 6:18 AM on August 26, 2011

Seriously? Try making the site Craigslist ugly.

One redesign idea:
Use a gray background and unstyled links. Split the site in half. A simple, text-only, long list of all reviews on the left side, sortable by simple links at the top (not buttons or fanciness) by date of review, name of shoe manufacturer, and rating. On the right side, a list of opinion articles/advice columns/whatever else you have.

In the articles, drop the lightbox etc. and take pictures of the shoes on your stained carpet.

Somewhere on each review, say at the bottom, but in big ol' letters, state how you got the shoes.

Then include the shopping links, styled in a way to fit in with the rest of the site.

And somewhere have a big ol' page with poorly lit webcam portraits of every reviewer and funny biographies.

I would trust the site I just described without reservation.
posted by jsturgill at 6:38 AM on August 26, 2011 [1 favorite]

I think you're imagining sites along a single continuum, from "low rent site with low rent graphics" to "big corporate professional site with professional graphics".

As I see it, there's at least two separate continuums here. There's "corporate" versus "personal", and that's completely independent from the slickness of your graphic design.

A corporate site
A site that feels more personal

Even though both these sites are from profit making companies and both sites have used professional graphic design, the feel of the two is very different. It's not only the graphic design that affects how the site feels, but also the nature of the content. It's the content that has led the graphic design.

Separately from the personal/impersonal axis, there's the issue of whether to use good professional design at all. I think you can get away very well without it so long as your content is giving the right message.

A site with low end graphic design where the content succeeds in giving a personal feel to the site

People have already mentioned many of the content-related factors that can help make a site more personal, for example: home-made pictures, a chatty narrative voice, strong values (show, don't tell!), useful free content, and storytelling. In particular, stories about you and your life. Relevant ones, of course!
posted by emilyw at 6:45 AM on August 26, 2011

I am your target audience(someone who buys lots of running shoes), and there are two things (well more than two, but I have homework to do) that come to mind things that would make me trust this site more:

1) You need to actually have some information about your contributors(and yourself). The author byline should be a link to a blurb about the author, with a picture or two, with at least one picture of the person actually running.

2) You need to moderate your comments. Considering how few comments you have, it wouldn't take long to remove the spammy(ie off topic with links to random sites) comments as they appear. Leaving spammy comments up tells me you don't care about the site, but you do want the links.
posted by rockindata at 6:48 AM on August 26, 2011

With clothing, I'm far more likely to trust a reviewer if it seems like she's genuinely worn the clothes. for example, I completely trust Sally from already pretty, despite the fact that she gets kickbacks from sales. I suspect a lot of this is because of the high quality, professional photography of her actually using the products. If you're logging miles in these shoes, I think it's time to get a decent camera and show that. This will also help illustrate issues of wear and styling that you don't get with a stock photo. As it is now, you have some pictures on there that you might have taken yourself, but without people in them, they're really indistinguishable from stock photos.

Agree about the author information, too. I don't necessarily think you need to go fully Craigslist ugly, but if you want people to trust you, I think, say, a wordpress blog-style blog rather than something like what you already have (which looks more like a shoe store) would be smart.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 7:01 AM on August 26, 2011 [1 favorite]

Personally it depends on the tarhet audience I have a few sites some target the U.S and Canada exclusively, so I use a bit of flash and fancy graphics the other one is targeted at the U.K which is more serious and to the point, and as mentioned before A/B testing to see what appeals to your target audience.
posted by escapesouth at 8:12 AM on August 26, 2011

I don't think your site looks like a content farm, but it does look, as PhoBWan pointed out earlier, rather like a shoe store. I think it's all the generic pictures of the shoes. Nothing stands out and me and grabs me and makes me want to read it. And I'm a running fanatic!

Folks above have already mentioned the two main things I would change: 1) a personalized About page, with pictures, and 2) a more personal tone in the reviews, using the first person. I always click on the "About" page right away to see what I'm reading, and your page screams "cover up for corporate shill." It's way too vague and generic. I want to know who you are, what you look like, what your style of running is, favorite shoes...something that lets me know I can trust you!

As to the more personal content, here's an example of a review site (for candy) that I think does a good job of balancing personal with professional. She writes in the first person and you can sort of sense her personality through the reviews, but she also gives detailed information like packaging, calories per ounce, etc. It's a pretty homemade website but she's very well-regarded in the industry.

For your site, I would love to see pictures of you wearing the shoes, running in the shoes, the shoes compared to other shoes in your closet if they're significantly larger/smaller/more awesome looking, etc. That may be just my bias, though. (Here is an example of an extremely casual shoe review I did on my own running blog, and even though it's nowhere near as professional as your site, I think it does give a sense of my personality and how these shoes stack up against other shoes, which could be helpful for readers.) Obviously I'm a reader and not a designer, though, so take all of this with a grain of salt...
posted by Bella Sebastian at 9:14 AM on August 26, 2011 [1 favorite]

Oh and to answer your question, if you highlighted reader's comments and reviews, that could be very cool--like a group review site almost. I almost always trust a general group consensus more than just one person.
posted by Bella Sebastian at 9:15 AM on August 26, 2011

I'm siding with the 'it looks too homemade' camp. I find the scrappy logo a little off putting.

I did get the Content Farm feeling and I believe that is probably down to the use of stock images.

If I were to redesign it right now, I would go for as slick as possible and avoid stock images.
posted by run"monty at 10:30 AM on August 26, 2011

Since someone has already brought up Vaynerchuk, I'll follow that thread a little further.

I actually think his wine reviews can be pretty intelligent (when edited down and transcribed into text), but I absolutely cannot stand his personality. Not for half a second of video.

So for me it's not a question of design or professional presentation, it's a question of mode; I'll read his reviews but will never watch them.

This may be relevant to you because, for example, if your review writing is very colloquial and all 'sippy sip' and 'love them Giants, brah,' then perhaps that's the thing that you should focus on changing to attract a wider audience and lay a greater claim to authority...not your site's design.
posted by yellowcandy at 6:02 PM on August 26, 2011

I trust Amazon reviews and very clean, simple, personal sites like

Anything in between just seems like a crapshoot. I wouldn't trust CNET with anything except reference information, sadly.
posted by Nameless at 10:25 PM on August 26, 2011

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