Review Shelf Life

Do You Know The Shelf Life of Your Reviews?

Our recent research has shown how B2B buyers are using reviews to compare products, build their short and long lists, and validate vendor claims — all crucial steps in the evaluation process. For reviews to be impactful at these stages, buyers say they should be authenticated, in-depth, balanced and representative. How recently a review was written can influence all of these factors. Additionally, buyers view recency itself as an explicit indication of how useful a review will be.

So it is no surprise that when they are reading reviews, buyers pay attention to the review date. Based on our new poll of 550 buyers using TrustRadius.com, 76 percent look at the publication date as a measure of review — and in some cases product — relevance.

Why recency matters

Buyers say the trouble with outdated reviews is that the feedback “expires.” They know that products change, from features, to standing in the marketplace, to level of service. Therefore they want to make sure the information they’re using to make purchase decisions is relevant and up to date.

“As the tools are changing a lot, recency was crucial.”

“It was really helpful that there were dates on there, since technology moves so fast. From a couple years ago, when they say it doesn’t have a certain functionality, you know that might not still be true.”

“Recent reviews are more relevant, as previous issues may have been corrected, or a product previously a leader may have lost its focus.”

“Lots of new features in all products – so only recent reviews are meaningful.”

This is good news for vendors: buyers are discerning enough to track changes in products and markets, noting improvements and growth. That means you won’t be haunted by old reviews that complain about the outdated UI you just invested in updating, or the support organization you rebuilt to be more customer-centric. Assuming, that is, you keep your reviews fresh.

How fresh is fresh?

According to our survey, the biggest chunk of buyers are looking for reviews from the past year, with a six-month buffer on both sides. Some buyers consider reviews relevant for up to 18 months, while others only want to see reviews from the last six months. A smaller number of buyers would like even more recent reviews.

Source: Poll of 550 buyers on TrustRadius.com, May 2017

“The two biggest things I watch for when looking at reviews are: A) Are they like me? B) Is the info timely? I tend to only read reviews that are a year old or more recent, otherwise I’m not sure if their feedback still applies to the product.”

“I assume if a review was written more than 6 months ago, then the system may have changed, or bugs resolved in that timeframe. So the review could be outdated.”

“Reviews written more than a month or two in the past do not carry as much importance because that is plenty of time for an organization to correct issues that individuals may have negatively reviewed. Policies and procedures are very fluid.”

What happens when there are no recent reviews?

Buyers said a lack of recent product reviews creates friction in their evaluation and purchase process. Not having access to recent reviews, said one buyer, “makes the job difficult.”

We asked buyers how a lack of recent reviews impacts their trust in a product and their likelihood to buy, and what happens when there are no recent reviews. Responses fell into three buckets:

They won’t buy the product

The absence of recent reviews can halt the purchase altogether. One buyer said when there are no recent reviews, “I don’t buy!” Another buyer added that the reason he doesn’t buy is, “I feel like it is stale.”

Not only do buyers find the information in recent reviews more relevant, some also consider the products being reviewed to be more or less relevant, depending on whether or not they can find recent reviews.

For example, buyers said that when they can’t find recent reviews, they start to question the market relevance of the vendor and the product, and are not inclined to buy.

“I look for something different, lack of reviews often means the product is declining in usage in favor of another technology or a better experience with a competing product.”

“Shows lack of engagement in the product. When people aren’t talking about the product good or bad it usually means the product is falling out of favor.”

“Makes me question the validity of the product.”

“It makes me doubt their current business status.”

“I assume that the company is too new and would be a risk to work with.”

This can lead buyers to seek alternatives with more social proof. Without recent reviews, some buyers “start looking for something else” that seems more relevant, and your product may not even make it onto their short list.

Buyers have to do more work

Other buyers said that when they can’t find recent reviews, they “groan” because it means the “decision [is] becoming more difficult.” They have to do more work to find the information they need elsewhere, such as trying to engage users with specific questions on social media or in forums, or expanding their searches for blogs and articles written by people who have tested the products.

“I keep Googling.”

“I start to question on apps such as LinkedIn.”

“I request for a conversation with a current user of a product.”

“I reach out to a user community.”

“Look at newest [available] review or independent testing.”

Though not all buyers find it useful to look at older reviews, some concede they will consider those that do not meet their recency criteria “when there are no newer reviews present.” Because, as one buyer put it, “I have to rely on what I *can* find.” But buyers take these older reviews with a grain of salt.

“I look at old reviews, but consider them less relevant.”

“Use older reviews, but they carry less weight.”

“Will try older ones, but have less trust in them.”

Buyers proceed with less confidence

Even without recent reviews, some buyers will still proceed to purchase, though with less confidence in the product and/or the vendor. As one buyer put it: “I choose the one I like the feel for and buy it with all my fingers and toes crossed!”

For most buyers, the importance of recent reviews comes down to establishing trust and relevance—with the vendor, the product, and its users, as well as its overall score. Our previous buyer research has shown that buyers tend to be skeptical of, and even discount, a product’s score if the reviews it is based on seem too old, too limited, or irrelevant. In this poll, buyers ratified their concerns about recency and confidence:

“Because product changes may change customer satisfaction.”

“What was good or bad 1 year ago, might have drastically changed with updates to the software in the meantime.”

“I discount the information in older reviews because it may be obsolete.”

Buyers do see value in older reviews — when paired with recent reviews

Although recent reviews are considered more relevant, one additional trend we found was that buyers also value the ability to see reviews over time. Buyers say they like to look at older reviews “sometimes, just to get a feel of the history and to get a better picture.” Being able to chart the history of a product’s qualitative feedback helps buyers gauge how innovative and responsive the vendor is, as well as understand the product’s roots.

“Older reviews allow you to see how quickly the company addresses issues and what types of issues they deal with. The older reviews were not ignored, but I used the date of the review to do comparisons within a product itself to gain an understanding of how quickly the company is moving forward and in what direction they are heading.”

“Better understanding of the customer experience over a longer period of time.”

“Gives insight to where the product is starting from, and what gets added throughout the years.”

“If they [older reviews] mention a feature that is lacking and the feature now exists — signifies useful progress w/ the product.”

What can you do to keep reviews fresh?

    1. Invite all new customers to write reviews, once they’re up and running and have had a chance to learn your product, see the value, and develop suggestions or product requests. We typically recommend inviting customers 3 months post-implementation, or 3 months post go-live of the first/core module implemented, in the case of multi-phased enterprise implementations. 
    2. Incorporate review invitations into your customer life cycle. Think of this as feedback and customer engagement that is more continuous and organic (versus driven by a centralized corporate function or NPS survey schedule). Including review invitations in your customer success and/or support workflows will give longstanding customers who have not yet written reviews and new users at existing accounts a chance to get on the record, too. This could be as personal as a request from the account manager over the phone during a QBR, or as lightweight as a clickable banner in support ticket emails.
    3. Go back to reviewers and ask them to update their reviews. Your products and services are constantly changing, so it makes sense that users’ feedback should evolve. Review updates tend to add value for you and for buyers, since over time users become experts. As they become more mature in their use cases, they’ll have finer-grained measurements on ROI, more innovative use cases to share, and better insights for your product development team. And asking a reviewer to augment their review is a lighter touch than asking someone for a brand-new review, so it’s a great way to keep reviews fresh without the pressure of constantly finding new reviewers. We recommend asking for review updates once every three to six months, to ensure that the review base you’ve worked to build never goes stale.

In fact, we believe refreshing reviews is such critical step that we include it in our Review Acceleration Program. Visit our product page for information on how we can help you build a library of reviews and keep them fresh

Emily Sue Tomac

Emily Sue Tomac is Research Analyst at TrustRadius, where she studies the business software landscape, trends, and user feedback. She writes objective, user-focused reports that help buyers navigate crowded markets. She thinks of herself as a translator: she can help you understand marketing-speak, technical jargon, and crowd-sourced opinion, in plain English. Emily Sue covers the Sales technology landscape, Marketing Automation, eCommerce, Help Desk, SMMS, and Project Management software. Prior to joining TrustRadius, Emily Sue worked on research in linguistics and the digital humanities.

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