The Case for Editing Customer Reviews

Last Updated Jun 24, 2011 3:16 PM EDT

Online reviews from customers influence the purchase decisions of millions of people daily. So it's important for marketers to understand which reviewers have the most clout.

According to Harvard Business Review Editorial Director Justin Fox, it's those with the best command of the language. Citing the work of Panos Ipeirotis, Fox finds:

"Basically, the better the writing and the fewer the spelling errors in reviews of a product or a service, the higher the resulting demand for that product."
Even negative reviews can result in higher product sales if the review is well reasoned and crafted.

That explains why online retailers such as Zappos pay dearly to improve spelling and grammar on their sites, Fox continues.

I dare say that most sites do not tamper with reader comments, unless there is some blatant libel or flaming going on. Editing dozens of comments can be time consuming and expensive, depending on the the price of your copy editor. But as this research shows, the increased revenue that results can pay for your editing bill.

I'm not arguing in favor of recasting sentences or other heavy-handed editing of your readers' prose. But correcting obvious mistakes such as spelling errors, changing its to it's, or their to there can go a long way to making your site more readable and engaging.

Read Fox's prose-perfect post, The Value of Teaching Your Customers to Spell.

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(Image by Flickr user Margaret Ornsby, CC 2.0)
  • Sean Silverthorne

    Sean Silverthorne is the editor of HBS Working Knowledge, which provides a first look at the research and ideas of Harvard Business School faculty. Working Knowledge, which won a Webby award in 2007, currently records 4 million unique visitors a year. He has been with HBS since 2001.

    Silverthorne has 28 years experience in print and online journalism. Before arriving at HBS, he was a senior editor at CNET and executive editor of ZDNET News. While at At Ziff-Davis, Silverthorne also worked on the daily technology TV show The Site, and was a senior editor at PC Week Inside, which chronicled the business of the technology industry. He has held several reporting and editing roles on a variety of newspapers, and was Investor Business Daily's first journalist based in Silicon Valley.