How does linguistic style in online reviews impact conversion rates?


“How to increase conversion rates?” is one of the essential questions that e-commerce companies aim to answer by analyzing their consumer’s online behavior aiming to find what makes visitors convert into customers. Merchants can analyze click-through data, mouse activity or other website metrics, but what many often forget is the large impact that online customer reviews have on the actual purchase decisions of users.

Namely that inspired Ludwig et al. (2013) to collect data on 591 books and the 18,682 customer reviews associated with them on Amazon with the aim to find what factors triggered purchases, also considering variables such as price, review volume and genre of the books.

With the help of text analysis tools they analyzed whether each review had a positive or a negative emotional tone and what was its linguistic style. Upon analysis it was determined that:

  • negative reviews were associated with a stronger effect on purchases compared to positive reviews
  • a higher number of reviews, regardless of their actual nature were associated with higher sales
  • star ratings had no influence on sales, probably due to different perceptions of scales

However, the linguistic style of reviews was considered a main factor because prior research has found that people who share similar slang and jargon also develop a shared sense of identity and trust, regardless of their actual knowledge about each other. For example, a self-help reviewer might be taken more seriously if they mention “affirmations” or “Stephen Covey.”, while younger readers would probably respond better to something that’s “epic,” as opposed to “cool”.

Taking into account the importance of linguistic styles, if asked again about “How to increase conversion rates?”, the following strategies may have a positive effect for e-commerce websites:

  • Including editorial reviews that match the desired linguistic style
  • Calling out customer reviews that match the desired linguistic style
  • Using the appropriate linguistic style within the product descriptions and landing page
  • Including brief reviewer guidelines that can direct the reviewer’s writing style
  • Identifying the desired linguistic style to begin with is more difficult, and without text analysis tools it’s impossible to pull off quantitatively. Useful strategies could be the use of heatmap and behavioral data that indicate which reviews have the strongest impact on conversion rates, or using survey forms like Qualaroo, which could ask for feedback on the linguistic style, with questions like “How did you feel about the use of jargon on this page?”

Ruyter, Friedman, Brüggen, Wetzels, & Pfann, (2013), “More Than Words: The Influence of Affective Content and Linguistic Style Matches in Online Reviews on Conversion Rates”, Journal of Marketing, Vol. 77, pp. 87-103

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