Google launches consumer ratings annotations

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New format can improve click through rates by 10%

Google has begun to roll out its new consumer ratings annotations, a new structure for the AdWords service that displays customer feedback in search ads.

href="">In a post which officially unveiled the format Google described its belief the service will have benefits for all kinds of businesses: "If you're an insurance company, this annotation may be focused on claims handling. If you're an airline, it may highlight your rewards program," Google said.

The search engine giant says customer ratings annotations can increase click though rates "by 10% on average" and substantiates this claim by pointing to its own beta testing, in which some companies have seen great results.

Brian Borkowski, Director of Digital Marketing at Farmers Insurance Group, said:

"Consumer ratings annotations help us stand out from competitors and attract new customers. When we looked at our ads that displayed these ratings, we saw an increase in CTR, which speaks to the awareness, trust and impact from this format."

But how much power is given to consumers?

All the information used for the new AdWords consumer ratings is sourced from Google Consumer Surveys; these surveys operate as a kind of soft paywall which can be used to gather market research. Each consumer rating is based on at least hundreds of completed surveys - Google says the average is over 1000.

Scores for a rating are set against a benchmark which is specially defined for each industry by the performance of the companies in it. This means that a given rating such as "customer satisfaction" does not carry a universal currency, and this has obvious benefits for businesses in sectors where there are significant challenges in such an area; instead, you are measured against peers.

For those worried about certain areas of business, consumer ratings annotations could become a useful diagnostic tool for improvement. "If you want to boost your rating in a particular category... make improvements that your customers will notice. AdWords runs surveys regularly to reflect current consumer opinion," Google said. The search engine also provides an opt-out for the service.

By its nature, the format should empower the consumer, whose input will have a more visible effect than previously. But it should not seem threatening. As with other href="">updates to AdWords the function of a consumer rating is to highlight strongly rated aspects of a business; as such it may best be viewed as a marketing tool that gets its power from customers, and which helps a business to show its best side.

Natalie Booth, head of search at theEword, said: "This new format will help to create more trust between a business and its customers, and though this extra level of transparency in search ads might be off-putting at first it's important to remember that this is really a great way of connecting the hard work your customers are seeing to your marketing campaigns."