What Makes a Helpful Product Review?

Oftentimes, the first review we see isn’t the most recent review, but the most “helpful.” To some it may seem the most recent review is the most helpful, but Amazon and other websites have used algorithms to determine which reviews will help the customer make a decision to buy.
At Channel Signal, we make it our business to understand the power reviews have to influence consumers. Here is a detailed breakdown of what makes a product review helpful.

The Anatomy of a Helpful Product Review

Buying a product online limits our ability to know if the product will actually work for our needs. This is why Amazon and other companies provide a “Most Helpful” review. The following review is the most helpful review for the Microsoft Surface Pro 4. This review is almost a year old at the date of publishing this article, yet is still the most helpful.
anatomy of a helpful review
There are a few key features that let this review stand out as the most helpful review: Verified Purchase, Comments, Helpfulness and Questions. We explain more below, as we present six key features to a helpful product review.

1. Verified Purchase

Fake reviews are big deal. Amazon understands that reviews have the power to influence purchasing decisions. Amazon has taken steps to prove people are legit in their reviews on both the back end and front end. A “Verified Purchase” label means the consumer purchased the product from Amazon and is now leaving a review. Some websites may not have a verified purchase system, or they may not display this status.


Comments allow for discussion to take place between a person who purchased a product and a potential consumer. This would be the electronic version of a word of mouth conversation. Note: not all websites allow review comments.

3. Was This Review Helpful?

The goal of the most helpful reviews is to try and match my needs with reviews that will help me make the best decision. As you can see from the review above, 827 people answered ‘yes’ to this question. We can safely assume that those 800+ people had similar needs to the reviewer.

4. Questions & Answers

The goal of reviews is to help consumers make better decisions. A product’s description doesn’t always completely address all the random questions people have, which is why Amazon allows consumers to ask questions. This feature allows the community to explain how they use a product in a unique situation or to help clarify certain aspects of the product description. The up vote system allows other consumers to chime in on the conversation without having to post a full response.
Product Q&A

5. Photos

Since one of the limitations of buying online is not being able to physically see and touch a product, it helps to have a variety of images. And sometimes the manufacturer’s image is a little too directed. Shoppers like seeing the product in a real life scenario with real life lighting and angles.

Bonus: Additional Qualities that Make a Review Helpful

The review above also has a few other qualities that make it useful. First, the post is 760 words long. The reviewer goes into detail about how they use the product and takes time to give honest feedback. In the review itself, the reviewer discusses why they wrote the review.

“Do I get the Surface Pro 4 or the Surface Book?”

It is clear that this consumer had a problem and made the assumption that other consumers will have a similar problem. Secondly, the consumer states their situation and what they plan to do with the product.

I am a college student…
…having a light backpack is important to me.

Right away, this review is tied to a specific demographic. The reviewer talks about how the Surface Pro 4 solves their problems. If you are similar to this consumer, the odds are this review will be helpful. If you aren’t a student, the review may still be helpful as it address other concerns: gaming and the need to be portable.

Can bad reviews be considered helpful?

Absolutely. Below is the second “top” review for Bzees Lavish Slip-On Shoes. Most would consider a two-star review a bad review, however, this review was helpful. Note the 7 people who found it helpful.  So why is a negative review a helpful review?  This review stated the product was “Too Narrow.”
bad helpful review
Reviews are designed to help consumers make better purchasing decisions. In this case, the shoe may be more narrow than another cut by the same brand. If a consumer knows they have a wider foot, they can almost guarantee that the shoe will not fit and can make a choice to order a larger shoe or pick a different shoe.

What makes a product review helpful?

So what actually makes a product review helpful? The person writing the review.
If the person takes the time to really outline what was good or bad about the product, it helps others in their decision-making process. If the consumer can outline how they are actively using the product then people in similar situations can know what to expect. With 90% of consumers consulting product reviews prior to making a purchase, it is clear that shoppers find reading them helpful.
What about you? What makes a review stand out as being more helpful than another?

Channel Signal monitors product reviews for brands and manufacturers across any partner site, allowing them to analyze customer feedback and trends in a single view. Interested in learning more? Check out a demo.