Ratings seem to be a must-have feature in todays’ Web 2.0 world. More and more sites are using the ratings feature the most popular site (at least to me) being YouTube. If you are planning to implement a ratings feature on your website there are several steps to follow:
- Decide if the feature makes sense at all
You should not try to create an artificial rating system where it simply does not fit. If you have nothing on your site that would make sense to rate simply do not implement it.
- Decide what you wish to have rated and what your primary goals are
Do you have any content provided by users like images, postings or content you provide like your own articles, business listings or something similar? Just write down what types of content you have and what might be rated by your users and especially what you want to achive.
Do you just want to improve the stickyness of your website visitors or is your main goal to identify quality content and/or users? Do you wish to get just more users or improve the loyalty of the existing users or both?
- Give users a reason to rate
Always focus on the end user who will ask “What’s in it for me?” before using your ratings feature. Just imagine that the user has to invest some time and effort to write a rating. If you only allow registered users to add ratings on your website (which I think you should always do – just like YouTube oes) the incentive or personal gain should be even higher because signing up on your site and providing credentials and maybe even more data is a task most people do not want to take.
You can use physical incentives like some small gifts – merchandise is good if it fits with your brand. However you can of course also use other incentives – even virtual ones like points for ratings, comments and so on that can be exchanged for downloadable products like free software or – if this fits with your brand – desktop wallpapers, ringtones or something similar.
- Which rating methods do you wish to use?
There are two main distinctions: a simple one-click star rating and a textual rating. The one-click rating is the easiest one but it can also be used without thinking – just “click and continue” especially if the user gets something in return depending on the number of ratings.The textual rating not only requires much more user interaction, it also leads to much more work for you as well. If the user simply clicks on a star that’s all. He’s done. A textual rating requires much more effort and may also be used to abuse your ratings system. A textual comment may contain SPAM but it may also contain abusive language and negative comments from someone who wants to damage a competitor’s reputation.
This is a very complex topic and I will therefore not cover it here because I could write a full article about that as well. Just keep this in mind as this might lead to negative publicity if you do not carefully screen the texts submitted by users.
If a user gets no perceived personal gain from using your ratings feature the stickyness is not likely to improve. By implementing something like a toplist which shows the users that have rated something on your websites ordered by the number and/or quality of ratings they might use your ratings feature more often.
In the best case – I will talk about that later in this article – everyone will benefit from the ratings feature.
Many people like to tell others that they are the “top rated user” on a website or at least something like a “top 10″ user just because of the perceived personal gain – or even admiration – not because they are getting something physical in return.
You should not underestimate this human trait. So I definetly think you should integrate something like a toplist on your website. Implementing this however may yield more useless ratings because there are many people out there that would just like to get a top position without much work so be prepared to handle ratings like “I can highly recommend this [whatever]” over and over again. If you are just using star-type ratings this may or may not be a problem depending on what the user can rate. You can actually rate the perceived quality of an image quite well within a few seconds but you obviously cannot rate a 1000-word article within 5 seconds. This is a very tricky situation.
- Don’t fake ratings
You should never fake ratings or have other people write ratings for you that are getting paid to do it. Most users will be able to spot this easily just like I did on a German business directory.
- Don’t syndicate ratings
Although syndicating ratings from other vendors might give the impression that you have lots of good content most users are likely to find out soon that you are not providing unique content especially if you have many competitors. From an SEO standpoint you should not do that as well because duplicate content is something you should always try to avoid.
What I learned
On one of my websites (a German website for models and those who wish to become models) I have implemented a ratings feature about two years ago. Although I have not implemented a textual ratings or comments feature yet a simple 5-star rating allows every registered user to rate a model profile. And that’s actually the complete visible ratings feature I implemented. I also implemented a list of profiles the user has not rated yet to encourage the users to rate other profiles.
However there is also a hidden ranking feature called “SilverIndex” which ranks the model profiles with the profile with the most “index points” coming first and all the others after that ordered according to their points value. This simple integer value is calculated once per day by these parameters (and several more I cannot write down here because of possible manipulation of the ranking):
- Total number of photos in the profile
- Types of photos (body, face, hands etc.) – photo types (hand photos for example) that are very scarce lead to a higher number of points
- Age of the photos (you always want to have current photos)
- Original size of the photos (small photos are not professional)
- Last login date (post-and-leave is not encouraged)
- Age of the profile (fresh profiles get more points for a few days to push new models)
- Number of new users referred (need to have a visible profile as well)
To encourage users to rate other profiles the number of ratings of other profiles also counts against the points value so the more profiles have been rated the more points the user will get and thus get a higher position in the main model list. In fact the complete list of models is ordered by the SilverIndex so to get as many visits to a profile as possible from potential clients a user actually has to be and remain active on the site.
This leads to a situation that is good for everyone: many professional and current photos of the different types are good for potential clients and also show the motivation of the user for becoming a model (or getting to participate in a shooting). So if there is a way for you to rank whatever you are making available for rating by these kinds of features you should really do that.
If you allow your users to rate for example businesses obviously businesses that get many ratings tend to have many customers so you may want to give them a higher ranking on your site.
If you offer a verification process like some websites do you should also give more trust to a user (and thus more points) if the user account has been verified. You could even charge a small handling fee for verification if you are sending a letter to the postal address given by the user to verify it.
So if there is an incentive for your users to rate contents you provide you should clearly focus on that and make it especially clear for your users so they immediately know what to do next to achive a certain goal.
The ranking algorithm I have implemented automatically optimizes the model list because it both encourages ratings and it also encourages providing good content.
Recommened reading on how to rank your users: Yahoo Design Patterns