Expert reviews are the most powerful digital content type for influencing consumers' purchasing decisions, according to a recent Nielsen report commissioned by inPowered.

The findings were based on an in-person controlled lab test in which the relative impact of three different online content types (expert reviews, branded content, and user reviews) was measured on 900 consumers. Specifically, the researchers examined how the content affected awareness/familiarity, perceptions (likeability), and purchase consideration for nine products.

Expert reviews (credible, third-party online articles) were the most effective online content type across all three stages of the purchase process, increasing purchase consideration 11%, affinity 12%, and familiarity 15%, Nielsen found.

On average, expert content lifted familiarity 88% more than branded content, and 50% more than user reviews; affinity, 50% more than branded content and 20% more than user reviews; and purchase consideration, 38% more than branded content and 83% more than user reviews.

Below, additional key findings from the report.

Impact by Product Type 

  • To test the impact across various categories, respondents were shown expert reviews, branded content, and user reviews for nine products: Auto insurance, new cars, high-end HDTV sets, smartphones, dryers, child seats, digital cameras, video games, and electric toothbrushes.
  • Expert content provided the most familiarity lift for seven out of the nine products, the most affinity lift for five of the nine products, and the most purchase intent lift for six of the nine products.
  • For branded content, lift was strongest in categories where product specs are a critical part of the part of the decision making process, such as cameras.
  • User reviews were successful in categories where users tend to have a higher degree of product expertise, such as videogames.

Why Expert Reviews?

The researchers noted two key differentiators that may help to explain why expert reviews were the only type of content that exhibited a strong lift across all three areas of the purchase funnel: 

  1. Independence: The third-party (independent) element of expert reviews was very important to consumers: 50% indicated that they wouldn’t trust a brand's website for an unbiased assessment of a product, and 61% were less likely to trust product reviews paid for by the company selling the product.
  2. Informative: Consumers perceived expert content to be more informative: On average, they found it 10% more informative than user reviews and 8% more informative than branded content.

About the research: The report was based on data from an in-person controlled lab test conducted in Las Vegas, NV, between December 2013 and January 2014. The 900 respondents answered an online survey before and after being exposed to digital content in order to measure its impact on their familiarity, perceptions, and purchase consideration of nine products.

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image of Ayaz Nanji

Ayaz Nanji is a digital strategist and a co-founder of ICW Media, a marketing agency specializing in content and social media services for tech firms. He is also a research writer for MarketingProfs. He has worked for Google/YouTube, the Travel Channel, AOL, and the New York Times.

LinkedIn: Ayaz Nanji

Twitter: @ayaznanji