Guide to business review sites

22 Apr

Background

Since almost the beginning of the “internet age”, business reviews sites have been in existence. One of the oldest business reviews sites still in existence is City Search, which was founded in 1995.  Other formats, such as traditional phone book companies (such as yellow pages); have transitioned to the internet where business listings also feature reviews. The most popular website on the internet, Google, began allowing reviews in search results for business locations (initially through Google Maps), to appear in 2007 (Google, 2013).

The most aggressive period of growth for the business reviews sector occurred during the most aggressive period of growth for the internet as a whole, the dot com bubble. Investors were speculatively investing heavily in many internet companies, believing they would all be million dollar ideas during this period, between 1997-2000. Many websites were started with capital investments. The “bubble” finally popped in March of 2000, as investors pulled out their funding of many websites (Colombo, 2012).

Business Use for Marketing

Since the very first business  review site came into existence, business review sites were used with a business focus, and unintentionally, had an impact on the overall marketing of a company. No matter how great an advertising campaign a company runs, with perfect selection of their target market, and a slick website, if a company is receiving constant bad reviews online all those marketing efforts will be for nothing.

Business reviews are in most major company’s marketing plans currently, usually listed as “listening” activities. Google always business to set up Google+ pages which give their business a more in depth listing, with the benefit of being able to add pictures and other information about the business. Google also always companies to pay for top results on searches.

However, like many areas of digital marketing, medium to small business have been the slowest to adapt to online business reviews. Many do not set up pages on Google with additional information, and many are unaware that their business even has listings on the internet with reviews.  Even the businesses that are aware of the online reviews will do nothing to monitor the reviews, or try and respond to them. Small and medium sized business, for the most part, have yet to understand the importance of business reviews online, and have not come up with active strategies to engage them.

Another major issue affective the small to medium business that do not monitor reviews are the legitimacy of a reviewer’s complaint, which is why many businesses choose to ignore this section of online marketing. Since users can post anonymously, there is not legitimate voice behind a complaint. Also a misinformed consumer could be posting about a business with a complaint that could be easily solved, if the business did respond to the complaint online.

 

Lack of Success

Many small start up business review sites have not been able to compete with the major players in the industry mainly due to issues generating traffic. Many of these sites are still in existence, such as yellowbook.com, matchpoint.com, and openlist.com, but have not been able to generate significant traffic. Due to the small size of these sites, many have simply faded away into nothing without being noticed.

A major trend in the industry appears to be the “partnering up” of reviews sites. Reviews sites will combine with other sites (such as City Search and Trip Advisor) to share reviews. Users who go to these sites can then see more reviews, and have more information to make informed decisions on. As competition continues to increase, more partnerships are likely to occur, and some will lose their overall identity, such as YellowPages.ca who has combined with Yahoo.

 

The Giants

Google/Google+/Google Maps

Google is the dominating force in the business review sector of the internet. Google allows users to use the search engine to not only find businesses matching search criteria, but also find information such as location, hours, contact information, and since 2007, reviews of the businesses, all on one screen (Google, 2013). The integration of the multiple features on Google allows users to stay all on one site and find all the relevant information they need.

 

 

For businesses with poor SEO, Google is not a friendly tool. Those businesses will fall down the list of search results, some to the points where they will not be seen on the first page of results, a death sentence for many small businesses. Google will also feature “paid” search results at the very top of the page, hurting those who do not pay for the service as they will again fall farther down the search page.

Unfortunately with Google, users can post “anonymous” reviews, without information such as name and location showing up on the business page. The downside of allow “anonymous” reviews is it can lower the legitimacy of the reviews, and may turn those looking for reviews to other sources. By allowing “anonymous” reviews, businesses can create multiple accounts that show up as “a Google user”, and post fake reviews (usually in an effort to make their business look more attractive). With “anonymous” reviews there is also the potential for users to make fake accounts and fake reviews of business, usually with negative effects on the business.

Facebook

With the popularity of social media, Facebook has become an important tool for business. Many businesses have a presence on Facebook, with a business page that allows users of Facebook to “like” their business, receive updates from the business on their newsfeed, as well as communicate directly with the business. The Facebook format for a business page is similar to a Google search result for a business, as it displays contact information, address, hours of operation and other business information.

 

Facebook allows businesses to upload photos and other content directly to their page, allowing for the businesses to “own” their media. Another advantage of Facebook for a business is the ability to post content directly onto the main page of their Facebook page, letting customers see the most up to date information and promotional material. Facebook also allows for conversation to occur directly between the businesses and their customers directly on the page, which can quickly solve problems.

 

A major downside to the open communication format of a Facebook page for a business is that, especially when they are a popular or major brand, it is very easy conversation to be “hijacked” by users on the page. For example, when McDonald’s posted a picture of their fries spelling “Lucky me”, much of the conversation in the comment section turned off topic, with comments ranging from “Your fries taste like cardboard”, to comments about the overall health of the planet (Facebook, 2013). Business has little control over these comments, and such comments can again delegitimize the quality of the reviews on Facebook.

Yelp.com

Yelp.com is a combination of a search engine and social networking site for business reviews (Yelp, 2013). Similar to Google (the maps are generated by Google), search results for a business show information such as location, hours, contact information, but also feature far more detailed information such as price range, Wi-Fi availability, even if there are televisions at the location. Yelp.com requires reviewers to create an account to post reviews, which helps increase the legitimacy of reviews.

 

The social network aspect of Yelp.com is that users can create profiles, where users can even rate the helpfulness and quality of their reviews. Users can find users with similar tastes and search their profile for all the places they have gone and see what they like. Users can also see a “rating distribution chart” of a user to see how they typically rate businesses (Yelp, 2013). Thus, when reading a bad review, a look into that users rating history can confirm that they always post negative reviews, or that they usually post positive reviews so a bad review must be legitimate. Users can also add friends, and comment on reviews, such as confirming bad service at a restaurant, or suggestion the reviewer should give it another try as the service is usually better.

 

 

 

Yahoo /Yellow Pages

Yahoo, once the most popular search engine, has integrated YellowPages.ca information into search results to provide business listings, with reviews. Similar to Google, sponsored results show up first, regardless of ratings, and SEO optimized businesses show up higher on the list of search results, again regardless of ratings. Ratings show up in the search results page, but in order to see any reviews, users must click on the search results and go to the Yahoo/Yellow Pages specific site for that business. Similar to Google, each business page features information such as contact information, hours, and allows businesses to upload photos to the page. Due to YellowPages.ca not being very popular, Yahoo also integrates reviews from Trip Advisor into the reviews page (yahoo.ca, 2013), letting users choose between the two.

 

City Search

City search is one of the newer business review sites, with a focus on Restaurants, Bars and Clubs, Spa’s, Hotels, and Shopping (City Search, 2013). Users simply vote if they would recommend the business or not, (and a percentage based rating is made from there), and are allowed to post “tips”, where they can post a review with advice for other City Search users. Many of the ratings are skewed high (for example, all Las Vegas clubs appear to have a 100% rating), due to a low number of users and there are not many reviews.

 

AngiesList.com

Angie’s list brands itself as the most legitimate source for reviews anywhere on the internet.  Angie’s list is subscription based, requiring users to pay a fee and create an account to access reviews and post reviews of businesses (Angie’s List, 2013). Angie’s List claims that since the subscription base is their revenue source, business cannot pay (through advertising, and rankings) to receive preferential treatment when it comes to ratings and reviews. All reviews are verified, as Angie’s List even claims every single review is thoroughly checked by Angie List’s employees.

Each business has its own page, and can respond to negative reviews (Angie’s List encourages it). Businesses are ranked on an A-F scale, with A and B companies being allowed to post coupons for Angie’s List subscribers (Angie’s List, 2013). While Angie’s List is one of the most legitimate sources for business reviews on the internet, they are also one of the only review sites on the internet to require a subscription fee.

TripAdvisor.com

TripAdvisor.com is a business review site focused solely on travel, with reviews mostly focusing on hotels, resorts, and restaurants (TripAdvisor, 2013). Users must create a profile to submit reviews, describing their personal travel style (such as if they are thrifty or a splurge) and are allowed to upload pictures of their trip directly to the main page of the hotel listing.  For users not wanting to submit a full review, Trip Advisor also allows the option of submitting a rating based on set criteria.

 

Trip Advisor’s primary is to get hotel rooms booked through the website, which does detract from the overall experience of the website. Pop ups and sponsored listings are frequent on the pages, in hopes that users will book a stay at a hotel.

Customer Lobby

Customer Lobby is a resource for businesses to help manage their online business review presence. Customers Lobby allows businesses to share reviews across multiple platforms, such as Facebook and Twitter, and will generate provide progress reports for businesses on their online presence (CustomerLobby, 2013). Customer Lobby requires users to create an account to provide a review, and will not post reviews that are offensive in nature.

 

 

The Future

Google appears to have the business review sector dominated in terms of traffic for the foreseeable feature, due to excellent integration of many features, which allow users to get much of the information they are seeking all from one source. Google’s main competition will be from websites that seek to differentiate themselves from typical business review sites, and have a specific focus. Yelp appears to focus mostly on restaurants, and combining a social media aspect to their user experience, while Trip Advisor has been successful due to its focus on the travel industry.

Facebook will most likely find a way to combine business reviews into their business Facebook pages as well, by perhaps adding a rating feature to business pages. In typical Facebook fashion, Facebook will probably find a business review site that they think would be success under the Facebook format, purchase it, and integrate it into the Facebook experience.

All major players in the business review sector will also continue to try and legitimize customer reviews through practices such as verification of reviews, and requiring users to create profiles on their sites. Businesses will also use these sites more often as they are included in their Digital Marketing strategy, to respond to customer complaints and manage their online presence effectively. 

Works Cited

Angie’s List. (2013, March 24). Angies List. Retrieved March 24, 2013, from http://www.angieslist.com

City Search. (2013, March 24). City Search. Retrieved March 24, 2013, from http://www.citysearch.com

Colombo, J. (2012). The Dot Com Bubble. Retrieved March 24, 2013, from Stock Market Crash!: http://www.stock-market-crash.net/dot-com-bubble/

CustomerLobby. (2013, March 24). CustomerLobby. Retrieved March 24, 2013, from http://www.customerlobby.com

Facebook. (2013, March 24). Mcdonalds Canada. Retrieved March 23, 2013, from Facebook: facebook.com

Google. (2013, March 24). Google. Retrieved March 24, 2013, from Google: http://www.google.ca

TripAdvisor. (2013, March 24). TripAdvisor. Retrieved March 24, 2013, from http://www.tripadvisor.com

yahoo.ca. (2013, March 24). Yahoo. Retrieved March 24, 2013, from Yahoo: http://www.yahoo.ca

Yelp. (2013, March 24). Yelp. Retrieved March 24, 2013, from Yelp: http://www.yelp.ca

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