How Reviews Flow Around the Web

How Reviews Flow Around the Web

How Reviews Flow Around the Web

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My colleague Kris wrote a fine post a couple of weeks ago on the importance of online reviews for local business, and how to get them. Following that post, we did a little research to figure out how reviews get passed around between major local search sites in the US. This graphic illustrates some of our findings. If an arrow is pointing from one site to another, it means reviews from the source site are showing up on the destination site. An arrow with a dotted line means we found very inconsistent results, i.e. reviews from the source site might show up on the destination site, but often don’t. We sampled a variety of business categories around the country in our research, but may well have missed some relationships. The number in parenthesis next to the site name is our estimate of monthly visits to the site. Some of these are taken straight from Compete.com, but some required a little more figuring. More on estimation below.

A Few Interesting Relationships

While researching, we noticed a few interesting relationships:

  • AOL recently started showing Mapquest results for local category and business name searches in their search engine.
  • While Google gathers review content from many sites, Citysearch, Yelp, Insider Pages and Judy’s Book tend to be more visible than other sites mentioned here.
  • Insider Pages and Citysearch (both owned by IAC) almost behave like two front ends to the same source data. Most content is shared back and forth between the two, and almost all sites that show Citysearch reviews also show Insider Pages reviews.

How We Estimated Visits

We thought it would be useful to include traffic estimates in our diagram, but take them with a good sized grain of salt. Measurement of web traffic is an inexact science in any circumstance, and becomes even more difficult when you are trying to understand the local intent of searchers on a general search site like www.Google.com. For Yahoo, Bing and Google, we estimated that 10% of general search traffic has local, commercial intent. We also added 10% of AOL search traffic to Mapquest, since Mapquest results are shown for local results on AOL. You can see the logic behind using 10% in our “What Percentage of Search is Local?” post, but it’s just a ballpark. In any case, we believe industry estimates often underrepresent how much local search is happening on the big search engines.

There is also some difference between the nature of local search happening on the sites we included. For example, people going to Mapquest are less likely to be looking for a new dry cleaner, and more likely to be finding directions on a map. Conversely, people going to Yelp are a prime target for influencing – the site is all about helping people make commercial decisions. So again, take volume numbers with a grain of salt.

If We Were To Pick Three…

…that are more important than the rest, we’d say Citysearch, Yelp and Yahoo Local. Citysearch is  a slam dunk – their reviews show up on almost every site, and get prominent placement on many. Yelp is our second choice because the Yelp community is very active and reviews are all that matters on Yelp. Yelp reviews also get good placement on Google Place Pages and get syndicated to a number of smaller sites that are not on this chart. Yahoo Local is important because 3rd party reviews are ghettoized on Yahoo. You have to click the “web reviews” tab to see them, and the star rating displayed in Yahoo search results is based on Yahoo reviews.

Google is also putting more emphasis on reviews in their results. For the time being Citysearch and Yelp will have you covered in Google, but once Google gets enough review content, they may start to favor their own reviews.

Niche Sites

We looked at major local search sites serving the US market, and a few smaller properties that are influential in the review space. When encouraging reviews for your business, you should also look for sites that are specific to your vertical or location, as these can be important to your target customer. For example, Urbanspoon and Opentable are important restaurant review sites, and Tripadvisor is very important for travel. To find sites in your niche, search for your business category in Google Maps, and see where your competitors are getting reviews.

Do you have experience with web reviews? We’d love to hear your thoughts!

This post is part of

Two Octobers’ Local

Online Marketing Guide.

To-Do List: Encouraging Reviews of Your Business

Note: This article was originally published in October of 2010. How Google displays reviews has changed a bit since then, so this article was updated April 2012.

Online reviews help prospective customers make decisions about which companies with which to do business. Reviews are essential for companies selling to consumers, but they’re also helpful for B2B enterprises. Here are a few of the reasons getting continuous online reviews is great for your business:

  • Online recommendations strongly influence people who are making purchasing or vendor decisions.
  • The number and quality of reviews of your business factors into your Google local ranking.
  • It’s a helpful way to get feedback about your business. You’ll see how your customers view your business so you can identify and address problem areas.
  • Having a proactive strategy of consistently asking customers for reviews is a great way to hedge against the few who complain about the service they got. A lot of positive reviews will drown out a few bad ones.
  • Positive reviews can be used in your own marketing efforts. Prospective customers want to hear why other customers think you’re great.

With all these benefits, it makes sense to have a proactive strategy to always be encouraging new reviews.

To-Do List

  1. Identify the best 4-6 places to get reviews.
  2. Arguably the most important place to get reviews is your Google Place Page, because having reviews on Google–regardless of whether they’re positive or negative–increases your local ranking. So getting reviews on Google should definitely be on your list.

    Beyond that, get an idea for where consumers are already publishing reviews in your category. Do a Google search for your business category and location. Click to view the Google Place Page for some of the businesses listed. At the bottom of the page, under any Google reviews they have, you’ll see “Reviews from around the web:” with links to other sites.

    If you serve consumers, the best review sources are likely to be CitySearch.com, Yelp.com, InsiderPages.com, YellowPages.com, and SuperPages.com. Look out for any vertical review sites for your business category, for example Zagat.com for restaurants, GreatSchools.org for schools, HealthGrades.com for doctors, and DoctorOoogle.com for dentists.

    If you serve businesses, focus on YellowPages.com and SuperPages.com. Then check for vertical review sites for your business category, for example Avvo.com for lawyers.

    Also, check for review sites specific to your city (from a local newspaper or magazine, for example). Your goal is to get fair coverage across several different review sites, so you get the most exposure to potential customers.

  3. Ask customers for reviews.

    When to ask:

    • Think about when the customer feels the value of what they’ve purchased, and when they are in a position to evaluate. In the case of a caramel apple, it’s pretty close to when they purchased. If you’re selling gym memberships, though, customers might better see the value in a few months.

    Where to ask:

    • In person, when they complete their purchase with you
    • On invoices or sales receipts
    • In email newsletters
    • On your website
    • On the checkout counter
    • On the door as customers leave

    How to ask:

    • “Reviews help our business grow. Please take a moment to review us on your favorite review site, like Yelp.com or CitySearch.com.” (Rotate the sites you mention every few months.)
    • “We’d love your opinion. Please post a review on a site like YellowPages.com or you favorite review site.”
    • “We love reviews! Review us on Yelp!”

    Don’t:

    • Pay for reviews
    • Add a review yourself
    • Ask a family member or colleague to add a review.
    • Trade reviews with another business. (“I’ll write one for you if you write one for me.”)
    • In general, avoid tactics that result in fake or artificially biased reviews. Review sites want impartial opinions, and they’re getting pretty smart about identifying when any of the above happens

    The goal is to remind people that reviews are helpful for your business. Most people who had good experiences are happy to share those experiences. Be careful not to badger customers, though. Work with all of your customer-facing staff trained to ask for reviews.

  4. Monitor reviews
  5. Of course, you’re also really interested in hearing what your customers have to say about your business. To keep track of this, use a monitoring tool which will let you know when you’ve been reviewed and alert you to other mentions of your business (say, in the press). We describe several here: 5 Great Free Reputation Management Tools for Local Business

     

Additional Resources

How Businesses Can Respond to Criticism on Yelp (Inc. Magazine)

Responding to Negative Reviews – Your Prospects are the Real Audience

What strategies have you found helpful for getting more customer reviews? Tell us in the comments below.

This post is part of

Two Octobers Local.

5 Great Free Reputation Management Tools for Local Business

“Reputation management” is a term that is used to describe a variety of activities related to monitoring and management of online presence and reputation. Reputation management is important for organic ranking in search engines, because it helps generate more links to your site. It is also important because most people research purchasing decisions online before visiting a store. How visible you are and how you are being talked about will have a direct impact on your sales.

From a local business standpoint, reputation management activities include:

  • Review monitoring and negative review mitigation
  • Monitoring of brand name mentions on other sites
  • Management of business listing information on directories and local search sites

Some of the tools below help with all of these activities, and others are specialized to just one. The tools listed here were selected out of several dozen that we reviewed. To make the final cut, a tool had to be useful, easy-to-use and free. If you have a favorite that we didn’t include, please comment below.


socialmention

Quickly search social media for mentions of your brand or related keywords with SocialMention

SocialMention searches a variety of social media sources to provide a comprehensive view of how you are being talked about in social media. The interface makes it very easy to drill down into specific channels such as blogs, Twitter, photo sharing sites, etc. You can also set up alerts to notify you of new mentions. One drawback is that it is not locally-focused at all, so it may not work as well for you if your business name is used elsewhere on the web. I did get quite a few false positives when trying various local business names. By “false positive” I mean a mention of your business name that is not actually referring to your business. This is a common setback of monitoring tools, particularly if your business name is not particularly unique. SocialMention is also a great tool for monitoring keywords that are topically relevant to your business.


Hootsuite

Grow your online network with HootSuite

Hootsuite is for general-purpose social media management versus reputation management specifically, but it is remarkably feature-rich for a free tool. And monitoring is only useful if you can add people to your network and engage in conversations, which is what HootSuite is all about.  You can use the tool to monitor wall posts in Facebook, @replies in Twitter and various other social network activities. You can also post and schedule updates in Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, and several other networks. And if you have a blog, you can have Hootsuite automatically push new blog post notifications to your networks via RSS integration. You can also set up HootSuite to monitor for keyword mentions in Twitter.


getlisted.org

Make sure you are showing up with GetListed.org

GetListed.org is a simple, easy-to-use tool for checking to see if you are listed in major local directory sites. It shows whether your business is listed in Google, Yelp, Bing, Yahoo and Best of Web and indicates whether the listing has been claimed. It has links to get signed up, and tips for how to optimize your listings.


marchex reputation management

Get a dashboard view of your online business presence with Marchex Reputation Management

This one may not be free for long, but it is right now. Of the tools listed here, Marchex is perhaps the most powerful from a local business standpoint, though Yext Rep is pretty comparable. The tool provides a dashboard view of reviews of your business, mentions of your business and listings in several major directories. To find mentions, they have indexed a great number of locally-oriented sites, and show fewer false positives than any of the other tools I tried. I also like the clean, intuitive user interface, and their help section has great tips for local businesses.


yextrep

Manage conversations and monitor your listings with Yext Rep

Yext Rep and Marchex Reputation Management are similar in many respects, so you will probably want to choose one or the other. Yext Rep is brand new, but given how powerful it is now, it could quickly lead the pack if Yext continues to add features. In comparison to Marchex, Yext Rep monitors more directory sites for listings, but fewer local media publishers for mentions. And while Marchex provides an analytical view of your business presence, Yext Rep provides a more conversational view. Mentions show up very much like the status stream in Facebook and Twitter, and you can reply to some networks directly from the Yext Rep interface. I recommend giving both a try and seeing which you prefer.


Honorable mention: Google Alerts

Google Alerts is not quite as easy-to-use as the other tools mentioned here, but it is a very powerful tool for monitoring of brand or other keyword mentions. Here is a post I did a couple of months ago describing how to use Google Alerts for monitoring: Reputation Management: 1% Perspiration, 99% Google Alerts

A few other related blog posts:

This post is part of

Two Octobers Local

Fake Reviews and the Power of Scumbags

A couple of weeks ago, I wrote about the impact an unhappy customer can have on a business by writing negative reviews on sites like Yelp and Citysearch. While I suggested that businesses should actively solicit positive reviews, I also believe that unhappy customers should be heard, and in fact that giving unhappy customers a voice is good for your business. But this is different.

Unfortunately, there are scumbag marketers that generate fake reviews, both positive and negative. This is highlighted in a recent story involving Peak Studios, based here in Boulder. The story is long and involved, so I will summarize it here. Someone from Peak Studios gained the attention of Scott Hendison by attempting to post a spammy self-promo on a forum Scott moderates. The attempted post pissed off Scott – not good for Peak Studios, since Scott is a well-connected SEO expert and a self-admitted hothead. Scott did some investigating, and found that Peak Studios was in the practice of generating fake reviews on behalf of clients. This offense is hearsay, but Scott has documented his findings on his blog and I believe his accusations to be true. Scott described what Peak Studios was doing, and his exposé ended up ranking just below Peak Studios in Google for the search “peak studios”. This anecdote is particularly telling, both because it describes a marketing firm that was unrepentant about their fake reviews and comments, and because it shows what can happen if such activity is exposed.

If your business is the victim of fake, negative reviews, I’m sorry to say that there is little you can do. Some sites will remove reviews if you can prove that they are fake, but providing such proof is very difficult. The best you can do is to encourage legitimate dialog about your business, and thereby drown out the scumbags. And you can and should avoid the fate of Peak Studio’s clients:

Stay in Control of Your Marketing Activities

What I recommended in my previous post was that businesses ask customers for input in the form of reviews on 3rd party web sites. If you serve your customers well, the majority of your feedback will be positive. As a  business, this is very much within your power to do. But an outsourced marketing firm doesn’t have a relationship with your customers, so will often resort to tactics that are at a minimum less effective, and at worst could damage your reputation. A good marketing partner will work closely with you and provide full visibility in to what they are doing on your behalf. And trust your instincts: if a marketing activity smells fishy, it probably is.

I’d also like to include a shoutout to Sebastien Provencher, who proposes a solution to the problem of scumbags and reviews: Social Graph-Based Commenting Systems. With the ever-increasing importance of reviews on the web, Sebastien’s solution seems both good and inevitable.

[edit: please see the comment section below for clarification from Scott Hendison on his initial and ongoing frustration with Peak Studios]

Oops, I Forgot the Moral of the Story

After reading my last post, my wife reminded me of a letter that was circulating around about five years ago. We had just moved to the UK on a job assignment, and were in the midst of struggling to get basic services like a phone number and a bank account. The letter is to NTL, a cable and internet provider in the UK. It is written by someone who was hoping to receive service from NTL. Here is an excerpt from the letter:

Suffice to say that I have now given up on my futile and foolhardy quest to receive any kind of service from you. I suggest that you cease any potential future attempts to extort payment from me for the services which you have so pointedly and catastrophically failed to deliver – any such activity will be greeted initially with hilarity and disbelief quickly be replaced by derision, and even perhaps bemused rage.

The full text of the letter can be found here, but I caution you that some of it is less polite than the above. The letter resonated with us and many others because it is funny and captured some of what we were feeling.

So the moral of the story is that keeping your customers happy is more important than ever, in a world where reviews and recommendations are the primary influencers of decision-making. You may not have a customer as clever as the above letter-writer, but a well-phrased complaint seems to get passed on more easily than praise.

I believe this principle can work in favor of small businesses, particularly ones that offer very personal service. Much of the NTL customer’s frustration came from the fact that he was getting passed around and around. It is basic human nature that we are less likely to show contempt for someone if we have a personal connection with them. But per my previous post, small (and large) businesses should actively seek the praise of their customers – it is a busy world and we often forget to show appreciation when it is due.

Unhappy Customer: Judge, Jury and Executioner?

Customer reviews are fast becoming the primary currency of business information on the web. Google Maps is putting increased emphasis on reviews, and has been aggregating business reviews from all over. And AT&T just announced the impending launch of a new consumer-review-focused site, buzz.com. Presumably some of the motivation behind the new site came from the fact that the review site Yelp.com is eating AT&T’s lunch. Specifically, Yelp.com is crushing AT&T’s Yellowpages.com site, in terms of unique visitors.

And Google, AT&T, Yelp and others are putting reviews first because that’s what consumers care about. According to Nielsen Online (April, 2009):

When making purchase decisions, North American Internet users trust recommendations from people they know and opinions posted by unknown consumers online more than advertisements on television, on the radio, in magazines and newspapers, or in other traditional media.

But there has been some backlash against this increased emphasis on customer reviews. Many businesses believe that review sites give too much power to a vocal minority. An Inc. Magazine article recently described a business owner who began fearing and harassing her customers because of Yelp. While the proprietor in question sounds a-few-monkeys-short-of-a-barrel, there is some validity to the concern. One or two unhappy customers can create a bad impression, and if reviews of a business are sparse, prospective customers have little else to go on. It can even create an atmosphere where subsequent reviewers feel they have to respond to the earlier, negative reviews.

On this topic I have an instructive anecdote concerning my former dentist, Shauna Gilmore. (Note that she is no longer my dentist because I moved too far from her office.) Several years ago, I recall getting an email from her office after an appointment. I don’t remember the exact words of the email, but it went something like:

Thank you for your recent visit …

We would love to hear from you how we are doing. We would very much appreciate it if you would post a review of your experience with us on doctoroogle.com.

Again, I’m going on memory here – I don’t recall the exact wording, but the gist was that they were asking me to write a review, positive or negative. Since I’d just had a very positive experience in her office, I was happy to take a few minutes to write a good review. And so did a lot of other people. If you have a look at the Good Dentist Guide for Denver, Dr. Shauna Gilmore is the highest rated dentist there is.

If, like Dr. Gilmore, you provide excellent service, think about respectful, unobtrusive ways you can ask your customers to review your business. Try to ask when you are still fresh on their minds as gratitude tends to have a very short half-life. And don’t ask for a positive review, just ask them to say what they think. For the most part, customers will appreciate that you value their opinion, and most if not all should have positive things to say. By encouraging a broad cross-section of your customers to speak out, you minimize the impact of a vocal few.

Also see this follow-up post: The Moral of the Story