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Local Search Lives or Dies by User Reviews

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Back in the dark ages, referred to by some as BC (Before Computers), consumer opinions regarding personal experiences with businesses were passed around in a practice known as "Word of Mouth" marketing.

Jane tells Mary about how great her new microwave is, or that the service could have been better at the new restaurant in town. Soon enough, word gets around and sales are up for that microwave, and the service is carefully watched at the new restaurant.

The Internet has transformed word of mouth referrals into "user reviews" and "ratings," where consumers can comment on and rate products or services that they have purchased or experienced.

The Importance of User Reviews/Ratings

A study by comScore and the Kelsey Group, conducted in October 2007, found that online, consumer-created reviews have a big impact on prospective buyers. In fact, 24 percent of those who purchase local services -- people searching for restaurants, hotels, and automotive shops -- consult online ratings and reviews before making a choice.

This works both ways though. Consumers not only read reviews to decide what they'll spend their paycheck on, they also write the reviews, and not just to inform potential consumers.

A study by Bazaarvoice and Keller Fay (both user review and WOM marketing experts) found that 79 percent of reviewers write reviews to reward a company for the quality of the product or service they bought, with 87 percent of the reviews being positive in tone.

Reviews: The Good, Bad, and Misinformed

The good news about positive reviews is that according to the comScore/Kelsey Group study, 97 percent of review readers find the reviews they read to be accurate. However, the opposite, and of course more detrimental, could be said about bad reviews.

Advertisers and local business owners alike worry about user-generated content that comes with user reviews. They could be praised or destroyed in front of the public with just the click of a mouse. However, the recent study by Bazaarvoice and Keller Fay suggest that more than half of respondents surveyed usually left positive reviews.

Tone of User Reviews for Products & Services (on Bazaarvoice client Web sites) August-October 2007 (percent of respondents)

User Reviews/Ratings on Internet Yellow Pages, Local Search Sites

Once a rating or review is entered, it's posted near, or directly following, a specific business or product's listing information. Some systems allow consumers the ability to rate a business and/or product on a specific scale, which then factors into an overall ratings score for the business or product. This rating is often used as the determining factor or one of the factors in establishing listing positioning.

In just the past few years, the trend of user reviews and ratings has extended into local search sites. As a result, now nearly all local search sites offer a ratings and review component to their listing information.

YellowPages.com Business Listing Example


Next week: I'll share the secrets every advertiser and publisher needs to know to manage negative -- and generate positive -- user reviews.


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