As the Internet becomes a mainstream source of information, sites that feature reviews from real people will become increasingly important influencers of buying decisions. This is an extension of traditional word-of-mouth advertising. For example:
Yelp, a social networking site where users post their own reviews, in March had 31 million unique visitors, up from 20 million a month last year. Since Yelp launched in 2004, 10 million reviews, mostly for restaurants, have been written. Similar sites also show strong growth. But because they hope to profit from what is submitted, these sites have goals that may be at odds with the restaurants, and even with the commenters. Yelp and its aspirants are in the business of making money by brokering information. – Boston Globe, June 2, 2010
Research from the U.K. suggests that the reach is important to business bottom line:
Over half of diners will avoid a restaurant after seeing a bad review, with a third trusting the view of their peers over the professional critics.
Other research suggests that those who write reviews are a tiny minority. According to Bill Tancer, general manager of global research at Hitwise and author of Click: What Millions of People Do Online and Why it Matters:
[Most] reviews come from those who are “either very upset or very pleased.” His research shows that only about 1 percent of consumers are generating online content. An additional 9 percent are interacting through a medium like comments, while the remaining 90 percent “are just reaping the benefits and are passive viewers.”
What are the pluses and minuses of these sites? Who draws the most traffic? In other words, which sites should you turn to as a consumer and which do you put at the top of your monitoring list if you are a vendor?
Monthly Traffic, Visits
These data on website traffic are from Quantcast. Sites reviewed: CitySearch (US Rank 225), TripAdvisor (US Rank, 57), UrbanSpoon (US Rank, 602) and Yelp (US Rank 75).
In this section I am including Facebook and Google because both companies have implemented location-based services.
- CitySearch :
- 2008: CitiSearch, launched in 1996, gets a site makeover – “With a new interface, Citysearch expands to cover more than 75,000 cities and neighborhoods in the U.S., far surpassing the 140 metropolitan areas and neighborhoods it covered previously. This is the site’s first makeover in six years…. Citysearch’s traffic has remained flat at around 15 million users during the past year, according to comScore.”
- 2009: “IAC-owned Citysearch had over 27.4 million unique visitors in March; Yelp closed out the month with 25.3 million.What’s notable is that the traffic gap was much larger a year ago: Citysearch had 31.2 million uniques to Yelp’s 10.4 million.”
- 2009 (emphasis added): “Citysearch is unveiling a new Web site on Thursday that will make the site more social and more local — and, the site hopes, stanch its loss of readers…. According to Web analytics firm Compete, Citysearch had 24.9 million visitors in February, down 21 percent from the year before, while Yelp more than doubled its monthly visitors to 20.5 million in that time period. ComScore, which measures page views more conservatively, said that Citysearch had 13.4 million visitors in February to Yelp’s 6.6 million, but also found that Yelp more than doubled its visitors in a year while Citysearch lost 6 percent of its traffic. Citysearch’s new site includes 75,000 neighborhood guides instead of the previous 150 city guides, so instead of searching for sushi in New York, viewers can look for sushi in the East Village or the Meatpacking District… Citysearch first enabled people to write reviews on the site in 2000, but has always buried them under professionally written reviews. That is changing…”
- 2009: Yelp Is Growing 80 Percent A Year, While Citysearch Remains Flat … Citysearch iPhone app is not in the top 20 travel apps.
- 2009: Yelp is Gaining on Citysearch
- 2009: MySpace and Yelp CitySearch Up To Challenge Yelp
- January 2010: Citysearch Unleashes CityGrid, A Massive Local Advertising And Content Network … “The APIs include more than 15 million local business listings, 3 million user reviews, and access to 500,000 local advertisers looking to reach people near their places of business.”
- Facebook :
- 2009: “Since November, Facebook members have been able to sign in to Citysearch using their Facebook log-ins via Facebook Connect.”
- June 2010: “Last month Facebook began mailing door stickers to restaurants asking diners to “like’’ (there’s no “dislike’’) and comment about restaurants with Facebook pages.”
- Google :
- January 2010: Google launches local search for mobile
- June 2010: “Google recently launched Google Place Pages, also with door stickers, which allow diners with smartphones to point the camera at a bar code and instantly display a comments page.”
- June 2010: “In 2009, Google made overtures to purchase Yelp for a reported $500 million.”
- August 2010: Has Google Purged Places Of Yelp? All Signs Point To Yes.
- TripAdvisor :
- 2008: “TripAdvisor-branded sites make up the largest travel community in the world, with 24 million monthly visitors*, six million registered members and 15 million reviews and opinions.”
- 2009: “TripAdvisor has partnered with Toptable to let visitors book tables at restaurants across the UK.”
- May 2010: “Over the past five years, TripAdvisor has grown from its original website in the U.S. to a global network of branded sites in 21 countries in 14 different languages.”
- September 2010: “Some 420 hotels and restaurants have applied to join online reputation firm KwikChex.com in order to launch a group defamation action against travel site TripAdvisor over allegedly unfair or false reviews of their businesses on its site.”
- UrbanSpoon :
- 2008: An iPhone App That Bests Its Website
- Yelp :
- 2008: Yelp, launched in 2004, “has 4.5 million business reviews on its site”
- 2009: Review of Yelp iPhone app
- 2009: “In just a year, local review site Yelp has grown to attract nearly the same size audience as its larger, better-funded rival?and the latest stats from Compete show that Yelp’s visitors are staying longer, viewing more content and returning more often than Citysearch’s users do.”
- 2009: Yelp Will Let Businesses Respond to Web Reviews
- 2009: Yelp Is Growing 80 Percent A Year, While Citysearch Remains Flat … “Yelp also has the No. 1 travel app on the iPhone (it is No. 26 overall).”
- March 2010: “Yelp views us very much as a cupcake bakery,” Galliart said. “We’ve ended up tweaking what we have available on a daily basis to accommodate what people expect. Now we make more cupcakes.”
- March 2010: “Two proposed class-action lawsuits have been filed against Yelp, a Web site that allows users to review and rank local businesses, alleging that its sales staff pressured business owners to advertise by offering benefits that would improve their ratings.”
- April 2010: Yelp discontinues “featured” review. “In addition, the company said that they would allow filtered reviews to be seen in a dropdown tab at the bottom of a business’ page.”
- June 2010: “Yelp, a social networking site where users post their own reviews, in March had 31 million unique visitors, up from 20 million a month last year.”
- June 2010: Yelp and OpenTable team up, “allowing registered Yelp users to directly make reservations from Yelp – whether they have registered with OpenTable or not.”