User Reviews and Small Businesses

Filed in Local Search, Social Media, Word of Mouth by Matt McGee on September 18, 2006 2 Comments

There’s been a lot said on the web over the past couple weeks about user reviews, and I’m using this post to put a lot of that together in one place, and also share some of my own thoughts on the subject. In fact, that’s where I’ll start:

My Thoughts…

I can’t think of a single small business that doesn’t live and die by word-of-mouth. At OWT, we’ve done the yellow pages, the local newspaper, even local radio and TV, and none brought in the business that we’ve received via referrals from satisfied customers.

So, obviously, I’m a big fan of user reviews, no matter if it’s product reviews like you’ll find on, and many other sites like it, or business reviews like you’ll find on and many similar sites. I’ve always thought user reviews are one of the factors that makes Yahoo Local so much better than Google Maps — and that’s unlikely to change given Yahoo’s recent addition of new, user-centric content tools. Personal opinion, both good and bad, is central to the local search-and-find experience, and should only grow in importance as more local businesses — and their customers — wrap their arms around this online marriage of marketing and community.

But does it really have an impact?

I’ll answer a question with a question: If you didn’t click it in the previous paragraph, read this hotel review I posted on a couple months ago, and tell me how likely you’d be to stay there.

Better than that, though, is this recent San Francisco Chronicle article, which covers both the pros and cons of user review sites, and their impact on small businesses.

For small businesses, these sites have the potential to revolutionize marketing and promotion — creating unprecedented opportunities but also, as in the case of Cafe Grillades, some unfamiliar risks.

Five years ago, an ambitious restaurant owner had to worry about the verdict of a handful of professional reviewers at magazines and newspapers. Now that owner faces the judgment of thousands of potential amateur reviewers.

There’s an article in the September, 2006, issue of Internet Retailer which covers social networks and shopping, and the power of user reviews. Consider this:

Some industry observers have been surprised at just how big a role consumer input plays in web shopping. Retail consulting firm J.C. Williams Group Ltd. recently conducted research to determine which web tools and features online shoppers found most helpful in making buying decisions. Of the 1,972 American online shoppers the firm surveyed in April for its “Transforming the Multi-channel Shopper” report, 92% said customer reviews were very or extremely helpful when making a decision.

(emphasis mine)

Other Voices

Greg Sterling has done some writing recently on the impact of user reviews, and I’d recommend you read The Power and Importance of User Reviews, which references a recent NY Times article on user reviews, and also provides some additional statistics both for and against the value of reviews.

Also worth your time is Bill Slawski’s recent post, The Growing Power of Online Reviews, which covers some of this same ground we’re on now, but also includes a handy list of sites that include user reviews — some across the spectrum of business, some specific to certain industries.

[tags]user reviews, online reviews, product reviews, business reviews, local search, small business, online marketing,[/tags]

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