Local businesses are struggling to adapt to a world where online reputation drives offline sales, and fake reviews are making the transition harder. What’s more, the fake review problem is getting worse. A Harvard study found that fake reviews on Yelp grew from 5% to 20% over several years.
There are lots of reasons for this trend, but this is an area where big data can be used to the benefit of consumers and businesses to increase trust. This means it’s on the tech community—not small businesses—to fix fake reviews. Just as media platforms have a moral obligation to avoid the spread of fake news, review sites have a responsibility to their users and businesses to ensure their content is as accurate as possible.
Operators of small- and medium-sized businesses can get by ignoring many of the tech innovations that large companies adopt. Managing online reviews is not one of them.
Like it or not, the widespread usage of review sites like Yelp, TripAdvisor, and even Google and Facebook have changed the landscape of how local businesses attract and retain customers. Left ignored or handled the wrong way, a business’s negative online reviews can be a deterrent to potential new customers. Managed the right way, however, those same review sites can be a valuable marketing and customer service tool that leads to improved revenue.
Despite digital change, recommendations from friends remain one of the most credible forms of marketing. Now, a new startup called Fresh Chalk is aiming to capitalize on that, giving consumers a way to find local professionals with help from their friends.
Like Yelp, Facebook, Google, and other local business directories, Fresh Chalk is aiming to help people source recommendations from reliable, qualified businesses in their own communities. But unlike most other competitors in the market, Fresh Chalk is keeping a tight focus on personal connections.
Headlines about retail closures suggest it’s Amazon’s world and we’re all just living in it, but there’s more to the story. For local businesses, in particular, there’s ample reason to be optimistic that the retail apocalypse doesn’t have to spell end times. In fact, exactly the opposite could be true. Let’s walk through a few of the reasons for optimism.
Blumenthal to Mihm: It seems to me that Google could take the fake listings issue off the table by seriously investing in cleaning up the fake listing and fake review issue. I just don’t think that they think that way.
At a minimum, as the company that has the monopoly in the local space, Google faces the expectation and responsibility to provide a service that truly serves the public and businesses. And they seem to forget that.
“Chronic” local listings fraud on Google Maps, where con artists pose as handymen and other local service providers, sometimes stealing the names of legitimate operations, is endangering consumers and sucking business away from viable local businesses, the Wall Street Journal reported.
As Google seeks to prop up its lucrative but “cresting” search business and consolidate its lead in local, the tech giant is struggling to address the fraud issue and perhaps even to care about it.
Mihm to Blumenthal: I’m not averse to the idea of the government regulating Google’s practices in Maps or local search, but it feels like rewarding Yelp in particular is not going to bring consumers any particular benefit, nor will it meaningfully benefit small businesses, as Elizabeth Warren seems to indicate is a primary goal of her plan.
If anything, Google has gone out of its way to help small businesses compete in its search results with the introduction of the local pack and the Venice update, whereas small businesses continue to rate Yelp as poorly as any company in tech.
A whopping 64% of respondents indicated relying on Google My Business to find contact information for local business, suggesting it’s an indispensable platform. Yet consumers still trust local business websites most of all, and only 8% say they never consult a business’ website when making shopping decisions.
While SMB digital marketing spend has seen a steady rise, SMBs are being more conservative about the agencies and vendors with which they partner. In the transparency era, consolidating spend with a select group of trusted agency partners that offer multiple core services is now the norm.
For agencies that cater to SMB brands, these trends have created opportunities and challenges. There is money to be had, but only organizations that differentiate themselves from the competition and can deliver clear ROI will benefit. So how can SMB agencies show their value to brands and ensure revenue growth? There are three opportunity areas, in particular, that can help.
Kendrick Shope: I coach a lot of entrepreneurs, many of whom are brilliant at what they do, have excellent people skills, and should be setting the world on fire. Unfortunately, they’re stuck trying to make ends meet when they should be doing seven figures in a year because they haven’t mastered the art of selling. It’s a skill like any other, and once you learn it and become really good at it, your business is going to change forever. If you really want to up your sales game this year, focus on these five selling strategies.
Mihm to Blumenthal: The famous Jeff Bezos quote comes to mind: “Your brand is what other people say about you when you’re not in the room.” Increasingly, the room is not a physical place but a virtual one—and it’s not a place you own. Reviews really bring the need to run a decent business at your core into stark relief.
Beyond the star ratings lies a wealth of information. Sentiment and opinions can be used to shape the way brands develop their highest-selling products. Given the volume of reviews posted each day, however, it would be impossible for most major brands to analyze every customer reaction individually. Instead, a growing number of brands are utilizing artificial intelligence (AI) technology to extract and analyze the sentiment from product reviews. Here are five examples of platforms that offer this type of AI technology for analyzing customer feedback posted online.
Even in a hyper technology-driven world, one of the most influential forms of local marketing remains word of mouth. But of course that universal principle has taken on new digital formats, including social influence and good-old local business reviews. Reviews optimization is the name of today’s game. We spoke to TripAdvisor Restaurant Division Lead Mark Goloboy on the latest episode of Street Fight’s Heard on the Street podcast to find out how his company is innovating in reputation and identify best practices for businesses.
Determined not to fall even further behind their online-only competitors, retailers are investing more heavily in a new breed of review platform. These next-generation solutions integrate written reviews with pictures and videos to create more cohesive omni-channel shopping experiences. Here are six next-gen review platforms that brands are using right now.
Just as Netflix displays match scores in the arena of entertainment, showing users a percentage indicating how likely they are to enjoy a new film or TV show, Google appears to be testing a feature that shows searchers how likely they are to enjoy a local business.
Blumenthal and Mihm: We in the Local Search industry are not served by relying so heavily on traditional SEO logic and tools—in our approach to the Local Pack, our understanding of the ranking factors, and even what we suggest to clients as appropriate activities.