Online Reviews…Over the Phone?


As we all are relatively well aware, online reviews are rapidly on the rise. Be it Yelp, Citysearch, Amazon, Google+, you name it; online reviews are here to stay.

But is there such thing as online reviews..over the phone? Online reviews, over the phone that are…somehow, still online?

Enter Call Me Ishmael.

Call Me Ishmael is a website that gathers and publishes one- to three-minute voice-recorded book reviews from anonymous contributors recorded via telephone and selects one story to post to the site each day.

So it’s like the SparkNotes book reviews. Yeah, something like that.

One of the downsides of the site, however, is that it doesn’t index the text of the reviews. So that factor could possibly cause it to be less pervasive in disrupting the online book review space.

What’s also interesting is what seems to be a shift away from reading, however. Ironic, considering this is a post about reviewing books. But what we mean by that is, the fact that even though these reviews are over the phone, being a seasoned medium, while also still being online, shows a glorious melding of two mediums that both do not involve any actual reading. (With the exception of reading the book that one is leaving the review about.)

Anyway, it just goes to show how the online review-scape is continuously evolving in new ways and even ways that accommodate components of the past.

Trouble in Paradise for Angie’s List?


Angie’s List, the pioneer in online reviews since 1995, is facing challenging times with the recent proliferation of free review sites.

Many of the members of Angie’s list (that lists mostly home-improvement services and contractors) feel that the value proposition is quite simple; when they are going to invest upwards of $50,000 on a home renovation or related cost, they are willing to spend a few extra dollars to ensure that they are reaching a network of people who have given honest, real-life recommendations of services they have used themselves.

According to the company’s second quarter 2014 results, Angie’s list has 2.8 million paid memberships as of the end of June, which is up from the 2.2 million the year before and 820,000 in 2011.

Despite this obvious growth in user acquisition, Angie’s List appears to be teetering on the edge of extinction. Why? Just a couple weeks ago, it was reported that Angie’s list had hired a team of investment bankers to do a company evaluation in order to potentially entertain the idea of putting it up for sale. Shares increased by 20% but were still down more than 50% compared to the previous year.

According to a post by Indianapolis Business Journal, the reason is because Angie’s List has never turned a profit. Last October, a report was released that even showed a net loss of $13.5 million for the third quarter of 2013, following a loss of $18.5 million for the same period the year before.

Some of you may be wondering: why hasn’t any of this growth resulted in an increase in profits? It is likely due to the expansion into new markets; Angie’s List is now offered in 253 areas of the country, up from about 200 in 2012.

Angie’s List has also been forced to downscale the price of its memberships in order to remain competitive with other, free-to-use review sites such as Yelp, Google+, Citysearch, etc. You can now expect to pay about a little over $12 for an annual membership, which is over half of the $36 membership fee they were charging ten years ago. And it’s fairly easy to get an online coupon code that will discount that fee anywhere from 30-40% off.

It also doesn’t help that the company recently agreed to a $2.8 million settlement to curb a lawsuit alleging it had renewed subscribers’ memberships at a rate higher than it had led them to believe.

Perhaps at the center of this discussion is the legitimacy of the reviews listed on the site. In fact, much (if not most) of the revenue for Angie’s List is obtained by the very same businesses who are listed on their site, creating somewhat of a conflict of interest. How can a company remain unbiased when the companies funding its very existence are the ones who are supposed to be rated in a non-biased fashion by consumers on their site?

“Almost 70 percent of the company’s revenues come from advertising purchased by the service providers being rated, ” a 2013 Consumer Reports investigation explained.

It’s hard to believe that this funding has no bearing on how these companies appear in search results.

“We think the ability of A- and B-rated companies to buy their way to the top of the default search results skews the results… They get 12 times more profile views than companies that don’t buy ads, ” Consumer Reports criticizes.


This is a practice that Yelp has been accused and criticized for many times over. Yelp has continued to vehemently deny this practice and maintains that, “Yelp uses automated software to recommend the most helpful and reliable reviews for the Yelp community among the millions we get. The software looks at dozens of different signals, including various measures of quality, reliability, and activity on Yelp. The process has nothing to do with whether a business advertises on Yelp or not.”

In the meantime, Angie’s List seems to have found the sweet spot as far as the amount it must lower its membership fees by in order to maintain the increase in annual subscribers year over year. The question becomes: Is this sustainable, given the fact that the legitimacy of the reviews listed on the site continues to be called into question?

And is being a paid review site going to continue to be, or become even more of, a challenge given the obvious rising growth of free-to-use review sites such as Yelp, Citysearch and the like?

What do you think? Let us know in the comments below!


Review Site Series: Ability to Add Photos With Reviews

For this edition of our Review Site Series, we wanted to focus on review sites that allow the ability to add a photo with a review. Many review sites such as Yelp, Citysearch and Foursquare allow users to add photos to their reviews and/or check-ins.

We feel that this is a very nifty feature to have because it allows consumers to get a real feel for the place, rather than just the carefully curated photos posted on the business’s website. They have the opportunity to get an authentic taste for what the place really looks like when it’s filled with people (or partially-filled), not just how it looks like on a good day in perfect lighting. It also allows them to get a more realistic idea of what the food looks like from an average person’s perspective rather than just a professional photographer’s perspective.

Tuna Tartare from STK

An example of a photo pulled from STK’s website on the left with a photo uploaded by a restaurant-goer to Yelp on the right.

Hyperion Public

An example of a photo pulled from Hyperion’s Public’s website on the left with a photo uploaded by a restaurant-goer to Citysearch on the right.

Bottega Louie

An example of a photo pulled from Bottega Louie’s website on the left with a photo uploaded by a restaurant-goer to Foursquare on the right.

As evidenced in the last example, sometimes things really are as good as they seem!

What are your thoughts? Do you think this is a helpful feature? Let us know in the comments below!

There is New Life in SEO – It’s called REVIEWS


Just do a web search for “Is SEO Dead” and you will find pages upon pages of articles about the supposed “death” of SEO. So is SEO really dead? Of course not. The rules have just changed. Whether you are new or experienced with SEO (if you’re new to it, see the explanation below, then come back and see what the big fuss is about), you’ll see that it can be hard to keep up with all the trends concerning SEO.

Google Search

Over the last 10 years, search engines such as Google, Bing and Yahoo have consistently tuned and re-tuned their “algorithm” so that you can easily find what you are looking for. Google, the king of all search engines, sets the standard by which SEO experts “dial-in” their websites so that the Google search engine may find them.

In the days of old, there were many tricks that could be used to increase the effectiveness of SEO. But Google has been playing a cat-and-mouse game with many of these “experts” to the point that the search engine is actually ignoring some websites. So how is SEO still alive? Google search has given great preference to quality content.

Google Maps

Essentially, videos and high quality articles stand out as SEO magnets. When it comes to LOCAL SEO that helps you get your business found, it’s all relative to the extent of your reviews and review site listings that matter. MOZ conducted an outstanding study on local search and concluded that at least 50% of LOCAL search is influenced by LOCAL SEO.

Their study is not for the faint of heart, so we’ll try to boil it down to the following SIX FACTORS:

• Breadth
• Consistency
• Recent
• Sentiment
• Keywords
• Quantity

Let’s explain each one:

Firstly, it’s important to have your business listed on lots of review sites. We call that the BREADTH of your listings. The more places your business is listed, the better. But we suggest that you have listings on at least 10 review sites that matter (such as Google, Yelp, Yahoo, CitySearch, YellowPages, etc.).

Next, it’s important that your listings be CONSISTENT with your business Name, Address and Phone Number (also known as a “NAP”). Since most of the review sites also display your web address, make sure that it’s the correct address as well.

That’s the easy part, the next four are a bit harder but can have a huge impact on your SEO. They are based on getting reviews on those review sites that matter most.

The reviews should be RECENT. The older the reviews, the less weight they will carry with the search engine.

BalanceThe reviews should lean also toward the positive. Negative reviews will rank lower. The reviews don’t have to be perfect, but they should be balanced. In fact, the MOZ study suggests that balanced reviews (rather than perfect “5 stars” or “all negative”) carry more weight from an SEO perspective.

The text of the reviews should mention the name of the business and the services and/or products provided by that business. A restaurant that sells “steak” would benefit if the reviews had the word “steak” in them. (But beware of *keyword stuffing.)

Lastly, each review site should have several reviews on them. One or two reviews on a review site will have little impact on SEO. ReviewInc suggests at least 10 reviews on each review site, with at least one of those in the last 30 days.

Subscribers to ReviewInc’s service can access their SEO Impact analyzer which is updated daily based on a business’s reviews. Here is a sample chart provided by the ReviewInc’s service:


Whether you are an existing ReviewInc subscriber or want to know more, just call us and we’ll be happy to discuss how we can help.

Search Engine Optimization

SEO stands for “search engine optimization.” It is the process of getting traffic from the “free,” “organic,” “editorial” or “natural” listings on search engines. Local SEO, is a specialized kind of online marketing that increases visibility for businesses interested in ranking for geographically-related keywords. A large part of Local SEO involves ranking in the Local algorithms, as well as ranking well in the organic results for Local keywords.

Keyword Stuffing

Keyword stuffing is considered to be an unethical search engine optimization (SEO) technique, which leads to banning a website from major search engines either temporarily or permanently. Keyword stuffing occurs when a web page is loaded with keywords in the meta tags or in content of a web page. The repetition of words in meta tags may explain why many search engines no longer use these tags.


Related Video:

Review Site Series: 5-Star vs. Alternate Rating Scales

In this installment of our Review Site Series, we wanted to focus on the rating scales used by different review sites. Most review sites use a 5-Star rating scale, but others, such as Zagat use an alternate rating scale. (Zagat uses a 30-point scale.)

We at ReviewInc feel that having a scale other than the standard 5-Star rating scale can be a little confusing for consumers. People generally associate leaving reviews with a 5-Star system and it seems to be the simplest form of rating scale.

Interestingly enough, although Zagat operates on a 30-point scale, it’s still almost as if they operate on a 5-star scale.

Zagat Rating Scale

Essentially, ‘5 Stars’ would be “26-30 | Extraordinary to Perfection”, ‘4 Stars’ would be “21-25 | Very Good to Excellent”, ‘3 Stars’ would be “16-20 | Good to Very Good”, ‘2 Stars’ would be “11-15 | Fair to Good, and ‘1 Star’ would be “0-10 | Poor to Fair”.

Zagat, who was bought out by Google, used to aggregate its scores towards Google+ Local listings. However, Google has now switched back to the 5-Star rating scale.

Another example is a percentage rating scale used by sites such as Citysearch, which is determined by a simple ‘thumbs up’ or ‘thumbs down’. (Or a 2-point rating scale, if you will). While this scale is far more simple than the 5-point rating scale, it’s important to note that when you have a scale like this, it takes a lot of people to participate in order for the data to be truly meaningful.

Citysearch Rating Scale

What do you think? Do you think that a 5-Star rating scale is the best form of rating scale? What are others that you think are more beneficial or accurate? Let us know in the comments below!