Category Archives: Local Reviews

Online recommendations… who to trust?

Consumer Reports takes a look at review websites this month, including Angie’s List, Yelp, and Google+ Local.  While there’s a hint of conflict of interest of a review-based business writing a review about competing review sites, the authors do make some compelling points…

We think that the ability of A- and B-rated companies to buy their way to the top of the default search results skews the results. Cheryl Reed, a spokeswoman for the company, disagrees. “We don’t believe that,” she says. But Angie’s List marketing materials intended for businesses say that companies that advertise get “an advantage of increased exposure” that “can propel you ahead of your competition.” They get 12 times more profile views than companies that don’t buy ads.

Angie’s List encourages businesses to solicit reviews by giving customers free, postage-paid forms, stickers on thank you notes, and Web links embedded in e-mail invoices. But experts who study survey techniques say that can create a bias for positive reviews.

Angie’s List misleads consumers by prominently promising that “businesses don’t pay” and that it’s a consumer-driven service supported by membership fees. But almost 70 percent of the company’s revenues come from advertising purchased by the service providers being rated. Angie’s List tells consumers that it provides “reviews you can trust,” and takes steps to detect and remove fraudulent positive and negative reviews. But company investment disclosures say that “we cannot guarantee the accuracy of our reviews.”

On many Front Porch Forums, recommendations among neighbors for a wide variety of local businesses are a big ongoing topic of interest.  FPF makes no attempt to aggregate reviews or score businesses… we just provide a platform for neighbors to connect and talk about whatever they like.   Having a conversation with neighbors who are recent customers of a certain roofer/plumber/mechanic/etc. can be much more valuable than a couple of sentences typed by an unknown stranger.

Word-of-Mouth primary driver of local business

#VT - Need a recommendation for a plumber?  Best burrito in town?  Slate roof repair?  People turn to Front Porch Forum again and again in our coverage area.  Now a new study offers some insight (below).  People use FPF to get a recommendation from a neighbor, to read reviews in the archives, and to see the ads from our local sponsors.  FPF is word-of-mouth accelerator for local businesses.

A new Street Fight poll finds that even with a slew of new locally targeted marketing platforms at local merchants’ disposal, word-of-mouth is still a primary driver of local consumer behavior.

The poll of 500 U.S. consumers found that 43% of consumers are most likely to shop or dine at a local business after a recommendation from a friend or colleague. 30% are primarily motivated by daily deals, 15% after seeing a locally or behaviorally targeted advertisement, and 12% after reading a positive review about the merchant online. The poll was conducted on behalf of Street Fight by third-party opinions platform Toluna QuickSurveys.

Are you more likely to shop at a local business after…

Angie’s List a pyramid scheme?

Interesting critique of Angie’s List on Screenwerk today from a plumber in Seattle.  Angie’s List recently pushed into Vermont where tens of thousands of households use Front Porch Forum for a variety of purposes, including plumber recommendations.

I have years of experience with Angie’s List as a local plumber in Seattle. They have gotten money out of me and gave nothing in return except much trouble from customers that tend to be pretty passive aggressive. Angie’s List get paid on both ends – Any contractor listing you see is only visible to you if the contractor is paying Angie’s List through the nose. My cost for Angie’s List “hot leads” was $300 each. Testing Angie’s List cost me $7000 over two years. While paying such high costs for leads may work for a major construction project , it won’t work for a service call where we charge by the 1/4 hour.

Google clicks have gotten as high as $38 per click here in Seattle when the search term used is “plumber” or “plumbing”. On the average it takes 15 clicks to get a call. Do the math on the cost to the guy ringing your doorbell.

Angie’s List cost per job performed was 75% of my company’s average invoice total (about $400). My company does over a thousand jobs a year.

Any homeowner service using this advertising method is paying way too much to maintain any integrity in the service. This type of advertising creating an incredible amount of pressure to convert to a commission-based high profit business model for basic traditional services. If I pay Angies List hundreds of dollars just to ring your doorbell how can I treat you fairly when your plumbing problem requires an hours work? I can’t so I cancelled my advertising contract with Angies List.

Angie’s List uses a unique money making model that actually is a kind of pyramid scheme. They put all the local harvested contractors into their listings but you only will call highly rated ones. In order to be highly rated you must pay Angie Thousands of dollars a year for position in order to be seen AND time in grade is required to accumulate favorable reviews. Only a dozen or so can be in that position. The homeowner only calls the ones at the top so all new advertisers must invest thousands on continuing annual contracts to play the game on Angie’s List…

In my opinion, it is time for both local business and consumers to get control over how we find our services and customers as the marketers are hijacking the business to consumer relationship and forcing costs so high that nobody can bear the costs.

Question: Why should we need out-of-state corporations to connect homeowners to services down the street? Surely there is a simple, inexpensive way for us to know our neighbors and small businesses. We all need to put a little thought and effort in that direction.

Search your FPF archive for past recommendations…

#VT – Hinesburg resident John Eastman just completed an electrical project for us and did an excellent job!  I found his name in the archives of our Front Porch Forum.

He was affordable, always showed up on time, handled my many questions with patience and the end result is exactly what we had in mind.

If you are looking for an electrician, I highly recommend him.

Posted by Brigitte today on the Hinesburg FPF.

Ask neighbors for farmers’ market finds

#BTV #VT - Folks in Vermont use Front Porch Forum is lots of ways.  Here’s one from today’s FPF in Burlington’s Old North End by a local newspaper reporter…

Dear neighbors: I’ll be sampling breakfast, lunch and snacks at the Burlington Farmers Market this Saturday… Would love recommendations from ONE East about which temptations I shouldn’t miss, which prices are most reasonable. Any and all suggestions welcome.

How do you find a contractor?

Indeed, how does a person find a home improvement contractor?  From Greg Sterling today, a recent survey found that asking a friend is the top approach.   This jibes with our experience.

“Seeking plumber/mechanic/roofer/electrician/etc./contractor recommendations” is one of the most common postings on Front Porch Forum.

Duping by the crowd vs. building community among neighbors

Greg Sterling blogged today (in part)…

The Sunday Times in the UK writes that Yell employees wrote 6,700 reviews for the site (TrustedPlaces) in a month for an internal contest. According to secondary reports:

Staff at the firm’s Reading HQ were encouraged to write reviews for the company’s website Trusted Places – a site boasting user-generated recommendations of places to visit – by the offer of prizes such as an iPad and Amazon vouchers, according to the Sunday Times.

The article and information are presented as something of an expose or scandal. However I don’t necessarily agree. If the reviews are real and authentic they’re not illegitimate in my mind. But it’s a close call…

Well… I’m not sure how 6,700 reviews written by paid staff for some kind of internal contest could be considered “real and authentic.”  More importantly, this fuels a not uncommon suspicion that many online reviews are B.S.  It’s just too easy to stack the deck with reviews from people who have a stake in the business being reviewed or in the host site itself.

We often hear from people who place a high value on reviews read on Front Porch Forum.  They use terms like “real” and “authentic” because that’s what they are… postings from clearly identified nearby neighbors typically offered in response to a request from a neighbor… “can anyone recommend a good plumber?”

Also, each recommendation is seen by everyone in the neighborhood, not just those few who happen to be searching for a plumber.  This leads to  conversation among neighbors… sometimes on FPF, often via email, and even more commonly face-to-face.

So… a huge database of potentially bogus reviews from strangers… vs. a few reviews from clearly identified nearby neighbors that lead to conversations among neighbors on the sidewalk.  Two different propositions.