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Reviews website - moral dilema
Looking for a moral way of monetising the review site.
Jay7




msg:4216117
 10:51 am on Oct 13, 2010 (gmt 0)

This is a bit long, please bear with me.

We're running a website where users can post reviews of business within our niche. It's a national site with over 5000 UK businesses listed and quite a lot of reviews. We rank very well in search engines and I believe we are getting pretty much 100% of available traffic, i.e. whoever wants to review a business within the niche will end up on our site. The volume of traffic is not fantastic in total numbers though, just in 3 digits a day.

We are working hard to ensure all reviews come from genuine clients of reviewed businesses. All reviews and comments are manually checked and approved. This is quite time consuming.

We run PPC ads on the site. The problem is, the income from the site is very low. We tried re-organising the ads to avoid banner blindness and there perhaps is a potential in further improvements but we need much higher income to make it worthwile.

We get approached by businesses with negative reviews with requests to be removed from the directory or have some of the negative reviews removed. We double check the reviews and most of the time keep them there. We get letters from lawyers but have never been taken to court in the last 4 years.

I had an idea yesterday. We wouldn't remove just negative reviews for money, I don't think it's morally right. However, if a business paid us a fee and we removed ALL details of the company from the directory (or ALL reviews, positive and negative), could that be considered morally right? Some businesses claim they lost tens of thousands of pounds in potential business with clients who read the reviews... would they be willing to pay a fee of e.g. 500 to be removed from the directory so that there will be no reviews any more? Can you see any potential legal issues there? Thanks.

 

caribguy




msg:4216123
 11:04 am on Oct 13, 2010 (gmt 0)

Can you see any potential legal issues there?

Yes, the legal term for this is extortion.

Our review site has a pretty heavy TOS and endorsement disclosure. Among other things, it specifies clearly that a) reviews are opinions and should not be used as a guidance, and b) that it anyone writing a review is responsible for what they write.

Visitors must register with a valid email in order to leave a review.

We do not publish / take reviews offline unless they contain ad-hominem remarks, are otherwise malicious, or when they are verifiably inaccurate. Irrelevant comments are sometimes edited out, and we notify the person who made the review about this.

Some of the listings are from customers, who pay us to be listed and receive a specific service through the site. We make no distinction between paying and free listings when it comes to moderating the reviews. Every single review is forwarded to the business, and other than some whining here and there we have not had any problems in three years of operating the site.

One avenue that you could look into is to let companies pay for an extended listing + services (and among other things for the privilege to reply to a negative review). i.e. registration is free for individuals but businesses are offered additional services and must pay for it.

BradleyT




msg:4216370
 6:07 pm on Oct 13, 2010 (gmt 0)

Sounds like a good set up for a lead generation site if the businesses you list would buy leads.

If I'm looking at business A, put up a nice ad that says, "Business B will beat any competitors price, click here for a quote" and goes to a lead quote form. Then you sell the lead for $10 or whatever the market price for leads is for that business. Depending on the businesses you could even do "Get quotes from 5 local businesses" and then you sell those leads for $5 each instead of $10 to one company.

It will require some work - creation of forms, working out lead prices, etc...but without increasing traffic that's how you go from 3 figures to 5 figures per month.

caribguy




msg:4216487
 11:46 pm on Oct 13, 2010 (gmt 0)

@Bradley, exactly. Turn a negative into a positive by establishing a symbiotic relationship with those business owners.

The last thing you want to do is to remove those pages. Content => Traffic => Revenue

You should keep building traffic and content any way you can. e.g. Get paid listings and have a 'featured' or 'widget businesses nearby' section at the top of unpaid pages. In-content links to sponsored listings, extra ad slots, supporting editorial articles, etc.. You'll find that there are a ton of creative options which don't involve removing your content.

xtempore




msg:4216503
 1:24 am on Oct 14, 2010 (gmt 0)

I'd say it's definitely a morally grey area.

Perhaps what you could do is take a middle-ground approach.

Have different listing levels, e.g. Free Listing and Premium Listing (paid).

Give the Premium Listing users some extra features, like links to there website, business hours, or whatever.

AND also give them the option to have Reviews reviewed.

You then review the reviews, and look for indication that reviews may be malicious. If you suspect that negative reviews are malicious then you remove them.

In this way you can say to those businesses that complain...
"With our Premium Listings we offer a service to investigate negative reviews. If such reviews appear to be suspicious in nature we will remove them."

By doing this, you get some revenue for looking at potentially malicious reviews, and businesses who have been maliciously targeted can get their listing cleared.

That sounds pretty solid both morally and fiscally.

HTH

Jay7




msg:4216582
 8:21 am on Oct 14, 2010 (gmt 0)

Thanks for the advice and ideas.

tedster




msg:4217372
 10:32 pm on Oct 15, 2010 (gmt 0)

I read a recent study that found visitors do not trust reviews unless there are at least some negatives ones included. Wish I could find that link for you, but I think the finding is a real one. It's certainly the way I tick.

So I'd say including a natural mix of reviews is a good idea, and I wouldn't feel good about offering to removing everything for money. The potential for abuse is way too big and you'd never be able to police it effectively.

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