Let me confess, I almost never go out for dinner at a restaurant without checking the rating of the establishment on TripAdvisor or Google. How about you?
The same goes for booking a hotel room for a vacation, buying a car, looking for a physician, or hiring a tradesman. Nobody wants to have a bad experience and waste time and money on unverified services or goods.
“85% of consumers trust online reviews as much as personal recommendations” – Bright Local.
These statistics and your personal experience should bring you to the conclusion that a web review service is in high demand now and can be a driving link in creating a chain between customers and businesses.
Isn’t it time to start thinking about creating your own review website?
Why build a review website?
A review website is basically a database of products, businesses, and people with a reputation rating and feedback left by users who have already dealt with them.
Of course, there is no sense in cloning monsters of the industry such as TripAdvisor, Foursquare, Facebook or Yelp. But, still, you have at least three options for how you can compete:
Take up a unique niche for your review website. For example, going to Georgia, a country considered a motherland for wine (first mention at c. 6000 BC), you definitely would like to buy a bottle or two to bring it back home. But the variety of producers and types of wine is so huge that you will definitely need professional advice. If only you had a wine recommendations app on your smartphone!
Make up brand-new idea features that haven’t yet been implemented. This is difficult, but real. Just look around to identify people’s needs when it comes to reviews that may still be absent in existing sites.
Create a review website with the same features as your competitors, but improve usability and user experience. Some websites, including Facebook, are too cluttered with information and may be difficult to navigate through when searching for exact feedbacks. Take a chance to create a simpler customer-centered UI for specific products reviews.
Here is a brief categorization of review websites by purpose:
Before we dive into how to create a review website, let’s take a look at which business models can underline this industry. At first glance, it may seem that such “advising” platforms work on total altruism; however, this is not the case. There can be several revenue sources defined that nourish these kinds of businesses, including:
Display of third-party businesses’ banner ads on your website.
Sponsored Ads (for example, Yelp and TripAdvisor provide businesses an opportunity to show sponsored ads placed at the top of pages, including on relevant search result pages and competitor business pages).
Commission from hotels, restaurants, and other businesses for each redirect from your website that leads to the purchase of their goods or services.
Commision from bookings or purchases of goods or services directly on your website.
A business can buy a subscription to get advanced control over their business’ page on the website (use more marketing options to showcase their business at its best).
Now, as we outline the niche and business model, let’s dive deeper down into creating a feature list to prepare for starting a review website.
Search is the essential mechanism of a services or products review website, as your users should be able to quickly get relevant results on their requests. For convenience and better UX, provide your website with a good system for sorting, filtering, and categorization so that users are able to search all possible methods.
In most of our projects, we implement Elasticsearch technology, which is considered to be the most sophisticated searching engine today. It allows users to instantly retrieve results even in projects where a database is constantly updating and growing.
Expedia, a world-known travel booking and review platform, uses Elasticsearch to guarantee smooth search experiences through up to 1TB a day with 300K events per second.
Another example is a project from our New Zealand customer, No Cowboys, a review website for local tradesmen, from builders to web designers. By means of Elasticsearch, the data is quickly indexed in the DB and users can enjoy the high speed of the application response. The automatic filter during the search takes into account a formula that includes the proximity to the client, ratings of businesses, and recency of the written reviews. Users can apply other searching parameters to search by category or different combinations of filters.
To enhance customer experience, you may also provide top ratings, featured lists, and similar listings sections to stimulate further exploring. For example, look at the neat and explicit design of OpenTable’s top rating:
Or Expedia’s Similar Listings section:
2. Submit a Review
There are several options when it comes to how users can submit a review on your website. The most frequent method is by simply adding a star-rating and writing feedback in a special form. The rating can be split into scoring on several parameters and then summed up into the overall score. For example, when rating a hotel at Booking.com, users may estimate their stay on the following parameters:
Booking and some other services allow reviews to be written and submitted only by customers who have booked through their platform and used their service (for example, in the case of a hotel, someone who has stayed at the property). This guarantees that a review comes from a real customer who can judge the services by their own personal experience.
As the submit a review action is a key feature, it should be intuitively easy to find and use. You can propose that reviewers write a review in special fields, fill out a survey form or pre-populate text or write the review for them, like Clutch does, allowing a 15-minute phone call interview option:
3. User Profiles
Though many websites do not require registration if somebody wants to rate and write a review, they do usually prompt for at least an email or social sign-on to be able to verify the reviewer or give the business a chance to answer and respond to negative or positive reviews. User profiles may include such features as the possibility to edit and delete their profile information, add photos, view ratings, reviews and messages from other users, as well as change privacy settings and user preferences. If you collect sensitive user data, be aware and ensure you comply with GDPR rules.
Dashboards allow businesses to view the statistics of valuable parameters at a glance. Both businesses and reviewers may want to see their progress on the website. Also, you as a website owner may have a Dashboard in your Admin panel to control all user activity.
For example, in TripAdvisor’s traveler profiles, a user can see their total miles traveled, how many places they have visited in a percentage, and even visualize their trips on the map.
Dashboards for businesses usually include such data as a number of feedbacks, overall rating, positive ratings, negative ratings, number of profile and contact info views, and other more specific metrics including number of bookings (purchases, jobs etc.).
When making a review website, give users the opportunity to book or buy goods and services they have just found on your website. For example, having read a positive review about a doctor, they may want to make an appointment right away. Why not allow them to do this from your website? Thus, customers obtain an easy method for reaching the business while the business will see the impact of your service on their conversions.
To add a touch of competition and interaction, you may create a system of praising your contributors with badges, points, or expert levels. Yelp tries to boost up user activity by nominating “elite” status to the most engaged users by the results each year. The privilege of being an Elite Yelper is the opportunity to participate in a variety of exclusive social events arranged by the partners of the platform.
Be careful not to be blamed for “buying” reviews with points that can be redeemed for specific benefits. TripAdvisor, though having a large system of points and badges for each user activity, does not exchange them for any goods or discounts. They are only made to uplift a user’s reputation in the community.
7. Automate review requests
Getting feedback is extremely vital for any business, but it may take a lot of time to reach out to each customer personally. That’s why a good option will be to implement a service in your business that will automatically send out emails with a review invitation to customers who made a purchase. This can be done through a customizable email or SMS template service, implemented as part of your business admin panel or profile.
In order to encourage users to write new reviews, TripAdvisor started an email campaign notifying users of their review performance and showing the number of reviews left to reach the next expert level. As reported by Aaron Hung, Senior Director at TripAdvisor on APAC, this campaign already resulted in a 185% increase in click-through rate, while about 47% of users who opened email added their new post on the website.
The advantage of creating a review website is that your users will create content themselves when they add reviews; however, it’s still important to try to attract new visitors with informative articles, news overviews, guidelines, recommendations, surveys, and research.
9. Integration with CRM
Integrating a review website with a Customer Relationship Management system allows you to automate a great part of your daily sales and management routine.
Before hiring Greenice, our client – NoCowboys – did all accounting in Google Docs. We developed an Automated Master Spreadsheet feature that simplified the process of managing customers’ subscriptions, renewals, and payments.
10. Spam and fraud detection
As reviews are an important tool for influencing customers and their purchase decisions, it is to be expected that companies will try to use this to increase positive ratings of goods and services by paying people to write fake reviews. This problem mostly affects major review platforms such as Amazon, Yelp, and Google. Smaller players should also be aware of the growing spam and fake reviews issue.
To prevent fraud, website owners take measures such as verification of IP addresses, emails, phone numbers, adding anti-spam services, and identifying suspicious behavior patterns. The website may also allow users to report suspicious reviews which can then be verified by website managers.
For our review website projects, we also take measures on anti-spam protection and identifying unusual behavior. Thus, to prevent spam, we use third-party services that scan systems for spam patterns and flag them and delete fake reviews. We also have blacklists to filter bot-generated emails, phone numbers, and content.
How to implement this to your business
Reviews are a powerful driver of sales that are now actively used by companies. It is not easy to compete with the major players including review platforms like Yelp, TripAdvisor, Google, Facebook, but this doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t try. There are multiple possibilities when it comes to how you can stand out among others either by taking up a specific niche, providing better usability, or implementing brand new features. Also, think over the possibilities for monetization. What would work best for you: advertisements, affiliates, subscriptions, transactions or something else?
The next step before launching a review website is to create the list of features that may vary depending on your business needs. First and foremost, there should be a quick and easy-to-use search to find objects, recommendations of other users, and the possibility to submit a new review. To stimulate user activity, you can automatically send out review invitations after each completed purchase or propose elements of gamification with a bonus system.
Keep in mind security and data protection, as well as anti-spam and detecting fake reviews to can protect your reputation.
Now – give it a shot. Would you kindly take a minute to write a review on this article in the comments below? Was it useful? What topics would you like us to write on next?