Review App

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Archive for July, 2008

Resolving online reviewer disputes

Thursday, July 17th, 2008

Last week I wrote about fake user reviews and how they are generally easy to spot and basically harmless for sites with good review flow. Today I wanted to talk about how consumer review website managers can resolve online reviewer disputes while minimizing editorial intervention.

To make this discussion a bit more concrete I’ll frame this with an actual situation we dealt with on our mountain biking website. Our site includes reviews of local bike shops (among other things) and from time to time folks use the reviews to rant about poor customer service experiences. In this particular case a reviewer wrote about a very specific dispute he had with a shop owner and ended his review with the standard “I will never shop here again” postscript.

Shortly after this review was posted the shop owner contacted us with a different take on the dispute and asked if we could remove the review. Of course we didn’t know who was right and who was wrong in this case and we politely informed the shop owner that we could not remove the review. We considered offering to edit out the details under dispute (the amount of money spent, the number of days the bike sat in the shop, etc.) but ultimately decided to give the shop owner a chance to reply to the allegations through a “review of the review.” You may have seen these on other sites like Digg or eBay where the “review of the review” is visually attached to the review under dispute. But of course this begs the question: When does it end? Do you allow a review of the review of the review?

Fortunately this situation ended peacefully and the originally reviewer did not seek to post a reply to the reply. In the end we found out from the shop owner that this customer had been posting the same comments on half a dozen other mountain bike sites to get even for his perceived slight. In the process of working with this shop owner we gained the respect of a potential customer (advertiser) by simply giving him a voice in the review process.

When building your consumer review website it is important to consider your policies for managing and policing online reviews. Consider ways to make your site an unbiased source of fair and useful information and your reviewers (and reviewees) will thank you.

Amazon Associates

Wednesday, July 16th, 2008

If you’re looking for a way to monetize your website content look no further than one of the first and largest online affiliate programs, Amazon Associates. In 1996 when we were building our first websites, Amazon Associates was pretty much the ONLY way to monetize a site. The program works on a referral basis: You send your visitors to Amazon, the visitorss make a purchase, you get to keep a portion of the sale (around 5% or so).

Over the years Amazon Associates has added features and tools that give webmasters unmatched flexibility in generating referrals. I won’t get into all the different link types and web services that Amazon makes available through the affiliate program but suffice it to say if you can imagine it, they’ve done it. From Omakase banners, individual product links, custom storefronts, and much more, Amazon continues to push innovation in the affiliate game.

Our experience with Amazon Associates has been mainly positive over the 10 years or so that we’ve been members. Amazon has among the highest conversion rates in the industry meaning once you send your visitors to Amazon they’re more likely to make a purchase than on any other site. For example, our Amazon referrals convert to purchase around 3-5% of the time while other programs we’ve been in usually see 1% or less.

Amazon also offers products for virtually every niche you can possibly imagine, meaning there is a good chance that Amazon carries products your site visitors will enjoy. Of course there are books on just about every subject imaginable (and Amazon carries more of them than anyone else) but don’t forget about other stuff. Running a camping website? You can easily link your visitors to tents, sleeping bags, and camp stoves for sale on Amazon. Search the site for yourself and you’ll be amazed at what Amazon is selling these days.

Many webmasters use the Amazon Associates program as an important source of revenue and you should definitely consider it for your site as well. It’s free to sign up and low risk – the only thing you can lose is your time in adding the links to your site!

Webmaster tools: Quantcast

Tuesday, July 15th, 2008

Last week I talked about Alexa rankings and how the value of thosee rankings is questionable at best. Quantcast provides a similar free service but take a different approach which seems to yield more accurate info.

Quantcast gives webmasters a code snippet to place on their site to ensure that every visit is counted, regardless of whether visitors have installed a browser plug-in. Quantcast also estimates traffic for websites without the code snippet but for low traffic sites the accuracy of these estimates is on par with Alexa.

Unlike Alexa, Quantcast gives webmasters and advertisers alike insight into visitor demographics. The screenshot below shows the demographics for our camping and hiking website, TripleBlaze.com. As you can see TripleBlaze attracts a middle aged, middle income, slightly female audience. This is great for advertisers to understand but it’s also helpful for webmasters seeking to tailor design and content to their core audience. I wasn’t able to find any information on where Quantcast gets their demographic data but my guess is either a panel of web surfers (similar to Nielson) or zip-code based demography. If you need to rely on this info for large scale decision making I suggest looking into the methodology further.

Quantcast also provides tools for comparing visits and pageviews between multiple websites. This means you can keep tabs on your competition while understanding the online traffic patterns that affect your industry. Of course you can also see how your site ranks compared to your competitors but we already know this doesn’t mean much – though sometimes it can provide a nice ego boost ;)

If you’re looking for a free internet rating service for research or finding advertisers, Quantcast is a great option. Sign up for your free tracking code to see who your site is reaching and how you stack up against the competition.

Review App contest: Best concept wins free software!

Monday, July 14th, 2008

We’re giving away a free Review App installation worth thousands to the best idea for a new consumer review website. We’ll even throw in 2 years of free hosting services for the winner to be announced in September. Just post your idea in the comments section of this post. Be concise but specific about your idea – after all we need to understand it to judge it!

For those of you who might be afraid of sharing online and that others may “steal” your idea: Don’t worry. For one thing, it’s probable that your idea has already been attempted, completed, or is under construction by someone else as we speak. It’s ok. Our experience has taught us that the idea is such a small part of starting a business – in the end success comes down to your product, marketing, operation, etc. Review App is here to help with those things.

So tell us your wild ideas for a Review App website – who knows, you could have your very own professional site before you know it!

Fake user reviews

Friday, July 11th, 2008

The Bed Breakfast Traveler posted a provocative question on their blog this week: Do fake online reviews hurt businesses? Admittedly I hadn’t given much thought to fake reviews since in my own experience they are few and far between but it’s an interesting question to consider.

Online reviewers can be motivated to post reviews for a number of reasons as we’ve discussed on this blog before. But sometimes a reviewer’s motivation can be deceitful as he or she uses online reviews to harm a competitor’s business. Of course we’ve also talked about the effects of negative online reviews here before (not as detrimental as one might think) but the fact is that the internet makes it very easy to share unfair or untrue comments about people and businesses with a wide audience.

Fake reviews aren’t all negative either – some business owners may use online reviews to paint a glowing picture of their business while posing as a satisfied customer. Admittedly these types of fake reviews often walk a fine line between self-promotion and deception but it takes just one dissatisfied customer who is duped by a glowing review to come back and give online readers the real scoop. A 5-star rating quickly becomes a 3-star rating after just a single bad review.

Just how prevalent are “fake reviews” online? While I don’t have any concrete numbers to share with you (mostly because it’s impossible to tell for certain which reviews are fake) I can tell you that many times it is obvious which reviews should be taken with a grain of salt. As you’ve probably noticed most regular folks aren’t good actors so it follows that there aren’t many good fiction writers out there either. Fake 5-star reviews are the easiest to spot because they’re often so over the top they are just unbelievable. Fake negative reviews often lack details about what the reviewer dislikes and often fail to include a single positive statement (even the toughest critics always find at least one good to say).

Fake online reviews can be a problem on some websites but as a webmaster and a user you can trust in the wisdom of the crowd to minimize the effects of the fakes. Next week I’ll talk about some specific things you can do to resolve online reviewer disputes – good info for webmasters and reviewees alike!

Alexa rankings: Do they mean anything?

Thursday, July 10th, 2008

There are several services out there that seek to rank websites based on the number of viewers (traffic) each website receives. Alexa is an Amazon.com service that uses a panel of users who have installed a special browser plug-in to estimate website traffic. The browser plug-in is free and is available to anyone who wishes to use it.

It’s difficult to say how many folks have installed the Alexa browser plug-in but I’m estimating it’s between very few and not many. As such Alexa has a hard time providing useful estimates for low traffic websites since it’s pretty unlikely someone in the tiny Alexa pool will visit a site with very little traffic. When an Alexa user does visit a site, that site’s ranking can quickly jump from 10 million to 500,000 in a short period of time. So don’t stress if your site ranking goes up and down like a roller coaster – it’s normal.

So what is Alexa good for? For starters, it is a pretty good tool for understanding relative traffic patterns among websites. Plug in your site and your competitors’ sites and you can see how your traffic and rankings compare. You can also see which sites link to your site and your competitors’ sites and also get a list of related sites if you’re not sure who your competitors are.

Unlike some website ranking services, Alexa doesn’t give you an estimate of pageviews or visitors. Instead, Alexa displays a cryptic ‘reach percentage’ which is a measure of the percentage of global internet traffic a website receives. So, for example, cnn.com has a global daily reach of around 1.5% meaning 1.5% of global internet users view the site each day. But this begs the question: how many global internet users are there? Alexa isn’t telling us so the measure is largely useless unless we’re comparing relative numbers between sites.

If you already have a website, check out your Alexa ranking today and see how you’re doing compared to your competition!

Monetizing your website: CafePress

Wednesday, July 9th, 2008

Cafepress is a site that allows you to create custom products with your logo or design for free. Just upload your design, choose your product (a t-shirt, for example) and set the price of your product above the Cafepress minimum. As customers purchase your items, you’ll get paid the difference between the price of the item and the Cafepress minimum price. No risk to you and you get your brand and designs listed on the Cafepress website for free. Sweet.

We’ve created some products on Cafepress ourselves and while the revenue hasn’t been spectacular the value of testing new designs on Cafepress is huge. On one of our websites we sell t-shirts and stickers and every couple years we come out with a new design but we’re never sure which ones will sell the best. Printing t-shirts or stickers yourself can be a large capital investment so it’s smart to do your homework before laying out the cash. Within a couple weeks we can usually tell which design is the most successful, giving us the confidence to place a larger order offline.

Cafepress also helps spread your brand to new and potential consumers. We created t-shirt designs for our mountain biking website a couple years ago and listed them on Cafepress.com under the cycling/mountain biking category. When folks surf Cafepress looking for products that fit their interests, they often come across our branded merchandise and sometimes even make it over to our website to see what we’re about. Even if they don’t, it’s a free brand impression that we might not have received otherwise.

Cafepress offers an easy and low-risk way to monetize your website while spreading your brand to potential new customers. Toss up a few designs today and see what works!

Review App add-on: Calendar integration

Tuesday, July 8th, 2008

One of our clients needed an event calendar for a consumer review website so we decided to create a calendar plug-in for Review App. The plug-in allows online users to add events to a calendar and even link calendar events to listing pages. For example, if your site has listings and reviews for concert venues you can link individual shows to the venue listings via the calendar.

Review App calendar events work just like listings: you set the input fields and permissions plus you can set up as many individual calendars as you like. Editing and deleting events and fields is a snap and the admin interface is integrated into your Review App dashboard.

The Review App calendar is just one example of the powerful ways you can extend your consumer review website’s functionality. Best of all, the Review App calendar add-on is free to existing Review App customers!

Making a living online

Monday, July 7th, 2008

Blah – back to work after a long holiday weekend. What if you didn’t have to go back to work and you were your own boss? You could be making your living online and I’m not talking about selling Beanie Babies on eBay or joining Quixtar. Here’s how I’m doing it.

First off, the way I make my living online doesn’t involve any scams or get rich quick schemes – just good old fashioned hard work. When I tell people I make my living doing “web stuff” most people assume I design web pages and to some degree I do – but I’m my own client. My web business is creating online communities and sharing information about everything from mountain bike trails to campgrounds to vacation rentals online and getting paid for the advertisements I run on the websites I own. What would have been too good to be true in 1999 (making money off online ads) is indeed possible in 2008.

Beyond selling advertisements, some of my sites sell other things like online subscriptions and merchandise. On this blog I’ve talked about some ways to monetize a website and in the coming days and weeks I’ll talk about more of the programs I’m involved in including Google Adsense, Amazon Associates, and Commission Junction. There are countless ways to monetize a website but none of it means anything unless you have traffic.

And your website won’t get any traffic if you don’t have any content. And you won’t get any content unless you have Review App ;) Well, okay, Review App isn’t the only way to collect and manage online content but it really does help. We’ve rolled out 3 Review App sites ourselves and we’re in the process of transferring one of our older, larger sites to the Review App platform. Review App honestly makes managing multiple websites easier and gives us the tools we need to grow our content and our traffic (and ultimately our revenue).

The main purpose of this blog is to share how we grow, manage, and monetize our content communities and secondarily to introduce you to the Review App platform. Keep reading the Internet Entrepreneur Blog to learn how to make your living online!

Yahoo! raises domain renewal prices 350%!

Thursday, July 3rd, 2008

Just when it seems that Yahoo! can’t make the customer experience any worse, somehow they find a way to sink to a new low. Back in 2005 I wrote about my difficulty canceling Yahoo! services (the ‘cancel’ form was mysteriously broken for months) and more recently about my Yahoo! Finance portfolio link redirecting to the Yahoo! search page. Now Yahoo! is raising the prices for domain renewals from $10 a year to $34.95 per year, a 350% increase!

Of course the price of everything is going up these days – from gas prices to food – so a little domain inflation is understandable – but 350%!? Even more frustrating is the fact that the cost of a new domain at Yahoo! remains the same – $9.95 for the first year. It’s a classic gotcha move – you don’t want to lose the domain after you’ve had it a year so what else are you gonna do but pay whatever Yahoo! says? Before July 1, 2008 domain renewals cost the same as new domain registrations ($10). If you’re thinking of registering a new domain, don’t let the intro price fool you – go with 1and1 or another registrar instead.

Fortunately the domain cancellation form is working now so when I received a renewal notice in my email yesterday I rushed to cancel before I was hit with the inflated charge. Yahoo! even *appears* to make it easy for you to switch registrars, giving you the necessary unlock code on the cancellation page; I guess they aren’t even interested in keeping their domain customers. Unbelievable how fast this company is sinking…