Who is managing online business reputations?

Online recommendation hubs like Yelp, CitySearch, and others provide a way for people to share their consumer experiences beyond their immediate network of friends. A business’s reputation among its clientele has always been the best indicator of excellence, and such information is essential for search engines to direct people’s queries efficiently. In the past the natural progression of the web has been from destination pages to search; I see that occurring once again with consumer review sites.

When searching for small businesses online, traditional PageRanking is largely inadequate, and a transition toward “Reputational Ranking” needs to be made. Many of the tools necessary for this transition are still falling into place. The veracity of reviews must be verified to some degree (i.e. Opentable, ZocDoc), the recommendation sites have further growing to do, and something really must be done to aggregate recommendation data which is spread across numerous disconnected sites.

Google has started to accomplish this through their Map APIs. Review sites utilizing their APIs allow review data to be pushed back to business profiles for companies that have established themselves with Google’s Local Business Center. I also really like what Gnip is doing, since setting up protocols to aggregate and push this data to where it is needed is the most effective method.

Comprehensive reputation data is additionally important as a promotional tool for companies. Ratepoint has the concept right, but they are just one site with one set of data. In order for their service to be most effective they must pull data from all available review sites. Diverse sources make reviews more reliable, and the data much more useful in general. I see search engines as best equipped to handle reputation management services since they will be already collecting and processing data like the overall size of the rating pool, short and long term rating averages, ratings velocity, and other trends for their ranking algorithm.

Why does any of this matter?

•Companies producing recommendation data will/should be incorporating protocols that will push their data out and make it more available and relevant

•Search Engines will be seriously reconsidering their ranking algorithms to more accurately reflect “rankings” of small businesses

•Businesses will need to plan ahead for the future of search and customer interactions

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