One of my favorite sessions of the Search Engine Strategies Conference I recently attended was a panel presentation from a collection of companies creating local/social search directories. The panel included Chris DeVore, CEO and Co-Founder, Judy’s Book, Stu MacFarlane, CEO and Founder, Insider Pages (That’s Stu in the photo with me.), Paul Levine, General Manager, Yahoo Local, and Chris Tolles, VP, Sales and Marketing, Topix.net.
I guess we can call these types of sites directories, but what was clear from the discussion is that people aren’t really looking for directories, they are looking for answers, recommendations and user experiences. Social sites ask members and visitors to rate their experience, good and bad, with a business and post that information for others to view. Depending upon who you listen to, actual purchases made over the web only make up about 3% or all commerce, but buying decisions are made every day through research on the web.
Prospects are turning to sites like Insider Pages to find sources for everything from plumbers to piano tuners in almost every community in America. Highly rated small businesses appearing on social sites are starting to get noticed! This is a great new medium, there is no cost involved and the benefits far outweigh the little bit of work you may put in to start building your online reputation. Smart small businesses are starting to encourage online reviews. (Merely point out to your happy customers that they might want to share the love.) Other businesses are printing and using their online reviews offline. Businesses with the most ratings and reviews seem to do the best. Coupons and offers are a great way to get noticed too!
You need to start exploring this avenue now, if for no other reason than to manage your online reputation. Some businesses fear the impact of a negative review. I mean, you can’t make every customer happy, right? Most of the social directories have processes in place to fight spam and competitive revenge type reviews, but nothing works like a good offense. Make sure you are building reviews from happy clients. Send offline customers online and teach them how to use a site like Judy’s Book.