Local Business Search / Review Scene in Australia

After reading Monte Huebsch’s Local Search article, I thought that in a similar vein, I would provide a summary of the local business review scene in Australia, as this is a sub-set of local search and is an area that is definitely heating up.

I have focused on a range of websites that provide you the ability to review a range of local businesses across a broad range of categories, and as such, haven’t included some of the eat/drink type user review websites such as eatability or yourrestaurants. Its certainly not an exhaustive list and I’ll either tack on to it, or write a second post some time in the future.

Meg highlighted the importance of online reputation management – with half a dozen or start-ups in the reviewing scene in Australia, if you’re a small business, it is highly likely that your business will be reviewed online in the not too distant future.
Here’s the line-up:

Word Of Mouth On The Web


Based in/website focus: Melbourne

Who’s behind it: Fiona Adler / Brad Bond

Pitch: ” platform for word-of-mouth information so that recommendations can be stored and accessed to help people find the best local businesses.”

Launched: July 2007

Summary:

Word of Mouth On The Web (WOMOW) are a recent entrant in the reviewing space that appears to be gaining some traction, with over 1200 reviews to date.
A user has the ability to review businesses across Australia, although the majority of reviews seem to be in Melbourne, where WOMOW is based.

WOMOW uses a weighted reviewing model to ensure that business ratings can be trusted, taking into account factors mainly relating to a user’s previous reviewing history on the site (read more on why weighting reviews can be worthwhile).

  • Growing number of user reviews
  • Yet to establish an advertising network of local businesses


VouchorGrouch


Based in/website focus: Brisbane

Who’s behind it: Aaron Harwood

Pitch:
” VouchorGrouch is a community driven business listing web site “

Launched: May 2007

Summary:

VouchorGrouch ” enables you to search for businesses and services using keywords and locations”. VouchorGrouch offers more of a directory experience than say WOMOW, in that a search feature is placed in a prominent position on the home page, with a ‘Popular Tag’ cloud.

User vs business content is roughly 50/50, with user content consisting mostly of short comments, rather than blog-like reviews.
In terms of business advertising, VouchorGrouch are going down the free vs premium listing path

  • Good balance between user and business features
  • Yet to establish an advertising network of local businesses
  • Small amount of reviews

Rave About It

Based in/website focus: Sydney

Who’s behind it: Mark Rimmer / Tim Griffin

Pitch: “Rave About It aims to provide an enjoyable way in which users can search, rate and discuss what they think of services in their local area and beyond”

Launched: October 2006

Summary:

Rave About It launched in October 2006 (disclosure: I am the co-founder of this website) is a small privately funded start-up that consists of a website as well as reviewing technology that can be outsourced. Through using a prominent ‘What’ / Where’ search box, the website takes on a business directory-type appearance, unlike say the forum-based appearance of Nook (see comments below).

In May 2006, Rave About It outsourced its reviewing technology to dLook providing dLook users the ability to review any business on their website.

  • Open website that scaleable reviewing technology
  • Even balance between business and user content
  • Small reviewing base
  • Privately funded


Nook

Based in/website focus: Melbourne

Who’s behind it: Feedcorp / Leader Newspapers, (Victorian community publication arm of News Limited)

Pitch:
Local Search meets Blogs meets Community Newspaper

Launched: December 2006

Reviewing:

In order to write reviews on nook, a user is required to create their own ‘nook’, or blog space. Once this is set up, a user may write a ‘blog entry’- type review of a business, or can write a review through a forum environment, which other users can comment on.
In terms of user participation, nook appears to be doing very well. A quick search indicates that a fair amount of ‘nooks’ have been created and forum/review participation is healthy.

Reviewing in nook is limited to businesses Victoria, whilst they are in beta (according to their sign-up page). Business information is drawn in through truelocal , although this would not be immediately apparent to a user.
It is also not obvious from the home page that Leader Newspapers is behind nook, although nook has been promoted in local newspapers to draw users to the site.
Any obvious corporate branding on the site would most likely detract from the ‘community’ feel, so this was probably an intentional (and wise) move by nook.

The formula appears to be working well, although nook will have to tread carefully when it decides how deeply it wants to integrate with truelocal and also how it wants to scale.

In terms of site models, nook is a ‘Word on the Street’ environment, whereas truelocal, as an established local search website with significant traffic, represents an established brand. How reviews are managed on the respective sites will be entirely different – truelocal is strongly focused towards the business owner, whilst nook is focused on the user.

For an interesting read, have a look at Rachel Hinman’s ‘Shades of Online Community’.

  • Tightly-knit community with a growing number of reviews
  • Solid financial backing
  • Hyper-local sites are difficult to monetise – see Backfence as a case study.


Some others to look out for

TotalTravel

I included Total Travel due to the increasing amount of work that they are doing in the reviewing space. Total Travel feature businesses that fall into some of the most well-reviewed business categories including:

  • Accomodation
  • Dining
  • Health

Billed as being:

Australia’s largest online travel directory featuring travel guides and discounts with over 105,000 travel businesses...”

They have a significant potential influence trends in the reviewing space in Australia.

  • Huge traffic (Over 65,000 visitors each day)
  • Well established advertising network of local businesses
  • large number of businesses with one review (do people trust a tourist’s opinions as much as a local’s?)

Nearme

Based in/website focus: Sydney

Who’s behind it: Sensis

Pitch: “ The handy guide to your local area”

Launched: November 2006 (approx.)

Summary:

Nearme is a Sensis concept site that includes features of a search engine, classifieds and forum environment. The ability to review local businesses is a feature of the site, and they have been included in this list as it will be interesting to see whether this model takes off. Not much to report, but I’ll update this in the future.

  • $ Sensis
  • Significant potential to tap into Sensis’s network of local content
  • ‘Corporate’ image may result in difficulties in building a community


Truelocal

Truelocal announced this week in a Press Release, err newspaper article (It was News Ltd writing about one of their own websites after all ;) ) that they would be adding a ‘ratings and reviewing’ feature to the site in the near future (which they alluded to in their site code a while ago.
Indeed this will have an influence on how some of other major directories implement reviewing, although they are not the forerunners in Australia – dLook have had this feature since May 2007.


Google Maps

Much has been said Google’s entry in to the reviewing arena, and this post is rapidly growing in length, so I won’t expand on it too much here! As Stephan Uhrenbacher from Qype, a German local review website, mentioned it is probably not be wise to compete head-to-head with Google, so local review sites may be better off thinking about how Google can aggregate their data.


Future

Regardless of the flavour of the above reviewing websites, consumer opinion is here to stay. In the past year the reviewing scene in terms of variety of websites and level of media interest has definitely grown.
The growing local search scene certainly has room for a variety of reviewing websites but some of the main challenges that are common to them all are:

  • How to create and sustain a critical mass of reviewers?
  • Deciding on a site model that is most suitable for local advertising
  • Optimising your site for search engines – what’s the best way to do this?
  • Educating small businesses in Australia about the benefits of being user reviews

Certainly interesting times ahead..

Update: 12/1/08

Two more entrants in this growing business review space: Docoloco and most recently, Rayv (no affiliation ;) )

This entry was posted in Australian Local Search, Docoloco, Rayv.com.au, Sensis, VouchorGrouch, Word of Mouth on the Web, dlook, nook.com.au, raveaboutit.com.au, truelocal, user reviews. Bookmark the permalink.

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