What You Need to Know about Review Site Ads

 In Articles, Reviews

A restaurant marketing budget can be tough, especially since the field seems to be changing every day (“Wait, is Urbanspoon now Zomato??”).

You need a clear view of your goals and options.

Let’s take a close look at a popular option for capitalizing on restaurant reviews, review site ads.

Do you need to pay for them?

Online reviews are the new word-of-mouth, and sites with paid ads can do a lot of the talking. But does that mean you invest? Or should you stay put with your free exposure and explore other options?

There have been some serious questions about public review site models in general—such as the fake review epidemic (see here and here). As a business that wants to stay in business, open review sites can make adjustments to how they work, but they still aren’t perfect.

Consider the upsides, complications, and downsides advertising professionals have learned.

The upsides

Here are some of the leaders of the pack in restaurant exposure:

  • Eat24 (part of GrubHub, purchased from Yelp; slated to disappear soon)
  • OpenTable (reservation platform of Priceline.com)
  • Gayot (primary reviews by professional critics)
  • Zagat (subsidiary of Google)
  • Zomato (previously Urbanspoon)
  • Yelp
  • Google

If they’ve got so much swag, why not advertise with them? With 88 percent of Internet users looking to online reviews for help in judging a business, these sites are high in general consumer awareness. And statistics (as well as revenues and booking rates) show that people trust the opinions they find online.

The fact is that online reviews influence your bottom line. If you seem to be getting positive results on a review site, you might consider purchasing advertising, since your ads stand a chance of getting exposure—at least internal to that site’s website or app. Review site dashboards can even provide some limited metrics to help you figure out things like page views and ad clicks.

However, drive carefully. There might be more here than meets the eye.

The complications

The assumption consumers make when they look to popular review sites is that they are seeing an accurate reflection of your restaurant through accurate and (at least mostly) honest reviews, as well as a dependable method for posting them.

The fact is that open review sites, even if managed by an algorithm, cannot be perfectly policed. Literally anyone can post. Sites cannot filter all fake reviews (which are always written to harm your restaurant, whether 1-star or 4-star), and they filter out some real reviews (including 4- and 5-star reviews!).

There has also been some professional shade thrown on popular review sites for boasting big numbers at the expense of clear rules and metrics. An algorithm which chooses which reviews to hide and filter and which to allow doesn’t always make the reasonable or right decisions. And the logic behind it can’t be lifted, adjusted, or controlled by users. Similarly, the mechanisms that control how your advertising dollars are used can be mysterious, vague, and even misleading. How does geotargeting exactly work, for example, and should you really be paying for it? (See “downsides” below.)

Review sites are still popular, but user frustrations and questions have continued. You want to know where your money is going, and whether it’s worth it. The bigger the review site, the more unwieldy the amounts of data they’re working with, and the harder that is to track. In that moment, you need clarity, not a sales pitch. That may be too tall an order for customer service at a review monolith.

The downsides

Here’s what marketers have seen:

If you use a no-contract, pay-as-you-go service, you might be getting what you pay for. For example:

Though you can get decent internal exposure on a review site and app, it may drive little traffic from their site to your restaurant’s website. And though popular review sites know how to fly to the top of a Google search, they often drive successful searches back to their website, not to your website, or even to your individual page on their website.

Targeting is also a bit of a mess.

Geotargeting is limited depending on your industry. It’s good to have options here, but a review site may predetermine which options you get. For example, a marketing service (presumably non-location-based) may have a wider range than a paper store (location-based). Depending on where your clients actually are, you may not be given an option that actually fits your need. Options might also come locked into increments—say, 5 miles at a time—and may waste money by under- or over-shooting your target.

Targeted searches are also tricky. Watch for keywords in targeting. If you have to select word targeting based on categories, not keywords, don’t waste your ad dollars. Using categories only means that the specific keywords the review site uses to correspond to those categories are under their control, not yours. So you may find yourself paying for keyword searches that are irrelevant or even harmful to your SEO. You simply don’t know exactly what you’re working with, so it’s difficult to measure success or improvement.

Finally, demographic targeting: make sure the review site gives you an option for different age groups, so you won’t just be swinging to a younger audience, whether you want to or not.

In summary

Here’s the main question to ask yourself:

What exposure can I get from review site ads that I’m not already getting from building positive reviews for free?

The answer may be, unless open review sites improve and clarify their methods, not much.

To improve online reviews and clarity on your investments, try a free demo of Original Review. We represent a new way of doing things. Get out of the guessing game. Grow with direct customer feedback and data that stays in your hands.

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