The reason testimonials and reviews are so powerful is because they provide a third-party (and hopefully, unbiased) opinion of what actual users think about products and services. Google knows this and considers reviews and citations an important factor in local search rankings.
Studies have shown that not only do long customer stories (2.5 times longer than reviews) lead to increased, more relevant search results, but increasing website interactivity with fresh, real-world content like customer questions and answers can increase sales conversions and lower customer service costs. For some business owners online reviews have become far more useful than the traditional print yellow pages and savvy business owners have figured out proactive ways to use online review sites.
But there are concerns that Google is now trying to dominate the local search landscape with new developments, some of which place user reviews at the heart of their new features. Google’s new browser add-on called “Sidewiki” allows anyone to contribute comments about any web page. According to Google, Sidewiki entries use an algorithm that promotes the most useful, high-quality entries. It takes into account feedback from users, previous entries made by the same author and many other signals developed.
How Google uses these entries to rank web pages remains to be seen, but most marketers agree that the impacts of this are far reaching, because it includes every web page on the internet in Google’s own social network, with consumer opinion – both positive and negative – displayed every time a user opens a web page. With this new feature, Google has shifted power firmly away from corporate web teams and placed it in the hands of the consumer.
The good thing is that Sidewiki entries are tied to a Google profile. There’s no guarantee that the profile isn’t bogus, but the advantage is that no anonymous entries are allowed. Also, Google will analyze language so that “stupid comments” are automatically discounted or removed.
Some marketers surmise that user profiles will be moderated by a quality algorithm, so more influential, active or powerful users, with more powerful Google Profiles or Personal PageRank, will have more influence in the comments. This is very likely the case, as measurements of Twitter influence have demonstrated in the past. It’s usually a small minority of influencers who create the most comments and influence the majority of users.
So how do businesses make use of this feature? The same way they bring newly-created linkbait to the notice of influential bloggers – by cultivating customer evangelists and monitoring social networks for influential voices and alerting them to content that is interesting and valuable. Sidewiki is just another way for Google to introduce a new feature of quality control into its already formidable algorithm and ensure that SEO and website promotion experts don’t get too complacent with their efforts.
Posted on Tuesday, January 12th, 2010
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