The Online Reviews Bait and Switch

Since I seem to be the only Internet Business Development adviser talking about this “racket”, the tough part is to describe what it is quickly, in an easy to understand format.

What essentially happens is

  1. A business (you?) use a reviews website to build the content that generates valuable leads. They (the 3rd party review website) get you to encourage your customers to leave reviews about your business (that gets them into search results – RIGHT NEXT TO YOUR BUSINESS LISTING). This makes sense as it generates leads/sales for your business because good reviews help convert those searchers into buyers. All Good.
  2. However, after some time – and now that there is significant value (to you) flowing through the reviews platform, they ( the owner of the platform ) switch business models on you. Now they will charge for all benefits that would flow to you ( the business ), without compensation for the content which helped them solidify their place in search results. (well, until Google changes their algorithm, which luckily is coming one day )
  3. Yes, you can choose not to pay for those leads, but your competition will BECAUSE THEY (the 3rd party reviews) ARE LOCATED RIGHT NEXT TO YOUR BUSINESS LISTING in the search results. You are now an addict and must pay!

You have been warned! (before you build those reviews on 3rd party websites)

Think about it another way. You build a road with your sweat, resources (or tax dollars), then once enough traffic depends on your road, the government puts a toll booth on it (not only do they not give you any of the money, they make you pay tolls as well). Kind of sucks doesn’t it? Well that is what is happening with 3rd Party Review websites.

I use the toll road business model as the best analogy because frankly, only governments allow themselves to operate this way. Everyoone else who tries it goes to jail. Today’s Internet its not much different from the salt trade on the Rhine River in middle-ages, we have the evolution of the toll station. Who controls content can extract money. (except newspapers it seems 😉 Today the “new” business model is to insert yourself between content in such a way as to extract a toll. Thus we arrive at the nefarious way the 3rd Party Review business is evolving.

My disgust lies in the bait-and-switch business model (fraudulent) that is at the heart of this “business practice”. There is a general understanding in business that you do not engage in knowingly deceptive tactics in order to enrich yourself at the expense of someone’s ignorance. Those that do are known as “black market” or “mafia”, etc. Otherwise it is understood (and usually required by law ) that you “fully disclose” what the terms of the business are – in advance.

Here is How the bait-and-switch business model Works

In the beginning, getting reviews onto these online review websites is mostly free and worth the few leads it generates. You are offered an optional membership fee that gives you some placement advantages, etc. This is essentially a modified classified-ads business model – pay for placement to generate leads. We understand that. All good so far BECAUSE HOW the business works HAS BEEN DISCLOSED.

But after some critical mass is reached, an ownership transaction takes place (re. TripAdvisor buys Viator). Someone must buy someone else as part of this bait-and-switch business model. It really does not matter who buys who, what matters is that the contract changes – the “Terms of Service” must, of course, be revised.

  1. Don’t get me wrong. I believe in real capitalism. This is not a socialist rant. Everything should not be free.
  2. No, legal eagle. Just because its says in the original terms of service that the content is owned by the platform does not jibe when the business model is SELECTIVELY changed. Selectively changing the business model while keeping other bits of the contract selectively in tact is not in the spirit of good business practices. Sorry, that practice, when done with prior intent is in fact called bait-and-switch (fraud).

Now a new business model is suddenly in effect. You were not informed this would happen because “Hey dude! Who can foresee the future?”. But now you must pay for a click, or a prospective customer, or a completed transaction. Suddenly the leads that you have been counting on are not yours unless you pay more – a lot more (like 20% to Viator). Now its no longer a classified business model where you pay for visibility, its a compulsory toll to get the leads your content generates. I’m here to tell you that the owners of these online review platforms CAN foresee the future just fine, dude!

But it gets much worse from an Internet Marketing perspective

These reviews that have been built by (you) the individual business, now cause the Third-Party Review website to achieve top rank in search results* ABOVE your website – thus capturing clicks that would not otherwise go to the reviews website had (you) the business not helped develop the reviews in the first place.

  • (Recent changes to Google SERPs puts the review websites above the listing of the individual businesses in question – always subject to change)

Nonetheless, this means even if I want to get out of this relationship, its too late! This parasite has taken over the search results using your content. There is no way to go back to a life without the parasitic Third-Party Reviews in your search results. They are getting more clicks from your target market than your website does, and they will sell those clicks to the highest bidder in your market. Forever!

  • Do It Yourself – generate reviews on your website.

Or the solution, in my opinion, is to grow your own reviews – on your website (yes and its not that difficult).