Reviewing the Review Websites

Every Friday, Roots in Alpharetta features an article on food and dining in a series I like to call Foodie Friday.

I’ve come to rely on a few online restaurant review websites. As web 2.0 and social media continue to grow, the influence of the online review portals multiplies. Here is my take on those that have the biggest footprint in the Alpharetta area. Each of these places have their own uniqueness so try several and see what you like best.

urbanspoon.com

Growing very fast. As someone who writes reviews, I don’t care for them much. On the site you give a simple thumbs up or thumbs down. Such a binary opinion isn’t very granular. But what I’ve found is that after a restaurant gets dozens or hundreds of these binary reviews, urbanspoon tends to get it right. The truly outstanding joints percolate to the top.

Urbanspoon is very good at integrating external blog content into their site. There are not a great deal of food bloggers in the northern burbs, something I hinted at recently. But nevertheless, they can direct you to cool content elsewhere. I’ve also found that they are more likely to be the first site to have reviews of brand new restaurants.

yelp.com

By far my favorite. Yelp mixes social media with online reviews. I’d say the functionality leans more towards the reviews and less towards social media. But you can have friends and vote on your favorite reviews. Yelp tends to be bigger in the cities where they have a paid community manager on the ground (of which Atlanta is one of them). The average yelp users also tends to be younger, a Gen-Y type person.

Yelp’s presence in Alpharetta was pretty thin a few years ago. Today they are much larger. I find the reviews to be well written and funny. If you’re reading reviews of a restaurant, I suggest sorting by the “useful” tag and go from there.

Citysearch

Losing ground in my opinion. For a long time they were just about the only game in town for Alpharetta reviews. That all has changed. They still have a lot of local reviews but I find that they are not as deep and well written as yelp. Still worth looking at.

Others

I don’t know of any other sites that have a large presence here. Higher end review sites like Zagat and Gayot simply lack depth in Alpharetta. Yahoo and Google are a decent alternative, and of course they integrate well with other features on those sites. Google probably wins on the sheer number of reviews, but I find them to be almost complete devoid of detail. You’ll find reviews like “I like this restaurant. They kick ass.”

Things to look out for… Watch out for shill reviews from business owners or their acquaintances. In general you want to trust reviews from people who have reviewed a LOT of other local restaurants. If a reviewer isn’t active on the website, I wouldn’t rely on them much. Yelp does a great job here. They will simply hide reviews like this. This practice is getting them into some hot water, but it keeps the integrity of the review process in check. I appreciate that and I think general users of the site do too. Other websites are not as proactive so it is up to you to filter these shill reviews on your own.

Most of these sites have feature-rich apps for iPhone, Android and Blackberry. Yelp and Urbanspoon have some very cool mobile apps, with neat location-aware technology.

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  1. Roots in Alpharetta » Blog Archive » Restaurant Owner’s Guide to Online Reviews - April 13, 2010

    [...] Friday I reviewed the online review websites. As a followup to that article, I wanted to mention this topic. I’m not sure how many [...]

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