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By Brian Pasch
David Barkholz, Information Technology reporter for Automotive News, broke the story today that Autotrader.com will be adding dealership reviews to their popular website in 2014.
According to Automotive News, Autotrader Group President Sandy Schwartz commented: "I feel we should be agnostic and have an open architecture where a number of ratings are used. I don't think we should be tied to just one."
You can read the article directly on Automotive News.
There are many questions to be answered on how reviews will be implemented on Autotrader.com, especially if they plan to show a compilation of review sources like we see on Google+. Dealers will be anxious to know if there will be any review moderation similar to DealerRater.com or will it require consumers to create an Autotrader.com account, like Yelp.com.
The announcement should not be a surprise for industry watchers who have witnessed the growth and visibility of Cars.com reviews in organic search as well as the growing popularity of sites like DealerRater.com and Yelp.com. Google+ Local reviews are the most influential for consumers using Google's search engine because they are place right underneath the dealer's primary website listing, as shown above.
There are a number of studies that document to impact of reviews on consumer choice and David Barkholz cites a recent study by Volkswagen in his article. Frequent shoppers on Amazon.com or road warriors who reference TripAdvisor.com all know the power of peer reviews. Review platforms for car dealers however have been a source of frustration. So much that OEM's have even created co-op programs to help dealers with their online reputation.
Yelp.com is well known to filter most dealership reviews and only show reviews of active Yelp members. Google+ Local (formerly Google Places) has had a number of policy changes and technical issues over the years that have raised and lowered dealer reviews. The granddaddy of dealership reviews is DealerRater.com which allows dealers, subscribed to their service, moderate reviews before they are published. The DealerRater system seems to be working well for dealers who actively monitor their online reputation. Some dealers may be reading this article and saying under their breath "Now I have another place to check each month?!"
If you are a subscriber to Sirius/XM radio, you probably have heard national commercials from Reputation.com. The first time I heard their commercials, I smiled. Internet Reputation Management (IRM) had gone mainstream and in fact, the company's commercials were extremely well scripted. Business owners were put on notice by Reputation.com that negative online reviews would damage their reputation and impact sales.
Today, automotive solutions providers like Dealer.com, Cobalt, Dealerrater.com, and Dominion Dealer Solutions offer car dealers software to monitor online review sites. OEM's have started to encourage dealers to incorporate online review monitoring in their monthly business processes. GM has even taken the aggressive step of requiring dealers to choose one of three "approved" IRM providers to monitor and manage online reviews.
Reputation Management is a booming industry which is attracting entrepreneurs and scammers. Business owners nationwide are being emailed and/or called on a regular basis by companies offering "assistance" to mitigate negative online reviews. Some dealers have been ensnared by companies offering non-compliant review posting services which violate the "terms of service" agreements on popular review sites. Dealers must understand the rules of engagement with online review sites because compliance failures can be costly.
It will take some time to see the full impact of how Autotrader.com implements their review system but one thing is for sure, the real estate on Google Page One will likely now have another search result for Autotrader.com reviews. Dealers reading this article can take a quick test to see the visibility of review platforms, just search your dealership name and add the word "reviews" to the search.
With Autotrader.com's monthly traffic, I would expect their review system to index on Google very quickly just like we noticed when Cars.com added reviews. This means that smaller review platforms will most likely be pushed down the Search Engine Results Page (SERP) when searching for dealership reviews. Having consumer reviews on Autotrader.com gives dealers another tool to amplify their excellent customer service practices and draw more attention to their VDP's and dealership.
Of course with any new review platform comes the potential for negative reviews to be posted, which I consider part of normal business operations. Dealers should not fear that they will get a negative review on Autotrader.com. The opportunity for dealers is how they respond to negative reviews, which often can turn into a win for the dealer. It will be interesting to see if dealers can respond to reviews without being a paying customer of Autotrader.
In any case, adding reviews to Autotrader.com will upset some dealer customers and be seen as an added value to other dealers. The fact that Cars.com paved the way will likely make online reviews a standard on third party classified websites.
What is your thoughts on Autotrader.com adding consumer reviews of dealers? Since we know what the Cars.com system looks like, what changes would you suggest to Sandy Schwartz? DrivingSales.com readers have a great opportunity to provide feedback to Autotrader.com before the system goes live because I am confident Autotrader executives will be reading this post.
So speak up and give the ATC team some guidance.
Brian Pasch, CEO