Angie’s List vs. InsiderPages vs. Yelp

Angie’s List is doing a huge PR push these days and this piece in the NY Times is no doubt part of the fruit of that labor. The article surveys the landscape of what I’m now calling “social directories” (next-gen YP + community content). It goes briefly into the different demographics of some of the sites, contrasting for example the same gym review on InsiderPages vs. Yelp. It also talks about the incentives that some of the sites use to get reviews. It further touches on the fact that these sites are replicating the function of offline word of mouth.

But it’s mostly a general overview of the competitors. The article covers:

Angie’s List was way ahead of its time and has been around for roughly a decade. The model is like Consumer Reports: consumer subscriptions to prevent the appearance of bias (however there is now some advertising at the margins). Now that the site is rolling out nationally it has lots of competition from the sites above and from Yahoo!, traditional YP sites and others.

In the Southeast, where Angie’s list began, it has a strong brand but that’s not as true in places like San Francisco, LA, New York or Seattle. The consumer-pays model will make it tougher for Angie’s List to gain traction when there are so many “free” alternatives. Yet an advantage of that model is that Angie’s List doesn’t have to deal with the sales channel issues and advertiser acquisition headache that the free sites confront.

But Angie’s List must now also contend with the Google juggernaut, which wasn’t around when the site launched in the mid ’90s. Because of the centrality of search it now must buy traffic, which represents something of a double barrier to adoption. Angie’s List needs to rank on searches like “painters San Francisco” (it’s 7 on the paid side, not visible in organic). Clicking on the paid link takes you to the Angie’s List homepage, where you’re hit with the sales proposition rather than the content you’re seeking. In a word: seeyalater!

Angie’s List, because of its consumer-pays model also cannot arbitrage the cost of that traffic or otherwise pass it on to advertisers. That’s another fundamental challenge unless the site’s revenues in other markets can subsidize its expansion.

Brand is something of an antidote to buying traffic. But it’s hard to build a brand and takes lots of time, money and effort. Angie’s List is going to need to do some different things in the near term in the more competitive markets where it’s trying to establish itself, whether that’s heavy traditional marketing (radio, newspapers, TV) or free trials or both.

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15 Responses to “Angie’s List vs. InsiderPages vs. Yelp”

  1. AhmedF Says:

    I’m not sure how ServiceMagic really compares with the other YP online sites.

  2. Greg Sterling Says:

    It does so only narrowly in the home improvement vertical. Angie’s List started out in this same vertical but is now a full-fledged YP substitute.

  3. john reznor Says:

    Angies List has various problems, shared with all the other social directory sites.

    (1) These lists can be easily manipulated by the companies being rated, and therefore their trustworthiness is fragile.
    Say I am the owner of a plumbing company, It is very easy for me to post positive reviews about my plumbing company, and get myself “top-rated” on all of these sites. It is equally easy for me to post anonymous, negative reviews about my plumbing competition. If not class action law suits, I see a lot of negative publicity coming out about these lists from businesses which say they have been slammed anonymously. (if you google around long enough you will find plenty of very unhappy companies who feel they have been manipulated and/or held to ransom by Angies List).

    Plus, the minute that any of these lists start taking money from companies which have supposed to have been “independently reviewed”, the site’s credibility is rendered questionable at least.

    (2). An even bigger problem. The “top-rated business” in each category gets ALL the calls from the public, the others will get none! Most small businesses cannot and will not be able to handle the volume of incoming calls/leads from consumers who read about them on these sites. I can see companies actually begging Angies List and others to remove them from their websites! How does this make money?

    Meanwhile the consumer looking for a good plumber keeps finding that all the companies on Angies List and other sites are booked solid for three months. How does that help?

  4. NY Times on Local at J.D. Amer Says:

    [...] Found via Screenwerk. [...]

  5. Dick Larkin Says:

    I found it odd that the NYT article left out Yahoo! Local.

    While Y! came a little late to the game in terms of “social directories” (luv that term), they appear to have closed the gap and have a large number of reviewed local companies.

    As Stu MacFarlane, CEO if Insider Pages explained to me, the best protection against “review spam” is having a large quantity of high-trust referrals.

    They’ve shown that a small bribe in the form of a Starbucks card or gas card or cash is a great way to gather user content.

  6. nancy Says:

    I don’t know if folks have noticed this, but angieslist is doing much more than just PR. It runs what seems to be a daily ad in the Ny times (i’ve noticed it in the main section, usually small ad bottom left or right) and it’s frequently an “underwriter” on NPR (at least here in SF). It is definitely working to build awareness with what is probably the right audience for the site (and i think the ny times ad offers a 1-800 number to ask questions – good tactic). I don’t think the nytimes or the underwriting is likely “cheap” (the ny times is probably frightfully expensive).

    at any rate – in terms of user experience and value – not really delivering at this point. fraught with the issues other folks pointed out (reviews don’t seem too helpful or they’re written by people who probably don’t really know how to evaluate the work that was done – not very helpful). i also don’t believe they’re anywhere close to being able to charge for what they provide. the subscription fee may kill them, but who knows (though it is still “free” for the “next few months”).

    judy’s book seemed to start off on the right foot but looks like it’s trying too hard to be a citysearch (and not doing that well at that).

    yelp gets great PR but I believe the traffic (unique visitors) is REALLY quite low (talking less than 600k per month – nationally).

    services is a large opportunity on a local basis, but still left to be seen who will do it well. i don’t believe anyone is. (service magic actually does a half way decent job, but still has issues).

  7. AhmedF Says:

    600k? That is *a lot* lower than I thought.

  8. David Says:

    Where did you find the 600K number? Is this published anywhere?

  9. AhmedF Says:

    Some stats: http://www.sfgate.com/cgi-bin/article.cgi?f=/c/a/2006/09/03/BUG45KT0RH1.DTL&hw=amateur+reviews&sn=001&sc=1000

  10. Workpost.com Says:

    We are trying to improve how people look for work online and are developing our own version of a pro directory. John Reznor makes great points… it is very difficult to create an objective, reliable review system for service companies, freelancers and contractors. But we have ideas for how it could be done and are going to try.

    If anyone has suggestions for how to create better online “work” services, please contact us and tell us what you think. The current version of Workpost is a basic starter version and we’re at a point where we can take risks and add features that other companies might consider to be crazy and unprofitable.

    http://www.workpost.com

  11. Darrin Says:

    I’d recommend folks take advantage of http://www.RateMyContractors.com to find good contractors and avoid not so good ones.

    Rate My Contractors is completely free to use and contains unbiased ratings of local home improvement contractors provided by friends and neighbors.

    RateMyContractors.com works much the same way as RateMyProfessors.com which is used by millions of college students each year to select their professors.

    If you’ve had a really good contractor experience or a really bad one share it with others. The good guys get rewarded (with more business) while the not so good ones learn that leaving customers unhappy doesn’t end at the customer’s doorstep.

  12. Thankyou AngiesList Says:

    Angie’s List’s core value is perceived value. Their core value proposition is credibility. They have left the door open for service pro marketing services that can provide valuable information and resources at no cost to the customer.

  13. Air Compressor Reviews Says:

    Air Compressor Reviews…

    [...]Angie’s List vs. InsiderPages vs. Yelp « Screenwerk[...]…

  14. Scott Says:

    RateMyContractors.com is the best of all the home improvement contractors rating sites. It’s FREE and all the ratings/reviews have been put their by ‘friends and neighbors’ in an effort to assist each other… RateMyContractors does not maintain any relationship whatsoever to any of the home improvement contractors unlike most of the ‘competition’.

  15. Scott Says:

    RateMyContractors.com is the best of all the home improvement contractors rating sites. It’s FREE and all the ratings/reviews have been put there by ‘friends and neighbors’ in an effort to assist each other… RateMyContractors does not maintain any relationship whatsoever to any of the home improvement contractors unlike most of the ‘competition’.

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