Local business reviews are more important than ever, with 93% of consumers reading reviews to decide if a business is good or not.
We wanted to understand more about the growth of the leading ‘local’ review sites – Google, Facebook, Yelp, TripAdvisor, and Foursquare – so we delved into our extensive review tracking data to find out:
- Which ‘local’ review site has seen the greatest and fastest growth in new reviews over the past five years
- How each of these leading ‘local’ review sites has grown year on year, and month by month
- Whether any review sites are experiencing a slowdown of growth
We analyzed the review data of approximately 50,000 US-based businesses using data gathered in our ReviewFlow reports. The data set comprises a broad sample of local businesses from many different categories; the data has been aggregated and anonymized.
The data stretches back as far back as online reviews do, but we chose to focus on the past five years (2012-2017) for annual comparisons, and the period July 2016 to July 2017 for a more in-depth look.
We focused the study on five of the most prominent local review sites – Google, Facebook, Yelp, Foursquare, and TripAdvisor. Four of the review sites carry listings and reviews for business in all industries. The fifth, TripAdvisor, was selected due its popularity and prominence in the online review world, and to provide a contrast to the generic review sites.
We chose to include Foursquare because it was once the darling of local-social engagement, and accumulated a lot of reviews and ratings data on local businesses. In recent years Foursquare has pivoted to focus on providing Location Intelligence to help businesses reach local consumers, but they still operate two local-social apps which engage local consumers.
We didn’t look at product or general review sites (e.g. Amazon, Trustpilot) as we are focused on understanding the impact of reviews on ‘local’ businesses (SMBs & Enterprise).
Cumulative Growth in Reviews (2012-2017)
This chart explores the cumulative growth of reviews on the five review sites we analyzed.
Fastest growing review sites:
Since 2015, Google has seen the most dramatic increase in the quantity of reviews compared to the other review platforms. Yelp, Facebook and Tripadvisor have all seen an acceleration in their accumulation of reviews – so this is a positive story for all of them – but Google is growing the fastest by far.Google’s sheer scale coupled with its native integration into Android devices gives them both the biggest audience and the best route to market to prompt users to leave reviews for recently visited businesses. See below for more on this.
Foursquare is the only review platform that has plateaued over this period, which isn’t surprising given the company’s change in focus.
Review Growth Compared To Previous Year
This chart shows the percentage growth in the number of new reviews for each site vs the previous year. From this chart we can determine the rate of growth and which site is accumulating reviews the fastest.
The big story here is the massive jump in new reviews that Facebook saw in 2012-13. This was around the time they first enabled reviews on their service and focused on encouraging users to write reviews, so they saw significant growth from a very low base.
From 2013-2015, Facebook grew slowly, until a big uptick in reviews in 2016.
Review Growth Compared To Previous Year (adapted)
This chart is the same as the one above, but we have ‘flattened’ the spike in Facebook reviews in 2012-2013 to enable us to see the growth in the other review sites.
- Google is acquiring reviews at the fastest rate – new reviews jumped 278% in 2016 from 2015
- TripAdvisor is the second fastest-growing review site – up 82% in 2016 (but slowing from 115% growth in 2015)
- Facebook’s accumulation of reviews was slow in 2014 and 2015, but then it significantly jumped in 2016
- Yelp’s review growth has slowed since 2014 – but is still growing
- Foursquare is the only review site to consistently receive fewer reviews than in the previous year
Average Number of New Reviews Per Business
This chart shows the average number of new reviews gained in each year for a business using the platforms.
When looking at the average number of reviews a typical business has on each platform, TripAdvisor is the clear frontrunner. In 2016, each business in our sample gained an average of 47.5 new reviews – triple the amount the average business on Google received. Read more on TripAdvisor below.
While TripAdvisor may get fewer total reviews than Facebook, Google, and Yelp overall, it receives a far higher concentration of reviews per business across its specialism. Want to find out more about niche review sites for any industry? Take a look at our list of 300+ specialist review sites.
As expected, Foursquare sees the lowest average new reviews per business over the period 2013 to 2016. In fact, the platform has seen little change over this period – peaking at 4.1 new reviews per business, and dropping to 3.4 at its lowest point. It seems like Foursquare is plodding along steadily – acquiring reviews in a consistent scale to the number of businesses using the platform. For more on what’s happening with Foursquare, see below.
Yelp and Google are both adding reviews at scale – having seen increases in the average number of new reviews per business over the last few years. Yelp has been increasing steadily in acquiring reviews per business, growing by around two reviews per year to a peak of 11.9 in 2016. Find out more on Yelp below.
Facebook saw a small drop in new reviews per business in 2016. However, this is not to assume the platform is seeing a downward spiral. Facebook reviews started with a huge jump in 2013, with businesses opting to use this platform receiving an average of 13.6 new reviews each in 2013. In 2016, a typical business received 7.2 new reviews. This decline in average could be down to the high number of businesses on Facebook – with less engagement from users regularly leaving reviews for businesses.
Of course, Facebook’s primary function is as a social network, so leaving reviews can be of secondary importance for users. Clearly, businesses have realized the importance of having a presence on the platform – but the platform needs to encourage users to leave reviews if they are to really compete with Google. Read further trends on Facebook here.
Yelp, TripAdvisor, and Google all have more reviews per business than Facebook – suggesting that these three sites have a more active audience that are engaged and leaving reviews. For Yelp and TripAdvisor, this is likely due to reviews being their key focus – with users only on the site to read or leave reviews.
Google received significantly more reviews per business in 2016 than the previous years – more than doubling new reviews per business (15.1, up from 6.9). Read more about Google here.
Google doesn’t solely focus on reviews, but is an integral part of finding a local business. Mobile location tracking means that Google can send queries to users asking for reviews for places they’ve been. From here, users can easily submit short reviews with photos directly from their devices (as shown below).
This means users are encouraged to submit regular, ‘everyday’ reviews just because they are asked to – rather than seeking out a business on a review site due to a notably good or bad experience.
Number of New Reviews Written Per Month (July 2016 – July 2017)
The period July 2016 – July 2017 highlights a number of trends across the review platforms in greater detail. We delved into the number of reviews each platform gained every month in that period.
- Google continued to lead in the number of new reviews – with significant increases in 2017
- Facebook also saw strong growth in this period – but at a slower pace than Google
- TripAdvisor and Yelp grew slowly and steadily
Generally, the months in our time period in 2017 outperformed the months in 2016 – signifying further acceleration of growth for most of the review sites.
Google saw a significant increase in the number of new reviews – pulling quickly ahead to leave everyone else in the dust. It saw a 40% increase from April to May 2017 in the number of new reviews per month. While there was a small drop the next month, this ramped up again in July. By July 2017, the businesses were receiving more than double the amount of new reviews they were just a year before.
On Facebook, the businesses in our sample saw a significant growth in the number of new reviews from September 2016 – growing 33% in just one month. Between August and December, it more than doubled the number of reviews per month – and continued growing in 2017. Our sample suggests that Facebook has lots to be proud of in this time period – growing from a similar number of reviews as TripAdvisor in July 2016, to an increase of 133% a year on.
Curiously, May 2017 proved to be a great month for Google, Facebook, and TripAdvisor. If you’ve got any thoughts on why this might be, leave us a comment below.
Perhaps unsurprisingly, there appears to be a summer peak for TripAdvisor, with August, July and October leading in 2016 – although the months March to July 2017 outperform every month in 2016. It’s no surprise that this correlates with the high season for holidays and trips out.
Yelp received a steady number of reviews – performing well throughout the time period with a surprise peak in October 2016 that even overtook Facebook for the month. It soon dropped back to its former position, with a slow and steady increase in the number of reviews each month.
Foursquare was the only platform of the five that didn’t show a clear trend of increased reviews over the time period. But with these numbers being a fraction of their nearest competitor, the lack of correlation is not a shock.
Trends by Review Site
Google has told an interesting story, placing third for number of reviews in 2014 and 2015, and jumping into pole position from 2016. The businesses in the study saw a huge uplift in reviews in Google – seeing an increase of 278% in 2016 from the year before, and acquiring significantly more in the first half of 2017. While it may have had a slow start, the powerhouse is growing every quarter to lead in numbers of reviews.
From the days of Hotpot, Google has placed itself as a source of recommendations. So much information is now available in SERPs and the Google environment, it’s no wonder reviewers are choosing the platform that is so useful and prominent during the research process.
Google’s stellar growth should be attributed to its growing omnipresence. It’s become a normal part of finding local businesses, and makes it incredibly easy for people to leave reviews.
However, our recent Local Consumer Review Survey found that Google is consumers’ third most trusted review site – behind Facebook and Yelp. While our Review Growth data shows Google’s rapid growth to becoming the leading platform in number of reviews, there’s still work to be done in aligning this with the trust of users.
Facebook reviews rapidly took off following their introduction in late 2012. The December 2012 announcement of Nearby meant users could share their recommendations easily with friends for the first time, explaining the rapid percentage growth as seen in 2013.
In 2013 and 2014, Facebook led on reviews – with businesses clearly clamoring to be on the popular platform. But from 2015, Facebook could no longer rely on being the most popular source of reviews.
Don’t worry though, Facebook isn’t failing – it’s just growing at a slower rate than frontrunner Google. By November, Facebook had achieved growth of 64% on 2016. It’s not losing out as more consumers turn to Google – but could begin to receive fewer reviews in 2018 if it doesn’t encourage users to share their views.
Facebook’s recent news feed changes could affect the visibility of publishers and brands, and instead give more prominence to posts that generate discussions. This could affect which businesses users see. This could mean local businesses need to increase Facebook paid advertising, or turn to the Facebook Local app to continue being seen on the platform by potential customers.
Facebook Local is a separate app which has so far seen limited success. The Google Play Store estimates downloads as between 100,00 – 500,000 (January 2018) – far lower than Yelp’s 10-50 million Android users, or TripAdvisor’s 100-500 million. It will need to reverse this trend to continue to be a trusted platform for reviews.
Yelp has been a steady performer over the years, but its growth appears to have slowed recently. In each year prior to 2017, Yelp reviews grew between 55% and 68% on the previous year. It received fewer new reviews in Q1 of 2017 than in the previous quarter, although this did grow again in Q2.
2016 was a difficult year for Yelp, with the platform announcing a scaleback in operations outside North America, and culling further international expansion plans. In May 2017, Yelp’s stocks dropped by 30% after showing disappointing sales.
These recent difficulties appear to be in line with the smaller growth in new reviews – and could indicate that Yelp have recognized their troubles ahead of the review downturn. But, it’s not all bad news, as it is still growing – albeit at a slower rate – with May, June, and July 2017 each surpassing every month before in the number of reviews received on the site.
The big news from Yelp in 2017 was its firm stance on businesses asking for customer reviews. While authenticity should be paramount to any review strategy, actively discouraging asking for these could result in Yelp receiving fewer reviews going forwards. It’s highly possible that businesses will turn to other review sites, rather than stopping asking customers to leave reviews at all.
Due to its niche focus, it’s no surprise that TripAdvisor doesn’t acquire as many reviews as Google, Facebook, and Yelp. The travel specialist appears to be slowing in percentage growth – but it is still growing! In 2015, the number of reviews grew 115% on the year before, and a further 82% 2015-2016. It had a particularly strong Q2 in 2017 in the number of new reviews.
As a business, TripAdvisor had a tumultuous 2017, with results falling below analysts’ estimates. The Financial Times reported that “TripAdvisor shares have declined 15 per cent so far this year amid concerns that the company will struggle to turn audience growth into revenue growth.” It’ll be interesting to see if these difficulties reflect in future new reviews on the platform.
Niche review sites may attract fewer total reviews than the big three review platforms do, but they’re still incredibly important within industry sectors. Local businesses should ensure they receive reviews across each of the relevant platforms – making sure to consider where their customers and audiences are looking to find out more.
Foursquare’s comparatively low reviews rates will come as no shock. While it no longer competes as a leading reviews platform, it instead excels with its incredibly accurate location data. There have been predictions about Foursquare ending its focus on consumer recommendations, and instead selling its significant data set. Its future remains to be seen.
Loyal users of City Guide can use Foursquare’s data set to find recommendations where they are – although clearly there are fewer reviews per business than other platforms offer. The average consumer reads 7 reviews before trusting a business, so Foursquare might not be the place to go to receive sufficient information.