A new search engine aims to let people search customer reviews all across the Web, including from mobile devices. The engine (and the company), called SearchReviews, lets consumers search for the most highly-rated products or for specific terms within customer reviews.
The company has struck deals with retailers like Amazon, TripAdvisor, and Zappos that gives it access to more than 40 million product reviews online. Users can search from SearchReviews' home page or download an app that lets them search from their iPhone or Android device. The mobile app also allows users to scan a product's bar code and call up reviews for that product.
The website and mobile apps went live Tuesday, February 15.
SearchReviews differs from other search engines because it is "able to understand the structure of the page and able to pull out the reviews, because each page where they have reviews is different," said Ankesh Kumar, CEO of SearchReviews. "We pull from thousand of sites, which takes a lot of time and understanding and formatting."
The benefit for participating retailer sites is, hopefully, increased traffic. "Our objective is to be a referral engine," said Kumar. SearchReviews' website also contains some display ad units, though the company does not yet have a direct sales team.
SearchReviews also calculates the average customer rating for a product across websites and awards it its own rating of up to five stars.
There is a social element as well: a tab at the top of the screen marked "ask your friends" allows users to post their search to their Facebook wall. Publishers can also add a SearchReviews widget to their site.
As the Web grows increasingly social, people are more frequently relying on consumer product reviews before making purchases. As of August 2010, 92 percent of U.S. Internet users said they read customer product reviews online, and 46 percent said those reviews influence their purchases, according to eMarketer.
Kumar said that he envisions SearchReviews eventually expanding to include local reviews, such as restaurants and doctors.
While SearchReviews may be the first engine to focus solely on customer reviews, other search engines have been improving their capacity to do so, which could make for tough competition.
"Both Google and Bing have been rapidly innovating around the introduction of reviews into the SERP, particularly when they believe the reviews or ratings improve the usability of the results," said Kevin Lee, CEO of search consultancy Didit.
If it hopes to compete, SearchReviews will "need a way to generate direct, repeat traffic without having to rely on SEO, media, Social, or PPC," said Lee. "Secondly, they need to monetize their site traffic at a high effective RPM." He called SearchReviews' results "comprehensive," but thought it would need work "to match the relevancy engines at Bing and Google."
Kumar has founded a number of startups in the past 10 years, including Personic Software, a staffing startup that was eventually bought by Kronos, and AT Systems, an IT staffing startup that was bought by Monster.
SearchReviews is based in Palo Alto, California and was founded on private investment funds.
Correction: An earlier version of this story stated SearchReviews has a relationship with Bazaarvoice. That is not the case.
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Douglas Quenqua is a journalist based in Brooklyn, NY who writes about culture and technology. His work has appeared in The New York Times, Wired, The New York Observer, and Fortune.
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