For purpose of this answer, I am considering  (a) Websites with user-generated reviews (Think Yelp, IMDb) (b) Websites  expert/critic reviews (Think Zagat, Consumer reports) (c) Independent review blogs (d) Websites for which reviews are not the primary business (Think Facebook, Google). However, I have excluded businesses like Amazon and Expedia, which include reviews for products and businesses that they are selling.

Here are some popular monetization models for these sites.

  1. Advertising: This is the most popular form of monetization for review and rating websites. Usually, the “reviewed” side advertises to review-readers/writers, like restaurants advertising on Yelp, lawyers advertising on Avvo or movie studios advertising on IMdB. However, in some cases, businesses other than the ones from reviewed side of the platform may also target review-readers. For example: MTV shows their own ads on (You don’t expect professors to advertise to their students, do you? :)). Independent review bloggers also use advertising, usually through content ads through Google AdSense or similar means.
  2. Subscription services to customers: Some websites may charge a subscription fee for access to their content. Examples include: and Angie’s List. With so much free content available on the internet, this model usually works only if the content is either premium (written by experts) or scarce.
  3. Affiliate marketing: Some  review websites get paid by reviewed business on a CPA (cost per action  basis). Examples of these include websites like nerdwallet and  creditkarma, which get paid by the credit card companies. Many  independent review bloggers also use this model.  There seems to be some  conflict of interest here, but most reputed websites manage to draw a  good line between the advertising side and review side of their  business.
  4. Licensing review data: User-reviews are very important criteria for consumers to make purchase decisions, and hence many businesses may be willing to pay for using review data from these platforms. Potential customers for this model include reviewed businesses (Example: Hospitals paying to use ratings in their ads) and other advertising platforms (Example: Google licensing product rating data from TrustPilot, Bizrate and StellaService among others.)
  5. Selling premium account services to businesses: Another  possible source of monetization is selling premium account services to  businesses. The services may include enhanced listings, ability to  include curated content (instead of just user-generated content), and  opportunity to connect to reviewers among others. IMdB Pro and Yelp  Business account come to mind as some examples of these.

    (Last two are relatively less common monetization methods)

  6. Sale of review guides: With the decline of print media in general, this is not a very popular monetization method. Similar to (2), for this review model to succeed, the content needs to be premium. Zagat used to be a premium player in this field, but lately, they have gone primarily digital. Zomato in India also publishes print guides.
  7. Indirect monetization by keeping user on your properties: For businesses like Google+ and Facebook, the purpose of reviews is not really to monetize the reviews page directly. However, these review pages keep the users on their properties longer, and eventually, this may result in few additional ad-clicks.

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Amit Bhatnagar on on October 21, 2012

I answered a similar question earlier: How do the mechanics of Yelp’s review filter work?

As Matt Solar mentioned, Yelp and TripAdvisor employees won’t ever disclose how they detect fake reviews. So, any answers here (including mine) would be mostly guesswork based on some common sense and an analysis of patterns of which reviews get filtered.

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Good question! While I agree that traditional metrics (bounce rate, time on site, etc.) may not be directly useful, the same metrics may be more meaningful when seen at a more micro level.
A 56% bounce-rate or average time of 142 seconds per visit at website level may not tell you much about the content/user-engagement, but add some additional layers like traffic-source and landing page, and this will become very useful.
This should be clearer with three distinct cases below:

  1. Restaurant-hotel specific page: If the user lands on a hotel/restaurant specific page through a Google search (Very often, you’ll find Yelp pages of restaurant listed higher than that of the restaurant itself) and leaves without clicking on any other page, you may not have much to worry about. You may actually congratulate yourself for good SEO: User was perhaps looking for just the hotel address or phone number for a specific hotel and yours was the first page in search results.
  2. Internal search results page: If the user lands on your search results page through a Google search (Example: A Google search for “indian restaurants in Berkeley” may lead to a Yelp search page for “indian restaurants in Berkeley”), you may be more worried than in previous case, but still things are not that bad. Perhaps, your search algorithm is not producing relevant results, or may be the layout of the search page needs restructuring.
  3. Paid search/external campaign landing page: Finally, if the user lands on your page through a paid search and leaves without converting (no matter how you define conversion), you are losing money on each such user. For this case, a high bounce rate may be a very bad news!

    Some additional ones that websites like Yelp, TripAdvisor, etc may use to measure user-engagement:

    • Conversion: For any website, this is one of the biggest engagement metric. The definition of conversion would vary from website to website and industry to industry. In the case of the mentioned websites, some possible conversion metrics would include: Booking hotels, reserving a table at a restaurant and claiming daily-deals (like Yelp offers).
    • Number of Reviews/Number of unique reviewers: Since these websites are almost wholly about user-generated content, these are two very important metrics. While the former metric is a measure of content-generation, the latter is a good measure of website’s most highly engaged users, i,e, the writers.
    • Frequency of visits: If the frequency of visits for a user (Tracked via login or cookies) is fairly high, there may be no cause of concern, even if the average time per visit is low. This is especially true for websites like Yelp and TripAdvisor. Taking a personal example: Even as a Yelp addict, my visits to the website/iPhone app are fairly short: very often less than a minute! But the number of these visits more than make up for the short duration.
    • Internal search usage: More often than not, visitors on these websites are not looking for a specific hotel/restaurant. They are looking for a type of restaurant/hotel in a specific location. (4* hotel in New Orleans or Ethiopian food in San Francisco, CA). If I am Yelp, I would be more concerned about the frequency of usage of the search functionality and the rate of click-through of the search results, and relatively less about the time that they spent on individual pages. Of course, I would like to see some conversion, but at least, I know the users are sufficiently engaged.
    • “Upvotes”, “Follows” and other interactions between users: Most of these websites  have a built-in up-voting mechanism (“Mark as helpful”, “Like”, Vote as “Cool”/”Funny”) that allow users to Vote up quality content. Similarly, many of these websites allow users to follow each other or add them as a “friend” or leave other users a compliment. While at the individual level, this is useful to identify quality content and power-users, at the website level number of such interactions can also be considered a great metric for user-engagement!
    • Check-ins: Most of these websites (at least I know about urban spoon and Yelp) allow users to “check-in” at hotels/restaurants. If your users remember to check-in on your website at a restaurant in the middle of a party/date, it’s good news for you: they are highly engaged!
    • Social media sharing: Finally, a good measure of quality content and user-engagement these days for any website is the content shared on popular social networks. This indicates that the content is not only good enough to be read, but also interesting enough to be shared with friends.

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