Provides Local Focus

SAN FRANCISCO is inviting small businesses to join the digital conversation with consumers by offering them access to customer ratings and reviews, as well a chance to respond directly to reviewers.

Large e-commerce sites have included similar customer feedback for years, but now even the pizza joint down the street can gather and respond to online customer opinions via directory listings., a subsidiary of AT&T, rolled out user reviews on its national network on Feb. 2 after running a beta version in key cities for several months. By Feb. 15, it had gathered a database of more than 20,000 reviews. The new service allows consumers who register to rate advertisers with one to five stars and write about their buying experiences. So far, 90 percent of the reviewers have ranked advertisers three to five stars, said Brad Mays, company representative.

“User reviews give consumers another element to consider when choosing a local business, gives our advertisers access to valuable feedback about their operations and helps generate sales referrals,” said Charles Stubbs, CEO of “Our service also puts advertisers in the driver’s seat by allowing them to interact directly with reviewers’ postings.” The company received about 1 billion searches last year.

Visitors to automatically see the average rating of listed businesses, with the number of total ratings and reviews in parentheses. A link allows visitors to read the complete reviews, which are subject to the company’s editorial standards.

Research shows 70 percent of online shoppers read reviews and 60 percent consider customer feedback more valuable than expert reviews, according to Mays.

Formed in 2004, operates a network of sites that give local information to more than 30 million unique visitors, per comScore Media Metrix. The network includes, AOL Yellow Pages, Switchboard, Yahoo! Local, Yahoo! Yellow Pages and AnyWho.