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Viewpoints re-launch featured in Chicago Tribune

Fresh outlook at revamped Viewpoints

After a shift in Google’s search algorithm gutted his traffic, Chicago startup scene veteran and website founder Matt Moog took a long hard look at his platform, and rebuilt it from the ground up

February 25, 2012| By Wailin Wong, Chicago Tribune reporter

Consumer review site Viewpoints lets members offer their opinion on nearly anything. It turns out the site’s most active critic is the founder and chief executive.

Matt Moog, who launched Viewpoints in 2007 and is regarded as an elder statesman of Chicago’s blooming digital startup scene, led his company through a period of self-reflection and change over the last year. The result is a significant overhaul of Viewpoints’ technology platform, design and the way its members interact with the site.

The new Viewpoints, which rolled out on Thursday, has a narrower focus on consumer products, from household appliances to beauty aids, that are typically purchased at big-box stores such as Target and Home Depot. The old version included restaurants, hotels and other service-oriented categories.

Moreover, the redesigned site reflects trends around social networking and mobile technology that were incipient at the company’s launch and are now shaping consumer behavior in profound ways, with people declaring their brand loyalties on social media sites or comparison shopping on their smartphones while browsing in stores.

Viewpoints was born when Facebook was lagging MySpace and Apple had just introduced the iPhone. In the last five years, Facebook has amassed 845 million global monthly active users and almost half of American mobile phone users now own a smartphone.

In November 2010, Viewpoints started tweaking its design. It had about 2.5 million unique users and looked on track to surpass Consumer Reports, an established voice in reviews, and Epinions, an eBay-owned general interest review site launched in 1999, by the end of 2011.

Then, in February 2011, Google updated its search-results ranking algorithm, a move that devastated Viewpoints’ traffic.

Google had sought to punish low-quality sites such as “content farms,” or advertising-heavy news sites whose prose is crafted to game Google’s ranking system. But the algorithm change also ensnared some legitimate sites.

Viewpoints lost 1 million users as the site was wiped from search results. Moog watched the numbers tank in real time while sitting at his computer on Feb. 24, 2011. The event marked a turning point.

“We decided we were not going to react to what Google wants,” Moog said. “We were going to look at what we need for a better experience … not to just make incremental changes, but to reassess the entire premise of the business and rebuild.”

The Web’s social fabric, especially Facebook’s omnipresence, played an important role in the redesign. When Moog, now 42, started Viewpoints, social sites such as MySpace and YouTube were already demonstrating the power of user-generated content and how it could be shared with friends online. From its inception, Viewpoints members could create rich profiles and “friend” other users.

Facebook’s eventual ubiquity meant Viewpoints had to adapt its social strategy to an online landscape where consumers, instead of rebuilding their profiles and networks on new sites, use Facebook as a central hub to share content they find across the Web.

“We ripped all of it out,” Moog said, referring to Viewpoints’ old social features such as discussion boards. “It was hard because when we started, it was our point of difference.”

Continue reading article on the Chicago Tribune

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