Unbiased: Location Plus, have I changed my mind? Am I now a fan?

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Over the past few weeks I’ve been a vocal critic of Unbiased’s new Location Plus feature.

I won’t reiterate the reasons why I dislike Location Plus, if you want to understand my views you can read my original article by clicking here and my thoughts in FT Adviser, here. However, I would add that I’ve only been so vociferous because I have genuine respect for Unbiased and believe it provides a valuable service to both consumers and advisers.

Following a couple of weeks of Twitter debate, myself and Unbiased, in the form of the highly impressive Michael Ossei, recently got our heads together to try to better understand each other’s point of view.

This resulted in, as ‘they’ say, a very frank, but nevertheless cordial, exchange of views.

First things first, why was Location Plus introduced?

Unbiased tell me they wanted to solve a number of problems, including:

  • A desire from advisers to get on the first page of the search results
  • The ability for advisers to stand out from the crowd
  • Helping advisers where their office postcode is irrelevant to their target market

With over 1,400 postcodes available, at £99 each month, and “hundreds” of advisers using the feature, solving these problems potentially produces a very significant income stream for Unbiased. Even after our discussions, no matter how Unbiased dress up Location Plus, nothing has changed my view that the main motivation for its introduction is commercial.

I believe the problems identified could have been solved equally well, without the need to introduce pay for placement. This would have left the search results based, initially at least, on proximity to the user’s location. In other words, a level playing field.

I continue to feel that Location Plus compromises the independent and unbiased nature of the site; which is a huge shame.

I also wonder if we will see a negative reaction from advisers.

Firstly, from those who have a paid listing, but haven’t added for Location Plus, if they see their enquiry levels drop as consumers gravitate to the more prominent listing. Unbiased tell me they are “100% confident” this won’t happen, as although advisers with Location Plus will see an increase in enquiry numbers, the general uptick in the number of visitors to the site will mean no reduction in enquiry numbers for all other advisers.

Secondly, from advisers who have taken Location Plus, when they realise that their monthly subscription buys a relatively small area.

Finally, I have heard from one Location Plus subscriber, who wishes to remain anonymous, who has actually seen the number of profile views drop, presumably because consumers are less inclined to click on a pay for placement advert. He tells me he is planning on cancelling his subscription.

I’ll be interested to see how adviser feedback evolves over time.

So, have my views of Location Plus changed?

Frankly no. I don’t like pay for placement, I can’t see how it benefits the consumer and believe there are more effective ways of addressing the problems Unbiased have tried to solve.

In short, it detracts from the site and impacts it’s independent and unbiased nature.

However, although the system is still being tested, there’s no doubt it’s here to stay and while I can’t foresee a time when I’ll be an advocate of Location Plus, that shouldn’t detract from the other good things Unbiased are doing.

The key to the success of any directory is the accurate matching of the consumer to the right adviser. I was impressed by the work Unbiased are doing in this area and the importance they place on the consumer finding the right adviser.

The ability for advisers to decline an enquiry is also to be applauded. There are any number of reasons an adviser may not want to take an enquiry and the decline feature means the consumer isn’t left waiting for a response from an overworked adviser, who in turn has to pay for an enquiry they are frankly too busy to deal with.

The work Unbiased are doing to improve the response time of advisers is also excellent. The speed of response is key to both consumers and advisers. Consumers generally want to start the advice process as quickly as possible and advisers stand a better chance of turning and enquiry into a client if they respond quickly.

I’m at a loss to understand why there are so many instances of delayed responses from advisers. I’m encouraged to see the work Unbiased are doing in this area, educating advisers and then passing enquiries to different advisers if the original adviser fails to response within an acceptable period of time.

To end, back to the original question

I’m I now a fan of Location Plus? Definitely not and I probably never will.

But, that won’t stop me continuing to recommend advisers thay they include Unbiased within their promotional mix.

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