January 23, 2011

The TRUTH About Snooth Data

There is a common theme about our firm, we are champions for wineries. In doing so, sometimes it is our responsibility to bring light to the negative activities performed by companies in our category of wine and tech. Today, unfortunately, Snooth.com is where we need to focus our attention.

Now before I go forward with my expose I want to extend the positives about Snooth. They have done an incredible job building a strong media site for wine that has significant traffic, albeit measured using specious methodologies. They have also blazed an amazing path with business development and acquired deals with Epicurious, Wine and Spirits, and more. They have been a pioneer in mobile as it relates to trying to create a retailer locator tool for wine. Finally they create excellent weekly content (mostly led by Gregory Dal Piaz) that enriches the lives of wine consumers everywhere.

Last week Philip James, former CEO of Snooth, now chairman of the company and founder of Lot18 published a blog post filled with misrepresentation as well as calls to action for wineries where the objective is not transparent. You can read the post on Philip’s personal blog. The wine industry is about trust, transparency, and integrity. Philip’s blog post perverts all of these values.

Now there are two things that really bother us about this due to how it takes advantage of wineries. The first is the misrepresentation and hyperbole of their traffic (which is what is used to negotiate up advertising rates). The second is the way they misrepresent their use of data and how they are asking wineries to give them information that is “supposedly” in the winery’s best interest, that they use it to help out other apps, but in reality mainly serves Snooth.com. I understand the business reasons behind using inflated numbers, as well as their use of data, but it leaves a sour taste in my mouth that they obfuscate the business reasons for value.


First, Philip claims that “We reach 10-12 million people per month by doing this.” He hyperlinks to his Quantcast report. But what Philip fails to mention is that the group he syndicates data to reach 10-12 million people a month meaning that his largest traffic partners get that traffic and not the wine section of those sites. You can find all the sites he is listing in his compound equation here.

In essence his four largest partners represent 90% of this traffic. Make no mistake, Snooth’s actual traffic of 637,329 and 1,117,304 is impressive but it is a far cry from reaching 10-12 million people. That would be like me listing the traffic from Twitter in aggregate because I add small bits of content daily. If that’s true, VinTank’s global reach is 75.6 million people in the US. No way.

Claim Your Winery

One of the big initiatives of Snooth.com has been as Philip emphasizes, “the importance of a winery claiming and owning their information on Snooth.” Now we agree 100% that wineries need to take control of their data but IMHO Snooth has one other major reason for getting that data – to use it to get more traffic. This is done in two ways:

1. More content means more SEO, especially with long tail products. But what wineries don’t realize is that giving that content to Snooth not only increases their SEO but, because of Google’s algorithms, it actually allows Snooth to outperform the winery’s own site. It wouldn’t be as bad if they pushed the sales back to the winery but more often than not, that is not the case.

As we have pointed out before, it is a good idea for you to see what sites show up when you search for common phrases like “buy x wine.” We raised this issue in our Social Media Report in 2009 regarding Snooth. Now I can understand why Philip and the company would choose this method. Leverage donated content to have better search results to get more traffic so they can charge higher advertising rates.

Here is an example of search results for one of our clients, Bolen Family winery.

Google “buy Bolen wine” and Snooth even outpaces the winery’s page due to SEO. Ouch! And that might almost be okay if when you went to Snooth.com you could go to the winery’s site or to e-tailers looking to sell that wine. And as you can read in the Google description above, that is EXACTLY how Snooth represents the result, “Snooth has the largest online selection of Bolen Family Wine Estates wine.”

However, clicking on the Snooth search result reveals:

Wait, “No Wines matching “bolen family estates” are in stock?” Didn’t they just claim that “Snooth has the largest online selection of Bolen Family Wine Estates wine”? Thinking this was a mistake we clicked on “Compare Prices and Buy” and got:

But this can’t be true. I marked California. Shouldn’t one retailer have that wine in stock or maybe, and more importantly for this conversation, the winery? And yes, Bolen has both vintages in stock: http://bit.ly/edwY0e.

So essentially Snooth.com used Bolen’s content, out SEO’d the winery, and led the customer nowhere except away from the winery. Bad form. This is not an isolated case study just using our client, though. There are thousands of wineries and wines for which this method is being used. Giving Snooth your data helps them get traffic. Why don’t they just say, “Giving Snooth your data may allow Snooth to have better SEO than your winery site”. As I said earlier in this post, this is a misrepresentation. PS – this is not just applicable to wineries giving Snooth.com data, this also is true for wine retailers giving them their data.

2. Snooth.com frequently promotes their “open API” (here’s where you can learn about what an API is, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Api and here is the link to their API: http://api.snooth.com/). Yes, Snooth.com has an effective API powered by retailer and winery data. It is backed by one of the most extensive databases of wine information (the quality of the data is a highly debated topic, though). Unfortunately, the API has an obvious self-serving purpose, to have the platforms that leverage the data drive traffic back to Snooth. That is one of the primary reasons many companies refuse to leverage that data; why allow Snooth to poach their users?

Sorry, geek talk ahead: if you look at a typical API response from Snooth, below is what you will see. I have redacted all unique information about the winery and highlighted and bolded the two key points illustrating my case. Both important links go back to Snooth. I understand the business reason for that, it drives traffic to Snooth. But Snooth asks wineries to give them their data – shouldn’t that link go back to the winery’s site? Wait, you take my info but only return them to your site?

Snooth may say that the winery can put its store on the site but in reality, we all know that a winery’s price is higher than a retailer’s so it will always look less appealing in their comparison search engine.

  "meta": {
    "name":" REDACTED ",
    "code":" REDACTED ",
    "region":"USA > California > Napa",
    "winery":" REDACTED ",
    "winery_id":" REDACTED ",
    "tags":" REDACTED",

I go back to Philip’s quote from his post which is quite telling. “I talk about the importance of a winery claiming and owning their information on Snooth.” In essence it’s not about claiming and owning their data online, it’s about wineries providing their information to Snooth so Snooth can leverage it. Philip recently talked in front of Sonoma County Vintners telling the audience and the association about this same topic. Did he expand on the points we have made in this post? I think not.

Giving your data to Snooth is your choice; just know what it really means and how it is really being used.


I was on the BOA of Snooth until Nov 2008. I resigned due to differences in opinion about their service delivery to wineries.

We work with and have invested in Cruvee.com who powers yourwineyourway.com – a FREE service for helping wineries disseminate their information for FREE to digital companies without trying to leverage that data for traffic to their site. Their data feeds 50 partners that represent an ACTUAL audience of 1.4 million potential wine consumers.

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  • OUCH! It is certainly hard to justify claiming tens of millions of views to wine clients when the numbers are driven by four food sites and Google.

    With that said, Quantcast’s syndication numbers are a little odd. They give credit to one site for each viewer, so if Bob the Wine Lover goes to ten different sites in a syndicate, only one gets credit, and it is not clear how Quantcast decides who gets it.

  • Thank you for the thoughtful, well written explanation of Snooth and its data.

    I too would like to start with a compliment on their content creation/distribution. I subscribe to most if not all their “lists” and enjoy reading the information.

    What I dislike are organizations that prey on other organizations in any industry but specifically here. This industry is fragmented and complicated, so misrepresenting data, numbers and intentions is like a pirate ship waving a flag to safety for a person dragged out to sea. So, a winery OR retailer is looking for safety only to be snatched up by a pirate claiming to help them. Next thing you know the winery OR retailer is back in the water with less than they started with (time, money, etc)……….and not so willing to trust the next ship that comes by, even if it is the Coast Guard.

    Snooth has the power to do some good beyond content and be a successful business, just don’t be a bunch of pirates.

    I left some questions on Philips blog page the other day and have not heard back. (I will wait before I post them again here).

    Thanks for listening.


  • Thanks for putting this in writing. I look up wines daily and Snooth always comes up first in search engines. As a wine writer & consumer wanting information about a wine, I’ve clicked through to Snooth many times getting the same results…no information & as you mention, they do not have the wine even after saying they do.

    Your article tells it like it is. I too have a very bad taste in my mouth about snooth and I have no affiliations that I know of that would make my opinion suspect. It’s not hard to put 2 and 2 together when I’ve tried to use the site. As far as the users’ metrics–I’ve seen the stats they put out & have wondered how folks could actually be using such a poor site for wine research. Again, great article.

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  • As a long time consumer of the Snooth API, I wanted to comment on the links in the results for the query.

    It is important from both the provider as well as the consumer point of view to be able to link back to the source of a search result. Consider the link to be like a unique ID but in URL format. The image link is also quite useful, of course, from an API consumer point of view.

    My apps don’t dig deeper into Snooth search results than just bottles, but I believe they have some store / winery data available through the API as well.

    Please post a comparable result from Cruvee so your point is clearer about having API results go directly to the winery website.

    I’m a big fan of all the companies trying to make wine data more accessible to apps and websites (eg. Snooth, Cruvee, Adegga). In my mind, brand awareness and loyalty is super important to a winery. Think of a Snooth landing page as a giant banner ad for your brand. Just like a Facebook page, right?

    Keep up the stimulating conversations!

    Founder, Wine by the Bar

    • pmabray

      Robert – the “TRUTH” is in the representation of their actual traffic (claiming that their syndicated partners is their reach is hyperbole) and their use of the data (they are using it to represent the wineries instead of using it for SEO and to get more traffic deals).

      I agree about earning revenue and their are “costs’ to activities. The key is to be transparent about all those fees and uses. In the VinTank example, we have no hidden fees. We are consultants and all our fees are outlined in our agreements. In the case of our client/investment in Cruvee. There are NO fees for anyone that wants to give the data, there are NO fees for anyone that wants to consume the data. They also have no aspirations of driving traffic back to their site using data or from hijacking traffic for their company. All data is used to drive customers back to the winery, present the winery data correctly, and empower wine tech companies without the heavy resource burden of content harvesting so they can focus on building software that innovates.

      Cruvee earns its fees from Social Media monitoring and for the service of cleaning data. Full transparency.

  • Some interesting points most of which seem valid and I’m waiting on Phillip’s reply with interest.

    Note that I’ve been noticing that Google search results over the last 6 months almost always have the first 1-2 listings for the winery (using a gl=us search para). Though snooth is usually somewhere in the top 5 or 10.

    Which is not quite good enough as snooth now faces the issue of blended search result pages where perhaps only 3 of the top 10 searches are organic, then something like social, shopping results, snooth, then local search…. or some such order where snooth isn’t in the top 3.

    I guess I’m saying that over the long run they won’t be able to beat Google at it’s own game. Google is already putting its shopping results first in many industries and Google holds all the cards.

    Snooth doesn’t need to only rely on Google though as it has become a speciality social media site in its own right.

    Interesting post and comments!

  • Interesting analysis. I suppose I’d have to take issue with anything to do with data, interpretation and commercial decisions labelled as “TRUTH” to be honest, but it is certainly a discussion worth having if only because if data IS to be more widely available, then we ought to try and make it accurate and useful.

    All organisations who gather and share data have bils to pay, and I think that we all recognise that free services come with, sometimes hidden, ‘costs’ and we need to decide how much we value that service.

    I’m sure it is the same with some of your services.

    I look forward to seeing Snooth’s answer to these points, as I am certain Philip will have a different view of the “truth” and maybe together we can agree on ways forward that are fair and equitable!?

  • pmabray

    Bruce, we’ll see how it plays over time. I think that Snooth has done a fine job in many arenas (as I pointed out in the beginning). However, depending on how you do the search (e.g. buy “x” wine) they tend to show up much higher than organic winery results. Thanks for the comments.

  • Matt Davis

    A colleague forwarded me this article this morning. Interesting POV. As someone who works in the media space (at a large CPG brand) and someone who follows trends in the digital space, I am really confused on your argument.

    Digital media is about utility and efficiency. There is a reason why media sites like Yelp are so popular. It is an aggregated platform for consumers to find out basic information, consumer reviews, menus, maps, etc. Consumers do not want to go to multiple sites to find out information. It looks like Snooth does a really nice job of this. Thomas makes a good point…it should be treated like a Facebook page.

  • Hi Tom-

    I cannot speak for the Snooth API since I have never used it but I can provide more details on the Cruvee API. You already know my relationship with Cruvee but for others reading my comment, I am the CTO of Cruvee.

    We built our data model and API from the ground up to provide as much information as possible about a winery, its brands, its locations, and of course its wines. Through our API you can also get access to a great deal of what I call wine meta data. This includes information on wine regions and appellations around the world, grape varieties, and dozens of useful enumerations such as closure types, wine barrel types, container types, and many more. Details on our developer site.

    On the subject of links that you brought up, the Cruvee API supports URLs at many different points in the data model. Here is a list of some off the top of my head.

    Winery homepage
    Winery e-commerce site
    Winery blog
    Winery Twitter handle
    Winery Facebook fan page
    Foursqaure venue page for each winery location
    Gowalla spot page for each winery location
    Yelp page for each winery location
    Winery detail page for each wine SKU
    Winery “Buy URL” for each wine SKU
    Accolade URL for each wine accolade
    Accolade image URL for each wine accolade

    For digital media, we support

    Label images, front and back (in up to 4 sizes)
    Bottle shots (in up to 4 sizes)
    Audio and video reviews
    Winery photos
    Winery location photos
    Winemaker photos
    Winery owner photos
    Vineyard manager photos

    Going to get a little more technical now.

    Our API responses also include many internal links that are useful to developers to navigate our object graph in a RESTful manner. In other words, they are there to support developers using the API. For example, you will see links called “JSONLink”, “feedLink” and “directoryPageLink” throughout the responses. For comparisons, here is a link to sample Cruvee API responses for the Bolen Merlot mentioned above.


    James Jory
    CTO, Cruvee

  • pmabray

    Matt – not sure about the confusion. No one is discrediting the value of aggregators of long tail products (Amazon, Expedia, iTunes, et al) and that Snooth does a good job of that for wine products. Where there is a disconnect is the representation of how Snooth intends to use winery data and is it really for the benefit of the winery or for their advertising dollars?

    Thomas does have a good point EXCEPT Snooth is not Facebook (built for engagement) it is essentially a retailer comparison shopping engine for wine retailers (in which the winery loses 98% of the time due to pricing to avoid channel conflict).

  • @Tom, @Matt

    In complete agreement on the Facebook point you both made (forgot to get to it in my comment above). But our take was to empower wineries to publish details about their wines from Cruvee right on their Facebook fan page, including Buy links to their e-commerce site. This allows wineries to drive more traffic to their e-commerce site and keeps the social activity around their brand (for FB, at least) on their fan page where they can more effectively engage with their fans.


  • Virginia

    Another issue the wine industry should have with Philip James is that he uses SNOOTH-SPONSORED WINE RATINGS ARE USED TO SELL WINE AT Lot 18! Knowing that consumers buy on ratings, he uses his ratings site (Snooth) to give positive reviews to the wines he is selling on Lot18….highlighting those reviews in his wine sales newsletter without ever making note of the connection! Highly unethical and an obvious conflict of interest.

    • Diane Thompson

      Yes, Virginia, when I learned about this, I thought the same thing. It was surprising that they would present the Snooth review as if it comes from an independent third party. I’m guessing that only the wine geeks among us know the connection between the two companies. Interestingly, many of the wines I have seen featured on Lot 18 have good reviews available from actual independent parties, so the conflict of interest could be easily avoided.

  • Brian Shapiro

    As a person who works for a winery, I’ve noticed with their “Hub” just how difficult it is to keep wines up to date. To take control of your winery on Snooth is no easy task! and then to maintain the database of products is exhausting. 24 or the 25 wines we have as current on the Snooth site are available to purchase, but the data I uploaded expired so now folks can’t purchase the wines even thought they are in stock on our site and in our tasting room. Exhausting to say the least.

  • Inflating your comscore numbers through affiliate networks is nothing new. Everyone does it, though the discrepancy between wine content and non wine content in this case is somewhat egregious.

    Your charge on the SEO game is tricky. On the one hand getting great google rankings is the goal of every sane business that depends on organic search for traffic, and leveraging user generated, or even customer donated data to do that is about the farthest thing from a crime you can get. You bet it’s self serving, and everyone does it. Snooth is attempting to be a business, let’s not forget that, not a non-profit booster for the wine industry.

    Having said that, it can be argued, as you do, that what they’re doing really doesn’t benefit the winery or the consumer (especially since most of their pages offer no real benefit to consumers, lacking data as they are).

    And yes, it’s a bad thing that Snooth doesn’t put a link to the winery’s web site on these pages.

    On the one hand, Snooth is a hell of a lot better at SEO than most wineries and they can’t be faulted for that. On the other, they’re clearly playing a heavy numbers game when it comes to aggregating traffic, and not doing it by providing much in the way of value added content to either consumers or wineries, so it’s fair to say they’re not adding much to the wine world.

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  • I responded to this piece here: http://www.bojago.com/2011/01/25/digging-into-the-details/.

    Philip James
    Snooth Media

    • Anonymous

      Philip – Kudo’s on fixing a few of the key problems with the way you present wineries. However, from what I understand, these are features you promised wineries years ago.

      Once again a misrepresentation of the truth. I and the entire VinTank team have scoured your syndicates and it is very hard to find your wine widget throughout most of them.

      Your post states that 2.7 million of myrecipes 3.4 million users viewed your wine widget. So you are telling me that the majority of visitors not only visited recipes with wine, but saw your wine recommendations below the fold (the bottom of the site)? I ask anyone to explore the site and discover how hard it is to find wine. Per your words “Don’t forget that the Snooth wine pairing widget is present on virtually every recipe detail page for these sites” which is just not true.

      I commend you for the business development deal and the exposure that wines that are found accomplish however grossly inflating your stats is yet another misrepresentation and statistical inflation.

      As to your winery services, again I commend you on “nimble fixes” to this recent problem. However my inbox has been inundated for the last 24 hours of wineries complaining about how you never list them higher, you don’t allow them to fix data, and many, many more complaints. Moreover you NEVER address that you use their data for SEO or that you use it to negotiate deals that drive traffic back to your site. This is the type of transparency that is required in the new digital age. It is disappointing that you choose to hide behind PR spin of a blog and more hyperbole to rationalize your objectives.

      • Anonymous

        Moreover, since you won’t answer – here are some counter points to other items you mentioned in your blog:

        PJ: A couple of winery examples: we wrote about Dan Petroski’s new wine Massican in an article, and became the single largest source of customers for him. No mean feat, when you realize Dan is the Assistant Winemaker for the excellent Larkmead Winery and has been profiled in both the WSJ and SFGate. We also wrote about a small winery called The Grand Dalles. Our post generated so much sympathy for their struggle and so much support for their cause that our users cleared out the winery’s entire inventory and the owners phoned us up in tears telling us we’d saved their livelihood.

        >>This is great news and very inspiring that your EMAIL campaigns can help wineries. What you fail to mention is that your SEO baiting techniques allowed you to build that email list in the first place. Divert traffic from wineries, build a huge email list, and then pound your chest that you are a hero to a small amount of wineries that you add to your email.

        Direct to Consumer is a channel I believe in strongly, so much so that I founded another company based on it. Called Lot18, it launched just three months ago, and it’s a rocket ship. I’m really glad to be doing even more to help wineries.

        >>Is Lot18 really that great? Another Flash Sale site who asks wineries to give large discounts (35% to 50%) and then pay you 10%-15% on top of that? Yes, you give them the customer – that is the most redeeming quality of the exercise but in essence you are creating another clearance site. Is that really believing in DTC sales or just being opportunistic in tough market conditions? Moreover the email list that powers Lot18 mostly comes from Snooth which (from comments above) was built on your SEO prowess using content from wineries and etailers. I wonder how your etailer partners feel that you used their content to win customers only then to open up your own etail company?

        The CEO/Founder newsletter series, of which the original post was a part of, is designed to be just that — sometimes I write about Snooth, but in many cases I write about how wineries can best leverage other, competitive (http://www.bojago.com/2010/06/…/), sites.

        >>Ok, so Google is your competitor? Your nod to Winelog.net is less about them but more about Google Products. This seems like another disingenuous post to distract attention from the reality of your business conduct.

        • So, I’m late to the party — will sign up on Vintank today! — but what I wanted to say was, there was even more mistruth in what P. James wrote in his rebuttal, regarding OUR label, The Grande Dalles:

          We also wrote about a small winery called The Grand Dalles. Our post generated so much sympathy for their struggle and so much support for their cause that our users cleared out the winery’s entire inventory and the owners phoned us up in tears telling us we’d saved their livelihood.
          The only tears that happened were our own, that Snooth’s lovely article, written by Carly Wray, did not generate ONE sale. Nada. Zero. Lies all around in his comment regarding what their post results were. Save our livelihood, my arse! I tried to post a comment on P. James’ personal blog some weeks ago to let him know he had it wrong, but I see after moderation it was not posted. 

    • Anonymous

      – – –

  • concerned consumer

    has anyone discussed the ramifications of this upon consumers?

    • pmabray

      Not yet, would love to see you start that discussion.

  • Interesting. But I should say the title is miguiding. You add comment and point of view to facts… You should have saysmthing like “let’s peep through snooth data” OR “the snooth data unveiled…” OR “Are snooth datas assesments realluy accurates?”
    The answer of Philip James tend to proove that snooth’s goal is doing good for both customers AND producers… Personnaly, as a customer, I don’t mind if snooth is first all the time in SEO’s by using technicals tricks to outperform competitors… If informations about wine is accurate, and allow me to find the wine and buy it…

    • Anonymous

      But are their SEO techniques outdoing their competitors or the wineries giving them the data?

  • Anonymous

    I’m not sure who is correct re traffic numbers, so I did a bit of research.

    Firstly I tried to find Snooth wines on myrecipes.com by just browsing around the recipes, but couldn’t find any.

    Then I found the Wine Finder menu item! And indeed there are (via an iframe) snooth reviews.

    Here’s the odd thing. I then did an internal site search of myrecipes.com using google.com, the searches queries were:
    site:myrecipes.com (which had 88400 results) vs
    site:myrecipes snooth (which had 35900 results)

    At which point I thought Snooth was fine.

    Until I clicked on one of those snooth results and couldn’t find snooth or indeed any wines mentioned at all on the page! Now I’m wondering about Snooth, myrecipes, quantcast and even google! Perhaps google has cached / indexed old pages that used to have Snooth on them?

    Smells fishy. Does anyone have any insight?

    • Anonymous

      Had a look into it – here’s my summary,

      Misrepresentation: Unsure but smells bad
      Hidden objectives and SEO: I don’t think Philip’s being dishonest. Snooth could be a little more transparent.
      Poor user experience: Be open about the issues, create a bug and feature roadmap.
      So-called Success Stories: show direct evidence of listing driving success not emails
      Legal Breach: good luck.

      And the full post,

  • Frustrated Winemaker

    Snooth hijacked our winery brand, created invalid links and associations with our brand to other wineries that we have nothing do with. I discovered this as soon as Snooth went live. I repeatedly contacted the staff at Snooth asking them to correct our data to which they demanded that I fix their data for them (sorry I’m busy trying to make world class wines, not be your volunteer employee Snooth!). I then requested that Snooth remove us from their site entirely and they have refused to do so. I also noticed that I could go in and edit other wineries data and therefore pollute the data on Snooth. To this day Snooth has refused my request to remove our wines from their site. Personally, I keep hoping someone will file a class action suit against Snooth. I will gladly participate in a legal action against them.

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