Word of mouth shapes consumer buying decisions and Yelp must capture, filter and present authentic, accurate reviews to guide consumer decision making. Yelp has powerful influence over local businesses because people use Yelp reviews to decide where to spend their money.
That’s why, as a small business, Yelp can make or break you.
Yelpers have written over 33 million reviews and Yelp recently reported 100 million unique visitors to Yelp.com plus 9.4 million unique mobile users.
Unfortunately, Yelp’s review filtering algorithm, which determines which reviews stay on your profile and which reviews are filtered out, is far from perfect. It struggles to determine the authenticity of many reviews.
Yelp knows its automated filtering algorithm is imperfect. Online marketers are discussing review filters and suggesting ways to improve them. However, until Yelp’s filter is more accurate, it will indiscriminately bury legitimate reviews while leaving biased reviews on business listings.
To some people cherries are sweet while to others they are tart. Yelp thrives on gathering their diverse opinions. But at times it is frustratingly inconsistent in removing reviews that violate its Terms of Service or Content Guidelines. Real users ask, “Is there a reason that every single review of mine is filtered?” And to such questions Yelp indicates that not all reviews make the cut (but without revealing much more).
As illustrated by the NY Times, a review with a particularly negative tone can have a potent effect on others but Yelp takes no responsibility for whatever distortions those reviews create.
For example, PBS.org described Yelp’s shaky history with small businesses by highlighting a specific case where Yelp filtered 18 positive reviews out of 19 in total, leaving a single one-star review.
Information inaccuracy generally spells trouble for user-generated content sites and Yelp is no different. It readily admits its imperfections but still retains its right to be the sole arbiter. It asserts that others shouldn’t meddle by asking for reviews. Instead, Yelp wants you to fill out your business profile, provide great customer service, respond to reviews and put Yelp decals, logos and buttons on your assets to create awareness for Yelp (and your listing on Yelp).
Imperfect Review Filter
Rude, intense, inaccurate comments can persist on business listings. If they’re real and have enough validity to them, perhaps they should remain. But that’s not always the case.
The filter has the power to exaggerate possible distortions in the reviews because people trust that the filter works. When filtered reviews are ignored and the remaining reviews are trusted, those that remain carry more weight in the buyer’s decision making process.
Take a newer business that has very few reviews: the wisdom of crowds doesn’t work- because no “crowd” has reviewed the business. Seeing that few reviews exist, potential customers should focus on professional critics and experts rather than the few recommendations which may deserve no merit.
But what if potential customers trust Yelp and the reviews are fake, false or exaggerated?
While Yelp is selling confidence that consumer reviews are unbiased, businesses are desperately trying to get more positive reviews. Incentives aren’t aligned and this seems to be the primary cause of tension between Yelp and small businesses.
Small businesses are claiming their listings, monitoring their brand and responding to reviews. Many ask for reviews outright even though Yelp says the reviews are likely to get filtered (they don’t always get filtered when they should).
Ideally, businesses would just do their best work and there would be no fakes, cheaters and review solicitors. (Yelp does find evidence, punish and publicly shame the few unethical businesses who pay for reviews.) If user-generated reviews were created accurately, consumers would find appropriate businesses and make accurate purchase decisions.
In reality, the quality and accuracy of user-generated information is suspect. Yelp has to maintain its reputation as a provider of reliable information but small businesses know that is difficult when anyone can post their opinion of your business to Yelp’s website.
Standard Yelp Advice
Here is Yelp’s standard advice supported by Yelp’s FAQ:
- Provide Outstanding Customer Service: The best way to generate honest, unbiased positive reviews is to provide great customer service on a consistent basis. Go the extra mile for customers and they’ll want to tell others about their positive experience with you.
- Build a Better Business Listing: Claim your profile, complete your profile, create Yelp deals and use the other free tools Yelp offers to build a better listing and attract more customers.
- Respond to Reviews: When customers review your business, respond diplomatically and use trends in the feedback as a barometer to help you improve your service. For example, you can thank them for their comment, explain how you rectified the issue and tell them how you are using their feedback to improve. You can also kindly thank them for their opinion, acknowledge it and clarify something if you feel their statements were incorrect.
- Create Awareness Rather Than Asking for Testimonials: Instead of blatantly saying “Review us on Yelp,” say “Check us out on Yelp”.
- Help Consumers Find You on Yelp: Don’t forget the mobile audience will see your Yelp decals or logos on your front counter or window. Include a link to your Yelp business listing and be sure to include your Yelp info in your email signature.
- Don’t offer any incentives for reviews at your place of business. Elite users will tell on you. And if you try to buy reviews, Yelp will fight back and shame you.
- Don’t worry that the automated review filter is not perfect. (Of course you are going to worry! This is your business we’re talking about.)
- Don’t ask for reviews because it tends to create an unintentional bias. Encourage engagement instead.
The Gray Area
The gray area lies somewhere between what Yelp tells you to do and doing what’s best for your business. Here’s what we think is acceptable behavior that can benefit your business.
Encouraging customers to write Yelp reviews is mostly pointless because many customers aren’t active or elite Yelpers. If someone creates a Yelp account just to write a review for you and they never participate on Yelp again, there is a high chance Yelp will filter the review.
Therefore, if you are going to bother asking for reviews they should be from active and elite members of the Yelp community. How do you find them?
- Ask customers, “did you find out about us through Yelp?” Then you can casually talk about Yelp and what it has meant to your business. If they said they found out about you through Yelp don’t forget to give them great service!
- Build relationships that are so strong that you can determine if they are active on Yelp and comfortably ask for a review, but never offer them anything in exchange for a review. Business reputations depend on Yelp reviews because new customers go to Yelp to learn about why they should visit a business for the first time. Yelpers understand what a Yelp review means to your business and that’s a good reason to become closer to your customers.
You know what may happen? Some of the reviews may end up in the review filter and not on your business listing. But others will get posted and the elite Yelp reviews will often get posted.
Aggressive Yelp Management
One of the best things you can do is to control the conversation or at least get involved in it. For example, Discover Hawaii Tours has taken to its blog to discuss its problems with Yelp and to encourage customers to trust TripAdvisor instead.
Respond to reviews! Too many businesses ignore negative reviews or try to get them filtered when they should be taking a recommendation from Inc.com: craft authentic, respectful, appropriate rebuttals.
It is in everyone’s best interest to help Yelp reviews become more candid and unbiased even though Forbes reported that few think Yelp reviews are unbiased now.
This leaves small business owners with a difficult marketing challenge. They want to be savvy and get more and better Yelp reviews without breaking any rules. But customers are making buying decisions based on the visible reviews, whether they are valid or not. If they leave it to Yelp, small business owners may lose control of their business revenue and their reputation to an automated filter that doesn’t work well.
Explore the standard advice and possibly the gray area. Whether or not Yelp ever gets their filter right, the ideas in this blog post can help your small business gain more positive Yelp reviews and customers.
If you liked this post, please subscribe to our e-mail newsletter!