Yelp is literally the worst review site on the planet. The very name of the company is derived from the sound of a dog being kicked. People with a bone to pick with a business seek out Yelp when they want a platform to complain.
Their rules are unspoken, their algorithm insanely flawed, but yet they are still feared by small businesses everywhere. And rightfully so since a couple bad reviews can not only sway a customer from walking in your doors, but even worse, when Google doesn’t have access to any reviews via their Google+ network for your business, they’ll actually retrieve some from Yelp. And in some cases, that can be horrific.
Across the board, most businesses feel the same way and pretty much have a unified hate of the business review giant. Many of which have pulled their advertising dollars from the Yelp system only to find that their once sticky positive reviews that graced their front page slowly sifted away into Yelp’s “Not Recommended” area where those great reviews not only are hidden behind a light grey link inconspicuously placed at the bottom of the page, but is also strategically placed to be overlooked.
Clicking that link takes you to a page that has an animated video explaining their convoluted and “secret system” that attempts to explain why those reviews were filtered out. But after a very long phone discussion with an actual Yelp representative, we were presented with a laundry list of “red flags” that Yelp indicates will doom a review to their disapproval dungeon. So what are those supposed flags?
- If a reviewer has never left a review before and doesn’t fill out any profile info (photo, location, email verification, etc.), the review won’t stick.
- If the review is coming from an IP address that matches the IP of the business website, the review won’t stick. If you’re handing an iPad to a customer to fill out at your place of business while you do their paperwork, that will kill the review.
- If the review comes as a result of a link placed in an email blast requesting their feedback, it won’t stick.
- If the customer’s location is outside of a 50 mile radius of the business, it won’t stick.
- If the review comes from a result of a link from the business website, it won’t stick.
- If the review breaks any rules such as being irrelevant, using profanity or containing hate speech, it’s out.
Essentially any review that occurs as a result of your influence that they can somehow verify you were involved with, it’s assumed that it won’t stick. So exactly what will stick?
- When a customer goes to Yelp without any influence from you, or
- If a customer clicks on a link that you use by placing Yelp’s code blocks from their Yelp badge page in the backend of your businesses admin area in Yelp (http://biz.yelp.com).
The ugliest truth is that the easiest way of all is to simply pay for advertising on Yelp and almost all of these exceptions go away. Not only that, but your negative reviews are put under intense scrutiny. Not a paying advertiser? Then you’ll experience the exact opposite. All of your reviews are raked over the coals except for your negative reviews which magically stick on freeloaders.
We ran tests on multiple accounts for a dealership in Georgia where part of them were paid and part of them stopped their advertising. Within weeks, the positive reviews on the non-paying accounts filtered off into their “not recommended” area while the reviews on the paid accounts enjoyed front page debuts.
Yelp will go to their grave to cover up knowledge of this practice, but we’ve seen it first hand and most likely if you don’t have Yelp in your list of credit card charges, you probably have as well.
One of the biggest black eyes for Yelp recently is the case of Memories Pizza in Walkerton, Indiana. The owner reportedly stood up for his religious beliefs and stated that if he was asked to serve his pizza at a gay wedding that he would refuse. The reports of his statements caused a literal whirlwind of hatred and vitriol from people all around the country who then lit up their Yelp page with hateful reviews. Reviews that came from everywhere from people that had never set foot in the restaurant.
What happened to the location based review rules? The first time reviewer rules? The rules about hate speech or irrelevance? Not only did dozens of negative reviews stick on their front page, but they are also highlighted on their page as legitimate “business reviews” even though none of them mention pizza at all.
Long story longer, Yelp will continue to be a threat to small businesses until advertisers choose to vote with their wallets.
Until then, your biggest weapon is Google+. With a vast majority of internet users using Google to do their searches, your reviews will be seen there in 90% or higher of the instances way before that potential customer gets to Yelp.
If you don’t have a Google+ account or you’ve set one up, but haven’t touched it much (or at all), now is the time. Not only does Google pull various pieces of your business info from your Google+ account to accentuate and beef up your search engine listing when your appear in the results, but the reviews there take precedence over Yelp’s. Google would much rather use reviews from their own database than to rely on external sources.
Until Yelp fixes their skewed faulty review system that is embarrassing their company to the point where businesses are walking away in droves, Yelp’s future is incredibly bleak.
Lucky for your business, you have a weapon to fight with and that weapon is Google+.