Business owners have a bone to pick with Yelp. A quick Google search will turn up countless articles and complaints about how small business owners feel they are being extorted or held hostage by Yelp’s review display process. The company’s review system and filtering formula have inspired complaints, town hall meetings, and even litigation. The contention lies in the fact that small business owners feel forced to deal with Yelp. “You can’t run a small business without them,” one business owner said in a recent Los Angeles Times article. For most local businesses, this statement is likely true.
A consumer review survey conducted by Bright Local confirms just how much influence these reviews have to sway purchasing decisions. The study shows that 85% of consumers say they read online reviews of local businesses. 79% of those consumers also say they trust online reviews as much as personal recommendations. 65% of those surveyed say they were more likely to use a business which has positive reviews online.
Clint Evans, co-founder of an Austin Texas based marketing agency, says his experience with clients echoes the research findings. “Yelp commissioned a study that showed every 1/2 star increase in ratings leads to 19% more business, 19% more sales. We know from user search and buying behavior, they put a lot of weight on those reviews, and if one or two of your competitors have a better rating than you on Yelp and Google, then the person is more likely to swing toward that business than yours.”
“The real problem is that Google sees Yelp as highly credible and will likely display those reviews and business ratings over other more industry specific review sites,” Evans says.
“I’ve dealt with a local dentist who had a 2 star Yelp reputation. He had literally hundreds of positive 4 and 5 star reviews on http://www.rateadentist.com, a review site specifically for dentists. But unfortunately, Google doesn’t really care about the Rate a Dentist website. Those reviews didn’t show up on the first page search results when someone searches for his name or his practice. However, what Google does show is the negative Yelp reviews right up there in the top 3 spots, and it just looks really bad.”
“This paints a picture the business owner felt was highly inaccurate, because he’s got hundreds of positive reviews on rate a dentist, and dozens of good reviews on Google. But Yelp shows his 3 bad reviews and only a few of his positive ones with many positive ones filtered out. So out of all of these review sites, Yelp seems to be the one that is inaccurate.”
There is a feeling among business owners and marketers alike that Yelp seems more likely to filter out positive reviews and leave the negative ones. Yelp has a mathematical formula designed to help highlight the reviews that are deemed more trustworthy. A formula is applied to each review to look for credibility signals. Like Google’s top secret search engine ranking algorithm, this formula is also carefully guarded, claimed to be unknown by even Yelp’s own reps. If a review is flagged as being less than credible it gets put in the business profile’s “reviews that are not recommended” section and does not count toward the company’s star review rating.
Evans offers some insight into Yelp’s objectives with their review filter. “This really came about because three or four years ago Yelp was seeing a lot of what it considered spam. Business owners were setting up fake accounts and leaving 5 star reviews for themselves. You have businesses outright paying for or otherwise incentivizing positive reviews, which is a direct violation of Yelp’s Terms of Service. You also were seeing things like competitive envy, where a less successful business would go to what he considered his competitors and leave false negative reviews. Yelp’s response is their filtering formula. Their goal is to try to deliver the most reliable and trustworthy reviews to Yelp users. The challenge is, it’s extremely hard to separate the legitimate from the fake, and Yelp seems to have thrown the baby out with the bathwater.”
But because Yelp is such a prominent influence on how customers, clients, and patients choose who to do business with, it cannot be ignored or abandoned. “You’ve got to have a strategy,” says Evans. Based on his experience with clients, he’s identified several factors that seem to indicate the review is more likely to stick. “It is more about the reviewer than the contents of the review. They have to have been a Yelp user for a while. They need to be active on Yelp, ideally having left more than 10 reviews for other businesses, the more the better. They need to have friends on their Yelp profile, which shows they are part of the Yelp community. It is good if they are engaged with reviews of others by voting if they were useful, funny, or cool. And it seems to help if they are from the local area.”
“I offer a service to small business clients that need to get more positive reviews to stick. We research the local area and identify the users that meet these criteria and seem like they may be a good fit for the business. Maybe they have reviewed a company that offers the same service, or they seem to be interested in services in the same category. We will actually reach out to those users on behalf of the client, and offer them an invitation to patronize the business in exchange for an honest review. The businesses I work with are confident that once these users experience the service they will be thrilled and they’ll leave a positive review – hopefully one that will stick.”
Evans points out that “This service is 100% in compliance with Yelp’s Terms of Service. I make sure we stay up to date on their guidelines and always follow best practices. This is not a service for business with a history of bad performance to try to game the system.”
“The types of businesses that benefit most are successful businesses that get great reviews consistently; they are just frustrated about the fact that those positive reviews on Yelp get filtered too often. They take it personally. They know they do great work and Yelp seems to tell a different story. This is a big thorn in the side for a lot of businesses and until now there really wasn’t a way to address it,” he adds.
Evans explains why he added this service to his mix of online marketing solutions for local businesses. “Small business owners can reach out to these Yelp users themselves, but most find they just don’t have the time to get this done. It’s a simple strategy, but it requires a bit of finesse. You’ve got to be familiar with Yelp’s Terms of Service, you need to craft a message that is in line with that, and then you need to research and find potential candidates, and reach out to them.”
“Most business owners are too busy running their practice to learn a whole new marketing tactic then take the time to execute it themselves or train a staff member to do it. My clients happily hire me to handle this for them. We work closely to craft an invitation they are happy with. It really gives them a sense of control again. There is no guarantee the reviews won’t be filtered, but clients are happy to be taking a proactive approach and have an advocate to work on their behalf.” For many business owners who value their online reputation, this could be one strategy to make sure they at least have a way to fight back.
To find out more about Clint Evans visit: http://www.ClintEvans.com.