Why Yelp Will Not Help – Small Businesses

I’m a big believer in the power of customer testimonials and as the owner of a small business marketing firm, I have always worked with my clients on finding ways to increase the number of client testimonials and user generated content their businesses get.

In my experience, satisfied or not; people are less than inclined to write a testimonial for a business they patronized for one of three reasons:

  • They simply don’t think of it
  • They don’t know where to write one
  • Because nobody asked them to

Enter Yelp.com, an online review site where a business patron can share their experiences with a business to the world!  Hallelujah!!

An online review site where a business can have a presence, a link they could share with their customers, and a handy-dandy shiny new social media icon they could put on their website – sounds like the perfect answer to the problem doesn’t it!?

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Well I’m here to say it isn’t.

Imagine if you will (come on – humor me) that you just set up your business profile on Yelp.com so you could have a single point of reference for your Yelp businesses reviews (rants & raves) and maybe if you’re lucky; even have those Yelp business reviews picked up by the search engines thus giving your great business even greater star power.

So now – just how do you think you would promote this awesome new service?  well if you were like me, you would tell all your customers about it.  Maybe even paste a Yelp icon on your business cards and definitely put one on you website – yea, I’d let everyone know how to brag about me!

Actually, asking for a testimonial is standard business marketing.  As Professional Speaker Patricia Fripp says “the answer is always no if you don’t ask” – so ask and ye shall receive.

I’ll bet probably thinking that sending an email to your clients and maybe even posting a message with your Yelp.com link on Twitter and Facebook would increase your chances of having your raving fans share their feelings on your new review tool.  You are – aren’t you?

Yep – that’s exactly what I did too; and my Yelp business listing bit me in the ass nearly immediately.

Contradictory to standard business practice – Yelp “{actually discourage business owners from asking their customers to write reviews”}.

Seems Yelp.com has this intelligent “Yelp Filter” that limits spam and potentially fraudulent reviews from posting.  It’s kinda fuzzy how it has filtered all the nice comments people have said of my business but it has; and now those comments are nearly invisible.  To make matters worse – my main profile isn’t showing any review credits for those reviews either.  Thanks for the help Yelp.

The answer I got as to why these got filtered was fuzzy too, but here’s my guess. . . .

  1. I received too many positive reviews in a time period
  2. The reviewers had low or no earlier activity
  3. The language was overly rich in details
  4. The reviewers had incomplete or minimalistic profiles

And here are the reasons for these infractions. . . .

  1. They answered the call-to-action quickly because they wanted to share their experience on Yelp.com
  2. They opened a new account specifically to write my review(Which means I actually brought Yelp.com new subscribers)
  3. Some of my reviewers are in marketing and/or journalism, and write pretty swell
  4. See #2

The worst thing about this was whole fiasco is the fact that a reviewer called me asking why I took down their review – much to my surprise, Yelp had removed it (or moved it to the Filtered Reviews” list as they call it), nonetheless – it’s nearly invisible and are clearly missing from my “Reviews” count.  I don’t think they show on the mobile app at all – making my Yelp listing utterly useless.

I wrote a letter to Yelp thinking I had done something wrong here – their reply follows.

Hi there,Yelp is a website where people read and write reviews about their favorite local businesses. Therefore, it might seem counter-intuitive that we actually discourage business owners from asking their customers to write reviews: http://officialblog.yelp.com/2009/09/to-solicit-or-not-to-solicit.htmlWhy would an online review site discourage review solicitation? Two major reasons:- Would-be customers won’t trust you. Let’s face it, few people would ask for a review if they thought there was any chance that review would be negative. Over time, these self-selected reviews create intrinsic bias in the business listing — a bias that savvy consumers (read: yelpers) can smell from a mile away. But no business is perfect, and it’s impossible to please 100% of your customers 100% of the time.- A lot of solicited reviews get filtered, and that will drive you crazy. Solicited reviews get filtered all the time. If you’ve never heard about Yelp’s review filter, or you’ve had a review inexplicably”disappear” from your business page, this video (http://bit.ly/YelpFilter) does a good job of explaining why reviews disappear and reappear from time to time. It’s tough to design algorithms that can tell the difference between a person writing fake, 5-star reviews about him/herself, and that same person handing their laptop to a customer and watching the customer write a biased review.Yelp exists to connect people with great local businesses. This is achieved by providing people with trustworthy information about said businesses. If consumers don’t trust our content, people stop using Yelp, and everyone loses: consumers don’t have a resource they can trust to make spending decisions, would-be customers stop visiting your business listing.

There’s no silver bullet for a great reputation: the best way to succeed on Yelp is by focusing on great customer service (building out a robust business listing using biz.yelp.com’s free tools also doesn’t hurt)

There is a way to let your customers know you’re on Yelp without being overly solicitous.

Yelp User Support
San Francisco, California

For your reference this is Case #: 225902


 Wow – is that corporate mumbo-jumbo or what?

Yelp.com clearly has its filters set too tight and judging by Marvin’s reply they’re drinking their own Cool-Aid in thinking that their filter is working for small business.  I wonder at this point what the ratio of registered Yelp users is to active reviewers and active check-ins.

Yea, I know the power of Yelp on search is strong, but imaging how much more powerful it would be for businesses if it opened its filters just a bit more; and had an option to reinstate filtered reviews.

Customers would indeed be the greatest benefactor of any filter change (if it’s in the right direction).

  • Am I alone with this situation?

  • Have you had the same experience?

  • Does this change your perception of Yelp? (it has for me – and for many of my clients too)

I would love to hear from other people who have had similar experience – I’m not alone here – am I?

Discuss This Article

Comments: 13

  • I’ve been wondering if reviews on Yelp are really credible.. and if Amazon reviews are more reliable. Then again, the Web is littered with fake profiles who write positive/negative reviews about brands X,Y,Z that you start to wonder if you should trust your own judgment instead when shopping for something online. I have to agree with you on providing great customer service though – because that will be the line that will define brand advocates vs those who are simply stopping by.

  • Marissa, online reviews like any user-generated content is a slippery slope. The best advice is to diversify your listings and have a clear strategy of how to best promote your inbound love.

    There are two other articles posted on B2C you may be interested in that complement this: http://ow.ly/hkThj AND http://ow.ly/hkTD6

    I would love to hear back from you after you’ve had time to consider these other articles.

    Thanks again for commenting!

  • Hi Chris,

    I completely understand your frustration with Yelp based on your story. However, based on my experience, I don’t believe your situation is the norm.

    We haven’t encountered the same issues you have while monitoring/maintaining Yelp pages for 10 of our clients. To this date, no reviews have been “filtered” (removed). Not one. The review sorting does change from time-to-time as usual: sometimes a 5-star review will be listed first and sometimes a low review will be listed first. The businesses we work with use the reviews to address any shortcomings and improve their services. It’s been a positive all around.

    It’s unfortunate when you said in your previous Yelp article that, “most of the small businesses I know have all been hit by the dreaded ‘Yelp filtered review’.” This just hasn’t been the case for my clients and other business owners I network with. How many businesses are you referring to?

    By the way, I thought your recent “Leave That Google Review Alone!” article was excellent. We shared it via Twitter.

    Thanks for starting the conversation.

  • Brett – thanks for the dialog.

    “Unfortunate”? I don’t know about that – just my experience. I have found that most of my clients and other businesses I have spoken either networking or through instruction have experienced at leas one filtered review.

    Most of the time review filtering occurs for one of the reasons mentioned in the article. New reviewers with thin profiles and lack of history are the usual culprits. That said, I have observed that as they increase their review counts and put some detail into their profiles their reviews are set free. It’s just a royal pain of a process – all too common and well published.

    Hey, I noticed you have 10 mentions of Yelp on you website (Saw you even provide Yelp management as a service) – glad to see it’s working well for you and your clients.

    Thanks for the kinds words.

  • Fleur says:

    This is completely 100% our experience. We are still waiting to hear a response from yelp why 99% of our reviews are hidden. It all started when we ‘claimed’ our business on yelp.
    Such a shame.

  • jane says:

    Our small biz was also punished by the Yelp filter whip after our third week in biz. I was then hounded by Yelp to purchase a subscription at a cost of 300 a month. wow, Yelp has nerve I will give you that.

  • WOW – Jane! Sadly, I’ve heard this story time-and-time again. Even paid accounts get filtered, I’m curious to hear if your problem cleared up after subscribing to Yelp’s services – if that was the route you took. You can get a lot of multi-channel marketing for that $300 pr month…

  • Guys, My company got absolutely killed by yelp. I run a test prep company and I had a woman whose son increased his SAT score by 200 points demand her money back! Her school told me she was crazt and not to worry about it. HOWEVER thanks to Yelp, she has managed to singlehandedly take down by business. How, she wrote a scathingly scandalous and untrue review. Yelp refused to believe me. Meanwhile, they filter all 12 of my positive reviews from REAL CLIENTS! Since YELP is so good at marketing itself, that bad review comes up first in every search. It has killed my business. We are a company with the highest educational and ethical standards, and one woman with a grudge and one company with no conscience has managed to destroy us.

  • PS – Sorry for the typos!

  • Ona says:

    We are going thru this right now. My boyfriend just opened a new restaurant and Yelp has filtered half the reviews. Of course those are some of the best reviews. He had a customer (who happens to be a local politician in the small community and fellow business owner) contact him to let him know that the review she wrote was missing. Upon searching, we found it in the filtered section. This lady was a long time Yelp customer and had many reviews, some good and some bad, for various local businesses. They did leave the review from a person making libelous claims who opened the account just to make the false claims. Of course, this is all happening while Yelp sales people call every other day trying to sell him a advertising package for money money than his new business can afford.

  • M. Williamson says:

    Yelp is a for profit company this has nothing to do with free speech, it is free speech manipulation, businesses should be given the freedom to take themselves off someone else’s FOR PROFIT listing, why do we as business owners need to sacrifice our good will so another business can make money off our good name? they should be paying us royalties just like the record industry if we give them permission to use our businesses to help their business make money, why do we need to be the sheep that are sacrificed so another can profit from harming our good will and our hard work? Do Not ever give up the fight on this issue! NEVER!! The laws must change!! Small claims court comment while under oath about yelp >> http://sfist.com/2013/07/22/video_angry_defendant_bashes_yelps.php

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