5 Yelp Facts Business Owners Should Know (But Most Don’t)
Business owners: Yelp doesn't have to be a source of anxiety! Columnist Brian Patterson explains how you can make the review site work for you.
If you ever want to hear a business owner rant, just grab some popcorn and casually bring up Yelp.
The mere mention of the controversial company’s name generates a range of emotions — often times negative with a tinge of despair. At best, business owners are frustrated with the volume of sales calls they receive; at worst, they are on the receiving end of a number of negative reviews they don’t know to handle.
We work with many multi-location and franchise businesses every day to improve Yelp presences, and I can say definitively that the despair is often unnecessary. Yelp is not a black box, but rather a nuanced platform that you can navigate to your advantage.
Here are five facts about Yelp that, if understood and embraced, can morph that despair into determination to turn Yelp into a positive asset that helps the business.
1. The Filter Is Fluid
The Yelp Filter is the most frustrating part of Yelp for many business owners, so let’s address it first. Many reviews come into Yelp, appear on the page for a day or two, and then disappear.
These reviews are stuck down in a “not recommended” section, causing them to no longer be (easily) visible. This does not impact the overall Yelp score.
To find these filtered reviews, scroll to the bottom of the page and find the light gray text referencing them:
The filter can be a blessing and a curse; on one hand, some of your great reviews can slip into the filter, but, on the other hand, some of your 1-stars might slip into it, too.
Those lost 5-star reviews are painful; however, when something slips into the filter, all hope is not lost. We know that the filter is fluid, so even if a review initially goes to the filter, it can be pulled back out.
Combine this fact with what Yelp says in their explanation video, and you can start to build a strategy:
Every Yelp review is automatically evaluated by Yelp’s recommendation software based on quality, reliability, and user activity on Yelp. More often than not, those useful reviews come from active members of the Yelp community.
The key phrase here — and what you can actually do something about — is “user activity.” Often times, those reviewers relegated to the filter have just a handful of reviews and minimal friends on the site.
If you can identify the customer who left a positive review in the filter, you can reach out to them and let them know their great review is being hidden because they aren’t active on Yelp. Additionally, you (and other employees) can add them as a friend and mark their reviews as useful and cool.
At scale, we’ve found a strategic approach to de-filtering positive reviews is able to pull ~20 percent of 5-star reviews out of the filter. This can have a tremendous impact on a company’s star rating.
2. You Can Ask For Reviews
Yelp has done a poor job of communicating their policy on how businesses can ask for reviews. You’ll hear people claim, “Yelp says you can’t ask for reviews!” And indeed, Yelp has pages on their site that indicate that position.
However, about a year ago, I emailed Yelp asking explicitly if businesses can ask customers to leave a review on Yelp, and they replied with the following:
The response is clear. They discourage owners from asking for reviews, but it is not a violation of Yelp’s Terms of Service. What is a violation is incentivizing customers to leave (or remove) reviews.
For me, this is an open-and-shut case: you can ask your customers for reviews. When you know a customer is happy, you absolutely should ask them for a Yelp review.
3. Flagging Does Work, And You Can Ask For A Re-Review
When a negative review comes in for a business I’m working with, the first thing I do is assess the content to see if anything violates Yelp’s Content Guidelines. Not all reviews violate them, but if there is anything questionable, it is certainly worth a shot.
The Content Guidelines are short and definitely worth understanding well. I often find myself quoting aspects of the guidelines when I flag a review and request its removal. I look at flagging as my chance to play armchair lawyer; I’ll write a compelling case, citing evidence from the review and text from the content guidelines to build a compelling plea for removal.
If there is a violation and you’ve done a good job of highlighting it, you’ll be rewarded with an email like this several days later:
Sometimes you’ll receive a notification that the review has already been reviewed, typically because someone before you has flagged it. In these cases, Yelp won’t review it again without going down a separate path. To escalate a review for further consideration from Yelp, use this form to again plead the case: http://www.yelp.com/support/contact/flagged_content
Continuing the legal analogy, think of this escalated review as an appeals/Supreme Court ruling. They are likely to agree with the previous ruling, so you need to make a very strong case for it to be reversed.
The success rate is lower here, but they will indeed do a re-review and reverse positions if the appeal is compelling.
4. You Need To Understand The Environment: It Is Gray, Not Black And White
What I often find with business owners and marketing directors is that there is great angst with Yelp as a platform, but they don’t actually use it personally. I always encourage them to set up a profile and get active, as there really is no better way to understand the platform and the mindset of its users. As “The Art of War” says, “Know thy enemy.” (And indeed, many business owners and marketing directors consider Yelp the enemy!)
When a business owner starts using Yelp and leaving honest reviews, they start to see the little things that make a big difference from a consumer experience perspective. They can now apply this new lens to their own business and make improvements, so that future Yelp reviews have a better chance of being positive.
Great customer service, a generous return policy, friendly staff, cleanliness and flexibility are some of the common characteristics of businesses that do well on Yelp.
5. Your Sales Contact Can Do More Than Sell You Ads
Yelp’s sales team is aggressive… sometimes too aggressive. They can drive busy business owners crazy by calling weekly to inquire about advertising on the platform. However, we’ve found that their eagerness to start a dialogue can be used to your favor.
In one instance, we worked with a company that had moved their location just a few blocks down the street. However, instead of their Yelp profile address simply being updated, Yelp “closed” their old location page and started a brand-new page for the new address. The reason this was an issue was because their previous page had a hard earned 50+ reviews and 4-star rating.
We tried all of the recommended routes by Yelp to resolve this to no avail. Then, we brought the issue up with the eager-to-help sales team, and it was fixed in just a few days. We didn’t promise the salesperson anything; we simply brought an issue to them and said that we wouldn’t discuss any advertising until something they broke with our business was corrected.
In another case, we had a business whose corporate headquarters was on Yelp. While their individual business locations might belong on Yelp, their corporate headquarters services no customers and shouldn’t really have a Yelp profile.
We tried and tried to get Yelp to remove the page, but we were continually denied. We then explained the issue to our Yelp ad rep, and they took the page down.
If you have a problem with your Yelp profile and feel stuck, it doesn’t hurt to discuss it with your Yelp sales rep.
What To Do Next
First, get active on Yelp. If you don’t have a profile, set one up. Install the mobile app. Begin checking into businesses and leaving reviews.
Beyond that, it really pays to sit down and think through a Yelp strategy. You can do some initial triage work on existing reviews, but you should also develop a clear plan for how you will get new 5-star reviews over time. Use the Yelp improvement calculator to determine how many positive reviews you need to reach your milestones and goals.
You’ll also want to analyze all of your customer touch points to ensure they are handed in a way that would elicit positive organic reviews.
The fact is that Google’s hand has been forced (literally, by Congress) to show Yelp in the search results, so they aren’t going anywhere. You should be working on a Yelp strategy if you don’t have one already.