There are countless online review sites that can benefit (or break) business owners: Foursquare, Angie's List, Google Local, and the list goes on...but of all these sites, Yelp stands out as the one go-to for most people. I find myself utilizing Yelp for almost everything: doctors, restaurants, car dealerships, massage therapists; in fact, I can't remember the last time I attempted to venture out without consulting Yelp first. It's like my magic 8 ball. For consumers, Yelp doesn't really have a downside. It's quick and easy, and it can make you feel like part of a community. I feel really good when I post something nice about a business I am happy about, and I've discovered lots of new places and events that I never would have, if not for Yelp. And, of course, there is also something to be said for having an outlet to vent. Bitter consumers can now exact a bit of revenge on businesses who have wronged them, without facing any repercussions.
From the perspective of a business owner, though, there are plenty of downsides. Yelp is meant to be a non-biased forum for people's opinions about businesses, but it doesn't always work out that way. Reviews are often filtered, which means that a percentage of reviews are hidden from easy access to viewers. Yes, you can search for these hidden reviews, but you have to click to another page, fill in a captcha...it's not difficult, but most people have a very short attention span when it comes to online perusal. If something isn't right in front of them, they'll click onward.
So, what does this mean for business owners? Let's break it down. When someone Yelps a business, they naturally gravitate to the businesses that are rated four and five stars; I've already mentioned the attention span issue. If someone is looking for an Italian restaurant in the area, why bother reading about 2-star restaurants when there are a number of places with higher ratings? But, here is the issue: restaurant #1 has 10 reviews. They have a mix of five and four-star reviews, which balances out to 4 1/2 stars. Restaurant #2 has twenty reviews, fifteen of which are five stars. One disgruntled consumer posted a one star review, one posted three stars, and the rest are fours. Sounds like a promising place to eat, right? Out of twenty people, half consider this a 5-star dining experience, three gave four stars. This is where Yelp's filtering system comes into play. Yelp, for some unknown reason, filters out ten of these reviews. Now we are left with a balance of three fours, a two, and a one. So, even though this restaurant had more positive reviews than the prior one, it now looks as if it has an overall rating of 2 1/2-3. Which restaurant is going to attract more clientele?
There are massive conspiracy theories about Yelp filtering reviews according to who chooses to purchase their insanely expensive advertising. Are they true? To be honest, I'm not sure. Yelp will talk your ear off about their "algorhythm system," which basically is a way of placing blame on random computations, rather than Yelp employees. According to them, this mysterious system is wise enough to figure out what reviews have a higher chance of being either fake or low-quality. And, they will add, these reviews will cycle back depending on the activity of the reviewer. So, if a real, legitimate 5-star review disappears, the odds are that it will come back.
And then we come to advertising. Yelp offers so little for so much. I believe their rates are around $400 a month, you need to sign up for a full year, and there is no way to get out of the contract. I wouldn't have such an issue with this if not for the fact that, for all of that money, you get almost nothing more than you already have with a free account. I have been stalked by Yelp for years, and I ask them, every time, if they can show me some numbers. Show me anything that will lead me to believe that there is a difference between paying nothing and paying $400 a month. Nope. There is simply nothing that they can do to prove that advertising with them will lead to an increase in sales.
I have heard countless stories of business owners having positive reviews removed after refusing to advertise with them. I myself have had many reviews disappear; it doesn't affect my rating since fortunately all my reviews are positive. Is it because I refuse to advertise with them? According to them, it's the algorhythm system, but who knows for sure?
What I do know is that, despite all of this, my free account with Yelp has boosted my sales tremendously. The majority of my patients who aren't referrals have found me there. This being said, there is a definite system to getting (some) Yelp reviews to stick. Throughout the years, I have learned a bit about the ins and outs of Yelp, and today I'm going to give you a bit of guidance on getting reviews and keeping them visible:
1. This is a pretty obvious statement, but create a Yelp account, and fill in as much info as possible, including pics. Accounts can be made by you, the business owner, or by anyone who decides to review you. All they need to do is write a review for you, and boom, you have an Yelp page. But hey, it's free advertising, so why not use the opportunity to create your own and really show prospective clients what you have to offer?
2. When I first started my practice and created a Yelp page, I sent out a mass email to all of my patients asking for reviews. Mistake. When you get a large influx of Yelp reviews all at once, they are automatically filtered. If you do request reviews, make sure you spread out your requests. If you get a new review every few weeks, the odds of those reviews sticking increases dramatically.
3. Yelp favors the reviews of frequent Yelpers. If someone writes a single review, the likelihood is that this review will immediately disappear. If they write often, their review is granted more legitimacy. There isn't much you can do about this as a business owner, although if you feel very comfortable with a client you can mention it and hope that they will write a few more reviews so that the one they have written for you will stay visible.
4. Yelp also dislikes reviewers without a picture. Again, not much you can do about this, except mention it and hope that your client is willing to do a little extra work to make your review stick.
5. Make it as easy as possible for people to review you...then make it even easier. Remember what I said about short attention spans? Patients tell me all the time, "Oh, I need to write you a great review somewhere!" Rather than just nodding and smiling, I ask them if they would like me to send a link to my Yelp page. Then I do it immediately, before I forget. They now have expressed an interest in writing a review, and don't want to lie to/disappoint me, and I have both sent them a reminder and pointed them in the right direction. Now they have no excuse!
6. Take special note of those clients who found you through Yelp, because they are more likely to be frequent reviewers, which means that their reviews will hold more weight. I don't come right out and ask for reviews, but if I know that someone found me on Yelp, I'll make a light comment about it. Usually, all I have to do is say something like, "I'm so glad you found me on Yelp, that's where a lot of my clients find me. I love it!" More times than not, the person will respond that they'll be sure to write my next review.
7. Repetition is key. Create some business cards with your Yelp link, and keep them visible. Post your link to Yelp on your website, your business page, or anywhere else you can think of. The more times people see it, the more likely they will be to create a review for you. I send out a monthly newsletter with a Yelp link on it, and while I don't directly ask for reviews, I do tell my patients to check out my new reviews. This often inspires them to write one, as well.
8. No matter how hard you try, you can't please everyone. On an online forum, chances are that you will get a negative review now and again. You can respond publicly to these reviews, but don't do anything before you take a step back and breathe. The worst thing to do is to come across as defensive; this will lead readers to assume you are in the wrong. Be calm, courteous, and proactive, and you will come across as a true professional. Let's face it, most people reading these reviews are smart enough to figure out that not everyone is easy to deal with, and that not every negative review is a reflection on the business owner.
9. Advertising with Yelp is a waste of money. If you want advertising, spend some time creating a well-written profile with eye-catching pics. And tell them to take you off their calling list, or they will call you non-stop!