Sunday, March 24, 2013

Is Universally Despised by SMB's? 5 Steps to Managing Your Reputation on Yelp

What Can I Do About Yelp?  


Yelp certainly doesn't care about their own reputation as they continue to be clueless about their impact on small businesses in our communities.  Many, if not most, small business owners tell me they see Yelp in one of several ways:
  1. A Royal Pain
  2. Unethical
  3. Uncaring
  4. Something to be manipulated
  5. Overbearing
A phone call from a Yelp sales person is something to be dreaded unless you are into scolding, whining, and complaining with no hope of changing their ridiculous methods or the horrific results for your specific business.

First the Bad News About Yelp

They have been sued repeatedly and cursed constantly for the methods they use to determine how reviews are shown on a small business listing.  They claim that the entire system is hands off and based on algorithms that determine which reviews are visible and which go into a filter.  This may be true, but it is also true that they have created the algo and have the ability to change the algo to overcome the horrific results that sometimes, or often, occur:
  • Reviews by people that have never been in the business or used the business they're reviewing
  • Reviews by plants, competitors, competitive reps for wholesalers
  • Reviews by unhappy ex-employees, wives, or boyfriends
  • Reviews by crazy people
One of my clients was reviewed by a homeless person, undoubtedly mentally ill, who had never used the services of the client.  The review was clearly out of line with other reviews, was obviously unhinged, and Yelp would do nothing about it.

By far the biggest complaint about Yelp was summed up by a posting that appeared in a Yahoo Group that I belong to:

"I am a business owner and I have the same exact experience and unfortunately there's nothing you can do about it. I have a total of 37 reviews and only 6 of them are unfiltered. What makes it worse is that a few of the ones that are unfiltered are very old (we're talking 2006) and one is a review from a disgusting man who wrote a glowing review about a "crack & sack" wax (the reviewers words for the service, not mine) that he received from a former employee of mine who performed that service.

I hav also heard about the supposed algorithm, but it's a bunch of b.s. I have clients who have yelped for me and they have posted more than two dozen reviews for other businesses and they are still filtered. I have unfiltered reviews from people who are unfrequent yelpers so I don't believe a word out of anyone from that company's mouth. I paid $270 per month for a year of banner ads and it was a complete waste of money so DO NOT pay them. In fact, my ranking on their site dropped as soon as I started paying them and when I complained they told me I should spend MORE money so my ads would be seen more often, thus improving my ranking. Of course I didn't and now I don't pay them a cent. I'm still ranking so much lower than I did before I advertised with them."
 This letter was just one of dozens excoriating for their practices.  A few consumers who don't have businesses were mildly supportive of Yelp or said they used the reviews, but not one business owner defended them.  The only business owners who had anything good to say were those who had learned how to "Manage their Yelp Reputation."

How To Manage Your Reputation on Yelp


  1. Check Yelp and other online review sites often to see what customers are saying about you and your business.  Much of what shows up on Yelp is TRUE!  Assume it is true.  Don't be defensive.  What happened?  How can you change it or fix it?  Is there one employee who keeps showing up in the negative column?  Is it possible your customer service needs a big kick in the butt!
  2. Respond to every negative comment directly with the party who wrote the review.  You have to join Yelp to do this (free).  You then get access to the Yelp reviewer through Yelp.  It is possible you know the reviewer and can approach them in some other way.  However, Yelp does offer this method of reaching out.
  3. If your effort to reach out privately is unsuccessful (and this effort should be humble, don't defensive, and should offer some kind of way to make things right), then go public.  Note in your public response that you can understand how something like this might happen, but that it is against company policy, has been looked into and addressed.  
  4. Work hard to get reviews on Yelp and elsewhere, especially Google+ (Google Places and Google Maps are the same thing).  Ask your best customers to review you.  Don't be shy.  The more the better.  Most visitors to Yelp get that you might have a bad review or so.  If there are plenty of great reviews to offset it, they will generally give you a try.
  5. Respond to positive reviews publicly.  Thank the reviewer and subtly enhance their statement by noting a policy that creates the good part mentioned or spotlighting part of what they said.  Don't push this.  Make it and embellishment, not a sales pitch.

What to do about Yelp?  Yelp Back!

If Yelp has really gotten under your skin and you don't feel the need to advertise with them, I think it is perfectly reasonable to review them at every possible chance.  Live by sword, die by the sword.  Post in your own media or write articles.  Tell the sales people when they call that you might do business with Yelp when the get the algorithm fixed so that it is fair.  

There may be some businesses who feel they must pay Yelp for higher ranking.  Make sure you are getting a good return on investment.  There are so many ways to spend your internet dollar.  This would never be among my top ten ways.  None of my clients advertise on Yelp.

But let me leave you with the most critical aspects of online reviews.  Don't ignore them because you don't like what is being said.  There may be enough truth in those reviews to turn your business around.  I have seen it happen.  This may be the one good thing about Yelp that doesn't seem so great, but can be huge help.

If you liked this article, you might try Customer Service Ranks 7th on List of 101 Critical Marketing Issues

Want more like this?  I attempt to write three posts per week containing thoughts and ideas gleaned from 40 years in business, seven years of higher education, and five years of working as a marketing consultant helping small businesses get big.  Become a subscriber of this site and check out my other sites where I offer more specific ideas.

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