Our clientele is comprised of a myriad of businesses: lawyers, doctors, online retailers, jewelers, research firms, the list go on and on.  Regardless of the industry, business owners often share similar concerns when it comes to their online presence.  They all want to know who is finding them online, how often, from where and most importantly, are they buying from and/or contacting me?  I have discussed questions like these before in addition to reviewing how we measure these results, and I imagine I will continue to do so for the entirety of my career in search marketing.  However, there is one question I have heard increasingly and with great fervor that practically begs for a spot on our blog; “What the f#@k is wrong with Yelp?”

For those who have had experience with Yelp, I will spare you an explanation of its platform (for the uninformed, check out the wiki) and focus on how it can impact your online presence.  My thoughts are my own so please don’t consider these responses as facts based in science, but rather experiential anecdotes.

Question #1: I have glowing reviews but they are all filtered while the negative ones are not; why would they do that?

Yelp is a business, whose aim is to make money.  When you keep this in mind (and take frequent deep breaths) the filter feature begins to make sense. Yelp’s Filter is put in place to provide transparency and discourage business owners (Yelp’s potential client base) from spamming their own otherwise “credible” user-base.  It goes like this: “If you are a frequent user (poster) on Yelp, your review is more credible (visible) than someone who is new or inconsistently posting.”  This principle should not be foreign to us as traditional critiques of food/entertainment/art in our daily newspapers have survived on this notion for centuries.  There are even some in the search community who give a positive spin on the filter and credit it with adding value to their clients’ online reputation.  The bottom-line is that again, Yelp is a business (and still a private one, for now) that will keep its processes proprietary.  This filter is an algorithm using formulae to differentiate between results to deliver those that can be trusted. Sound familiar

To keep this all in perspective, your online profile is one of millions to Yelp. This is akin to your website’s presence with respect to the search engines but on a much smaller scale. Let’s say, for example, your site doesn’t show up #1 on Google for a desired keyword. Most have been conditioned to either accept their fate or hire an SEM firm to increase their visibility. This problem is similar to seeing less than desirable results on Yelp; however the natural reaction is of anger or resentment. I believe this occurs for two reasons: 1. We are much more familiar with Google, more educated on its practices and even more likely to frequently use its products/services. 2.  Yelp is a newer/private company, less information is available on its practices, and a much smaller number of the population is inundated with its platform.

Question #2: So if they have this filter, what can I do about it?

As with any process, such as casino blackjack or search engine ranking, there is always a way to “cheat” or simply go around the system. One group has created a nifty how-to on getting around the Yelp filter. They suggest spending time and energy creating “legitimate” profiles in Yelp and using these profiles to enhance your reviews. But as we know, time=money and how do we gauge the monetary value of a positive review showing up? Even if you go down this road, software is currently being developed that may filter bogus reviews including your own. If you feel truly slighted by a review and seek to personally punish those who would discredit you online, you can always try and take them court

In my opinion, most reviews you would care to have removed are illegitimate. People are fairly wise to which reviews are real or fabricated by a competitor and should be easily discernable. Even more often, we see reviews offered up by the less than intelligent which can be entertaining, albeit inappropriate (NSFW). In the course of business, some clients inevitably will have a bad experience and may take to Yelp to share that experience. Yelp offers you a way to reach out to them personally and help resolve the conflict. Better yet, Yelp gives you tips on how to handle different types of reviews both good and bad. If readers see that you took the time out of your day to respond to someone who feels they were mistreated, they cannot argue with your resolve and attempt to practice an ethical business.

Question #3: If I advertise with Yelp, will my good reviews start showing up?

Clients have gone this route and had little to no success, some magically saw the results become more balanced. I personally see Yelp as a point of reference for those trying to find a new place to eat or get the phone number of a bar that has neglected their own website. Spending time and money on a third party directory is a practice that may yield results, but ultimately people will rely on how you present yourself and how those they trust remember you.

While Yelp continues to populate the coveted front page of results for our clients’ branded terms, there are signs that its practices may soon come to light. I have and will continue to advise my clients to focus on platforms which they can control and are becoming more trusted by the search engines such as Twitter, Facebook or LinkedIn. More to the point, until you are converting a healthy number of people from your own website, let’s not worry about what people on Yelp are saying.


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