Why Small Businesses Do Not Need Yelp

Why Small Business Needs Help From Yelp!

(or is it the other way around?)

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 customer testimonials/reviews they 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!?

Well I’m writing 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 put one on your website – yeah, I’d let everyone know how to brag about me!

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 you 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”}.

It seems Yelp.com has this intelligent “Filter” that limits spam and potentially fraudulent reviews from posting.  It’s kinda fuzzy how it has filtered all the lovely comments people have said about 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 generous 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 the 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 apparently 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.Regards,
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 response they’re drinking their own Cool-Aide 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 high, but imagine how much more powerful it would be for businesses if it opened its filters just a bit more, and had the 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 a similar experience – I’m not alone here – am I?


About: Sidewalk Branding Company is a Rhode Island internet marketing & SEO/SEM firm. Award-winning and internationally published, they focus on getting solopreneurs, and small businesses (less than 25 employees or so) discovered online – locally.

About Chris Sheehy

Chris has been helping businesses increase online leads since 1997. Experienced, published, University SEO course instructor, speaker & presenter. Experience pays dividends - more info at https://sidewalkbranding.co
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7 Responses to Why Small Businesses Do Not Need Yelp

  1. roofing wholesale columbus says:

    certainly like your website however you have to check the spelling on quite a few of your posts.
    Many of them are rife with spelling issues and I in finding it very bothersome to inform the
    reality however I will certainly come back again.

    • SBco. says:

      I appreciate your feedback. My writings are intended to be informative in nature, designed to ignite thought in online marketing for small businesses that hopefully translates into action. While my blog has been syndicated globally via Guy Kawasaki, B2C, Patch, and Yahoo Small Business and my writings published in print and online elsewhere – I attest that I am by no means a writer. I do not receive any compensation for my articles. I hope you can overlook the bothersome misspellings and take the information for what it is. Best – Chris.

  2. Devery says:

    I think Yelp’s filtering system is just fine. Often I read the filtered ones and they do seem fake or contrived… or their profile is hardly filled out and they only write one review.

    That letter sent to you from Yelp is spot on.

  3. Ioana says:

    Hi Christopher, I own a restaurant in Chicago and, as soon as I refused to pay for advertising with Yelp, most of my 5* reviews started to be filtered. I had talks on the phone with a very rude Yelp employee and exchanges of emails with them. All they tell me is the same story of how their filter works. But the person that was trying to sell me advertising was actually telling me that, if I advertise with them (a minimum of 12 months commitment), they could actually manipulate the reviews for my restaurant. Which makes me think that that’s what they have been doing all along. I am gathering information right now, but I am not stopping here. People need to know that Yelp is making billions but taking money they don’t deserve from small businesses.

  4. *And here is how it ended*

    Chantelle – Thank you for the email (no – it was not too long :)

    While I am still not happy my reviews remain hidden (filtered), I appreciate all you have done to remedy the situation including making some smart corrections to both my Yelp Business Owners Account and Yelp personal account.

    I commend you and the Yelp User Support Team for doing everything in your powers to find resolve to my concerns. And while some of my clients and friends have already left Yelp as a result of the filtering – I will remain onboard as a subscriber in hopes of luring them back at some point.

    Thank you again!

    P.S. Jeremy Stoppelman has got a really great staff at Yelp. But still a flawed review filter

  5. This #Yelp post made the trending list on “LinkedIn Today”. Nice to see my linked-in friends are paying attention.

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