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Is Yelp Doing More Harm Than Good for Your Business?

Small businesses in every corner of the country are wondering where all of their good Yelp reviews have gone. Yelp’s official website states that their primary purpose is “to connect people with great local businesses.” What they don’t tell you is that a large number of these upstanding local businesses are feeling the squeeze of Yelp’s practices every day. This is especially true when it comes to reviews. In fact, a shocking number of small businesses have reported that a majority, if not all, of their positive reviews have been filtered out while their negative reviews remain. But before we get into the nuts and bolts of how Yelp’s filtering system may be hurting instead of helping, let’s take a quick look at what Yelp even is…

(Source: Yelp.com)

Yelp: A Brief Overview

If you’re a frequent Internet user, you’ve probably noticed that Yelp listings for local businesses tend to appear at the very top of Google search results. If you’re also an informed user, then you probably clicked on that listing to check out the business’s contact info and reviews. Yelp.com is a relatively up-and-coming website that only gained significant traction on Google’s search results when Google dialed up the importance of reviews about 12 months ago. Yelp describes itself as an “online urban city guide,” designed to assist locals on the hunt for good restaurants, bars, hair salons, repair shops, dentist offices, and the like. Moreover, it helps local businesses connect with the people who are already searching for their products or services. Over the course of the last year or so, listings on Yelp have gone from the bottom of Google results pages to the top, thanks to the site’s increased popularity on social media and a strong focus on user reviews. Will the party last? A Google algorithm update weighting social relevance and reviews more heavily is responsible for Yelp’s sudden rise. But, since Yelp competes directly with Google+, we think it’s likely the bubble will burst sometime in the next 12 to 24 months, as Google targets Yelp as the competition. Today, no business owner can argue against the value of a good Yelp listing, whether it appears in Google search results or on the Yelp mobile app. When attractive photos, accurate contact information, and plenty of positive reviews are included, a solid Yelp listing can convince local consumers that a company is worthy of their business. Unfortunately, if business owners are unable to fill their Yelp listings with flattering content—or are unaware that they have listings on Yelp to begin with—then they’ll quickly feel the negative consequences. The basic downside of Yelp is that anyone can create a listing on a business’s behalf and leave poor, unsubstantiated reviews. While Yelp seems to be making efforts to improve the quality of their listings by promoting community involvement, filtering dubious reviews, and nominating especially helpful and active users to “Elite” status, there are still many loopholes that allow poor content to slip through. But how does Yelp’s wide range of positive and negative aspects pertain to small business owners and local service providers?

Good Intentions, Poor Execution

As Yelp continues to develop, it has attempted to enhance the efficacy of business listings by designing a handful of additional features, most notably filtered reviews. The review-filtering feature is purported to weed out questionable reviews. It’s meant to provide users with more dependable and informative content and to discourage dishonest or spam-like behavior. Furthermore, any review that’s been filtered will not contribute to the business’s overall Yelp rating. Operated by undisclosed software, the filtering process gives more credence to reviews written by users with proven track records of honesty, helpfulness, and fairness. While the intended goal is to increase the reliability and accuracy of Yelp’s listings, there may be some unintended consequences, due mainly to the fact that the filtering software isn’t perfect. Frequently, legitimate reviews from new, not-yet-established users will be filtered out, while poorly written, deceptive reviews from dubious users will make it onto the listing. Since filtered reviews have no bearing on a business’s rating, this can prove to be highly detrimental to listings that have few reviews to begin with. (To hear about Prospect Genius’s own unfortunate brush with Yelp’s filtered reviews, stay tuned for our next blog post.)

Don’t Fall Into the Yelp Trap

Some businesses have been fortunate enough to maintain positive reviews on their listings, thus benefiting greatly from their experience with Yelp.  However, countless other businesses have felt the wrath of one angry competitor who’s gaming the system or are struggling due to the number of positive reviews that have been inadvertently filtered out. Those businesses may not realize that they have other options. We’ve learned a lot from our brief run-in with Yelp, namely that it’s not the be-all and end-all of local online advertising. Many business owners think they’re stuck with Yelp just because a listing was created, but what they don’t know is that they can actually contact Yelp representatives directly and ask them to remove their listing from the site. If they don’t want to go that far, they can try to encourage satisfied customers to leave reviews and hope that Yelp’s review filter won’t remove all of them. Moreover, there are several other online advertising options available outside of Yelp. While Yelp can be a helpful business tool, it’s not the only local business directory out there. Business owners can utilize Google+, Yahoo! Local, Bing Local, Citysearch, Local.com, and even Angie’s List to protect themselves from problems with any single website. It’s important for business owners to remember not to put all of their eggs in the Yelp basket, especially with Yelp’s success in Google search results predicted to melt away down the road.

To Be Continued…

In our next blog post, we’ll discuss our own experiences with Yelp and use it as an example of how other small business owners can take action themselves. Stay tuned!