Why Yelp is Like “Mean Girls”

I’m not going to sugarcoat this – Yelp drives me insane. Not just me as a person, but me as a trusted advisor to businesses whose reputations are devastated via Yelp.

We’ve all heard the accusations. If you advertise with Yelp your positive reviews will get filtered less. Oh, how I wish that were actually true, because while extremely distasteful, it would provide a pretty easy solution to a major Yelp problem. We work with clients who advertise with Yelp and ones who do not. We have seen no appreciable difference in the speed or rate at which user reviews are filtered (or as they say on Yelp “not recommended”) whether positive or negative.

What does happen every day is that legitimate customers take the time to go to Yelp and leave reviews for businesses they love or hate and everything in between. I’m going to focus on positive reviews, because let’s face it, it takes work to get busy people to post positive reviews. Let’s say that you have a pretty good program in place to raise your customers’ awareness that they can really show their appreciation for your company and a job well done by taking a few minutes and posting a positive review on a site like Yelp. Even if those folks follow through on posting reviews, chances are extremely high that their reviews will be filtered/not recommended. This filtering usually happens within a day or two of the review being posted.

Why does this happen? Well, it seems that Yelp doesn’t think that first timers have anything to add to the conversation. Think about that for a second. A site, who makes its money from advertising that is based on the maximum number of people seeing and clicking on ads, is actively discouraging their user community from growing by immediately suppressing first time “Yelper” reviews. This is ludicrous. I understand that review fraud is a real issue. Believe me, talk to more than 3 local business owners and you will get a very real sense of just how big of an issue it can be. But is the answer really to auto filter reviews from less established members? How does this in any way encourage them to continue to participate?

It’s almost like Yelp wants to be the cool clique where only the truly committed are allowed to participate. Sure, we’ll block your first 10 reviews, but after that, you’re in! What non-narcissist would be interested in that deal? If creating a highly devoted cult following was their goal, to the exclusion of millions of other potential users (read revenue), well then congratulations! You did it.

Seeing how this impacts real businesses on a daily basis is sickening. Take this real world example:

Imagine a business that has 60+ total reviews, but only 1 is what I’ll call “sticky”. That sticky review is a one star rant. The breakdown of their other 60+ reviews is like this:

  • 16% One Star
  • 3% Two Star
  • 1% Three Star
  • 13% Four Star
  • 66% Five Star

79% of all reviewers gave this business either 4 or 5 stars. And yet, when you look at the review (or worse it is fed into other results) it looks like this business is only a 1 star rated entity. Why are all of these reviews “not recommended” by Yelp? Because the reviewers just don’t have enough cool points to have their opinions count. That’s right, just like in high school, 98% of the population isn’t cool enough to participate.

I realize that coming up with a system that combats actual abuses of reviews is not easy. But, there has to be something better than this. Why assume that a new reviewer should be discounted? Why not go in the opposite direction and see what happens? Yelp seems to be full of this type of teenage fantasy nonsense in its philosophy that only those with enough friends and reviews are worth listening to. Didn’t most of us figure out that the other 98% had some pretty interesting stuff to offer a long time ago? It’s time for Yelp to quick channeling “Mean Girls” and stop punishing businesses who are just trying to find ways to survive in today’s hyperconnected and instantaneous world.

Have you or your clients had issues with Yelp? What did you do to try to resolve it? We love hearing about others’ experiences and ideas!

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