It all starts innocently enough- customers have started reviewing you online, and you praise your staff for providing such positive experiences that customers are willing to share them. You even think to yourself: wow, this will be a great way to build word-of-mouth business. Theoretically, you’re right. The problem comes when you get your first negative review.
Bad reviews happen. Every business owner knows that sooner or later, a customer/client/patient will have a gripe with them. It doesn’t matter if you think the problem they had is valid, or if you think they’re not giving your business a fair shake. What matters is that they’re provided some inherently powerful platforms to share their negative opinion, and that negative stance toward your business may very well steer potential customers away from you.
Yelp, one of the most prominent review platforms for local businesses, can be your worst nightmare or your best friend in the realm of online reputation. Yelp’s huge user base and high ranking within local business search results makes it a noteworthy tool to capture the attention of people searching for your services. They employ rich snippets on their review pages as well -those nifty star ratings that show up under websites within Google searches- which makes it even more likely that the savvy internet searcher will click through to the listings… or steer clear if they notice your rating is low.
Because Yelp is so powerful and holds a certain amount of clout with those reading the reviews, it needs to be high on your radar when soliciting positive reviews. The big three we focus on are Google, Yelp, and Facebook reviews- since Google and Facebook tie their reviews to an account, it tends to keeps the reviewer much more positive. Yelp, however, will allow people to sign up, leave a bad review, and never use their platform again. Inevitably, those negative reviews stay visible within their system- more alarmingly, once you receive a negative review, you’re likely to be placed on a sales call list by Yelp’d headquarters. Their sales staff will call daily, imply that they can help you restore your reputation or eliminate the negative review, but only AFTER you sign up for a business account and advertising. This is a fatal mistake, and a waste of advertising & marketing budget.
The most frequent scenarios we see are:
A) A company listed on Yelp wants to update their information (hours, phone, address, services, pics). They need to sign up for a free business account in order to do that. Once they activate their account by verifying the phone number with an automated call from Yelp, they’re placed into a sales funnel wherein Yelp calls them daily to try to sell them on pricey advertising on their local listing. If they refuse the advertising or otherwise tell Yelp they don’t need them, Yelp will warn them about how they’re leaving themselves open to negative reviews by not actively managing their profile through Yelp’s paid service (which, btw, is not necessary to actively manage your business/reviews within Yelp). Within a few weeks, a negative review will appear- usually one difficult to trace back to a customer. The company silently kicks itself for not taking up Yelp on their offer, and sign up for services- only to find out that they’re still going to have to offset the negative review with positive reviews. So, basically, doing the same thing they could have done for free, while paying Yelp to run an ad for their services within the Yelp platform.
B) A company gets a negative review. Yelp flags the listing as a potential prospect. They hound the company and imply that they can help them restore their reputation, if only they sign up for a paid business account. The owner/manager signs up, thinking Yelp will remove the negative review. Not only does Yelp not remove the negative review, they say you’ll just have to offset the bad review with good ones- but oh, btw, you’re not supposed to encourage clients/customers/patients to review you on Yelp. And you certainly can’t have friends/family/staff leave reviews- even if you could, they’d get filtered.
If this reads like it’s extortion, that’s because it’s treading the line between extortion and deceptive sales tactics. There are lawsuits and allegations aplenty surrounding Yelp and their sales tactics, as well as surrounding their review filtering algorithm. When our clients express an interest in advertising on Yelp, we advise against it, despite seeing evidence that the ads pay off. Why? Because we don’t want them stuck in a place where Yelp is hounding them daily, and when rejected, seemingly makes negative reviews appear more frequently. Additionally, we’ve seen time and time again that once a negative review is in place on a Yelp listing, their algorithm seems to give a huge amount of preference to additional negative reviews. After all, that makes business sense when Yelp is pitching reputation management, right?
Yelp’s algorithm of filtering reviews is a notorious sore point for businesses trying to restore their reputation. Take, for instance, this dental client we work with at our sister company, Physician Referral Marketing:
Here, we see their listing as having 12 reviews and a 3 1/2 star rating. They should probably just push for more reviews, right?
Well, they did push for more reviews. They asked happy clients to review them on Yelp, and left up signs at their dental checkout desk reminding patients to review them on Yelp. And patients did- in fact, they did so at a very high rate, because this dental group is loved and has an established practice with exceptional service. However, you’d never know those patients left reviews unless you did some digging: there are 161 filtered reviews as of September 2015.
If that doesn’t strike you as absolutely absurd, I don’t know what will.
So, we advise our clients thus:
1. Never, ever speak direct to a Yelp sales agent. If you find yourself on the phone with them, just hang up without saying yay or nay to their sales pitch.
2. Don’t advertise on Yelp, ever. You don’t want to wind up in their sales funnel.
3. Yelp will not remove negative reviews. Nobody can remove negative reviews on Yelp.
4. Don’t ask your friends, family, staff, or spouse to leave a review and expect it to show up. Yelp’s algorithm filters things out all the time, but especially after a negative review has been placed.
5. Continue asking for positive reviews. If your customer is an active Yelper, their review might actually ‘stick’.
Additionally, if you’re hell bent on getting positive reviews to offset some negative review, keep this in mind:
– Yelp’s algorithm is smart enough to detect IP addresses, so don’t think you can set up a kiosk in your lobby and ask for reviews. They would all get filtered.
– Yelp shows a great deal of preference toward negative reviews, with the idea that those are likely more ‘honest’. Expect to get a few negative reviews.
– Yelp users with no connections, no previous reviews, and no profile picture will get filtered if they leave glowing reviews. If they leave negative reviews, they might remain visible.
– When Yelp reviews come in quickly and in large quantities, they’ll likely get filtered. Quick & large are completely subjective as well, and because Yelp is cagey on details of their algorithm, it’s impossible to tell just what the limit is that would cause the filtering trigger.
We like to scour filtered client reviews for well-written positive ones and make media out of them- a simple way to do this is by taking a screenshot of the review and saving it as a jpg. If nothing else, that provides you with another piece of media to share on your company blog, which in turn can bolster your SEO efforts.
If you’re in the medical field and need help restoring or managing your online reputation, we urge you to contact Physician Referral Marketing for a quote on their dentist & physician online reputation management services. All others, contact us directly! We’ll use best practices to solicit your happy customers to leave positive reviews, and take over the hassle of dealing with companies like Yelp.