by John Eberhard can be a very powerful marketing tool for local businesses, i.e. health care practices, home improvement companies, restaurants, mortgage brokers, etc.

(See my previous article, "Marketing on Yelp."

One of the most important aspects of Yelp is that they have user reviews. So people will write about their customer experience with your company, and rate you with one to five stars. And those reviews can have a significant effect on whether Yelp users will contact you and use your business.

So if you get tons of great reviews on Yelp with 5-star ratings, you’re all set. You’re in fat city, right? I’m sorry to say that that is not entirely true. Why? Because Yelp has a system that evaluates your reviews and decides that it will display only certain ones, and it will show other “archived” reviews, but only if you know where to look. The reviews that Yelp displays, it calls “Recommended” reviews, and the ones that are archived, it says are “not recommended.”

Perhaps you can imagine the potential difficulty here, but if not, let me give you an example. For one company Yelp displays seven “recommended” reviews, five of them 5-star reviews, one of them a 3-star review and one a 2-star review. From that you might get a middle of the road feeling about this company.

But then let me tell you that there are 32 archived reviews on this company, 31 of them 5-star reviews, and one a 2-star review. So if we add up all the reviews, we have a total of 39, with 36 of them being 5-star reviews, one 3-star and two 2-star reviews. That presents a different story, doesn’t it?

So how does Yelp decide which reviews to recommend, and which to archive as “not recommended”? First of all, it is done by software, not by human beings reading the reviews. Yelp has a video explaining the process here:

They say that they choose reviews to recommend based on quality, reliability, and user activity on Yelp. One of the criteria is how useful other users have found a certain review. There are buttons below each review where you can select if that review was “useful,” “funny,” or “cool.” So part of the criteria in evaluating a given review is whether users have clicked one of those buttons. And part of the criteria is whether the person clicking the button is a regular Yelp user.

In the example above, the two bad reviews on that company were written in 2011 and 2012, but they have stayed up there on that list of recommended reviews because several people had clicked the “useful” button. There are no buttons for marking the archived reviews as “useful,” “funny,” etc. So apparently once a review is archived you can’t get it out of there and back onto the “recommended” list.

So what can you do to be in control of the review process at Yelp? Some answers are obvious and others not so much.

  1. Deliver excellent service to customers.
  2. Ask happy customers to write a review on you on Yelp, but don’t offer them anything in exchange for doing so. Yelp has a rule about this and will actually take your account down if they find out you offered people anything of value in exchange for writing a review.
  3. Start a user account on Yelp. In fact, have a number of people in your company start a user account on Yelp. Get everyone to go on Yelp a number of times, so they are not one-shot users. Then have them all go to your Yelp listing and click “useful” on all the 5-star reviews. This will help the 5-star reviews to stay on the “recommended” list and not be archived.
  4. On any bad review, you (the business owner) can post comments yourself if you like. You can also contact the customer and try to make them satisfied in some way. If you can get them to be happy with the service, you can ask them to change the rating or the review.
  5. On any bad review that you think is bogus, i.e. written by someone who is not a customer, or even written by a competitor, you can write to Yelp and ask them to take it down. If you make your case well, they will take it down. I’ve gotten them to take down bogus reviews.
  6. Keep getting great reviews and mark them all as “useful.”

Good luck with marketing on Yelp.

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