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Is Yelp just too Powerful?

Updated: May 20, 2021

The way we do anything and everything has changed. Buying a new mattress or can opener? You will read reviews online – even on a consumer site to see where the best value is. The same is true when picking a hotel, or a place to eat or shop.

Wiki review sites are just how we do things. The rise of TripAdvisor, Yelp and all kinds of consumer sites has led small businesses to up their games, be more competitive – and has given consumers a new ally in the fight for good service and value. But, have these sites become too powerful? That depends who you ask…

I helped a client recently deal with Yelp. And it taught me a lesson about the power of these sites. She has a small business and was struggling with bad reviews posted to a business that had been in her space before she opened but it stuck on her page. Calls and emails asking them to drop the wrong review led to nothing. Time and time again they refused to budge. And, when over a year, 2 more bad reviews appeared, the client reached out to their many happy customers and asked them to add reviews- and several did. But, none of those good reviews ever got published. So, all the site had to show was 3 bad reviews and one good one. Not very fair, is it?

That led to a one star. So, to help I called, and spoke to a rep. Now the good news is that Yelp has actual people who answer the phones and speak to you. The bad news is they are not empowered to do much. My conversation with one did not move the needle, and all they could offer was tosuggestthat I send in information about when the business opened, and then they would review it to see if the old review was unfair. I did and nothing happened. But, as to why the good reviews were never posted, all that Yelp could say was they have an algorithm that judged reviews. Sorry…

A lawsuit a few years back claimed that Yelp favored listings by those who advertise to their 140 million users. The court ruled “no,” but the fact remains that Yelp is a for-profit company that lives off of ads it sells.

Worse, so many businesses try to write their own reviews, and these fake reviews force Yelp to double check all reviews- as a result, time and time again negative reviews make the cut, while the positive ones are questioned.

A few weeks after a series of email and calls to Yelp, a customer service rep called us back – he was kind, positive, and even promised to review the issue and get right back to us. And, then he ghosted us.

So how to deal with a monolith of a site like Yelp?

Well, first ask if you are already on the site? While eateries and hotels do well, so many other service businesses just get lost – and if your website is not killing it in SEO, a Yelp page might outrank it. And that will hurt. A lot…

If there is a Yelp page already, then take control of it: Post images, hours and info. Monitor it and stay on top of reviews – and ask customers to write reviews. There are so many categories on Yelp that many get tiny traffic – and the only reviews are the occasional unhappy customers. As a result, compare any business with reviews on Yelp, to TripAdvisor or Google – and the Yelp rating will almost always be the lowest.

But still, reply to bad and good reviews. Don’t be defensive, but honest, and open handed. Never blame the commenter, but if there are issues, be professional and address them.

Obviously, the best policy is to keep problems off of social media in the first place. Work things out before the customer leaves the building – so they post a happy review, not a bad one. And be sure to survey guests after a visit. I filled out a review page recently for a hotel, which shockingly then asked me to go to Google. The hotel stay had been pretty iffy, so that was not a good call on the hotel’s part. And there are some very good monitoring programs out there that help keep tabs on reviews, as well as social media posts. Always a good investment. Good or bad, never reply right away – think it over, and respond in a positive professional way.

It boils down to the fact that most social review sites are pretty unfair, and can be biased and not trustworthy – but they do put out huge numbers – so like them or not – you have to make them part of your marketing plan.

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