Is Yelp Too Rigid with Reviews Policy?

Last week at SMX West I moderated the “Up Close with Yelp” session. It featured Ryan Fritzky from Marchex, Will Scott of Search Influence, Matt Siltala of Dream Systems Media and Dylan Swift from Yelp. Overall it was a very good session. Will Scott “got into it” a little with Yelp’s Dylan Swift.

Lisa Barone of Outspoken Media blogged the session:

[Will Scott spent some time grilling Dylan to see if the numbers he shared from the case studies were really accurate or possibly attributed to things outside of Yelp Deals.  Dylan did a good job holding his own. Also, FIGHT! ;)]

Today Lisa offers a long article/opinion piece on the subject of Yelp’s stance against review solicitation:

That slide was part of Mat Siltala’s presentation and gave attendees a simple and intuitive way to encourage customers to leave reviews. Though Yelp wasn’t featured on the slide, session moderator Greg Sterling asked panelist and Yelp’s Director of Local Business Marketing Dylan Swift if Mat’s slide was something Yelp endorsed or if they viewed it was review solicitation. Dylan answered solicitation and discouraged business owners from outright asking or encouraging their customers to write reviews.

She argues that Yelp is taking too rigid a stand in saying that people can’t ask their customers to review them:

Absolutely before you worry about anything else you should be worrying about creating a great business, whether that means creating a great product, a service or a piece of content. But telling people that that’s ALL they need to do is and the rest will take care of itself, frankly, dangerous business advice.  I’m not sure if it was Google who started that lie or someone else, but it time for it to die a painful death.  It doesn’t matter how great your restaurant is or how awesome the experience you’re creating – if you don’t encourage people to SHARE the experience, if you don’t TELL them to share it, they very often won’t.

I’ve written in the past that Yelp is now “swimming upstream” in discouraging SMBs from asking their customers for reviews. Increasingly the advice coming from multiple places to SMBs is “invite your customers to review you on Yelp, Google . . . ” And increasingly that’s what SMBs will do. The argument that Mike Blumenthal has made is that this is just like asking a satisfied customer for a real world testimonial.

Yelp understandability wants to preserve the integrity of its reviews, which are its bread and butter. However the site will ultimately need to yield on its absolute position. Paying for reviews is unethical and should be prevented but there shouldn’t be anything wrong with saying, “If you liked my service feel free to review us on X, Y, Z site,” especially if it’s merely on a website.

Perhaps Yelp sees that as a slippery slope to financial incentives or rewards for reviews. But I agree with Lisa that it’s not only not unethical it’s actually becoming necessary if you take online marketing seriously as an SMB.

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9 Responses to “Is Yelp Too Rigid with Reviews Policy?”

  1. Chris Silver Smith says at

    Yelp’s error seems to have started with the word “solicitation”, and they chose to use it in the broadest sense of “asking for something”. There really should be a clear dividing line made amongst all sites which take user reviews between incentivized solicitation versus simply asking or suggesting that someone review your site. Their site states that businesses shouldn’t request reviews, because they believe that SMBs will only request reviews from pleased customers, and that this would skew the integrity of the reviews. However, it’s often the case that people are more motivated to post negative reviews than positive ones — so, requesting reviews might actually result in more balance than otherwise.

  2. Matt says at

    What Yelp is doing makes no sense, I love to know if there is another motive or they are just nuts. However, I can buy in to the logic that business owners will know which customers to ask to ensure a positive review. Maybe a restaurant owner can game this by giving extra dessert to a table and then ask for a review. This could be a slippery slope in theory. But in the end, who can enforce this and frankly who cares.

  3. Greg Sterling says at

    Yes . . . it’s difficult to enforce. The way they do that is by trusting heavy users of the site and community more than “one offs.”

  4. PD says at

    Matt, they are just nuts.

    Asking someone to go online and write a review is the digital equivalent of “tell your friends”.

  5. Ooooobarracuda says at

    A lot of the businesses and services that people really need unbiased reviews or recommendations about are for big purchase decisions that maybe don’t come up all that often. It is those businesses that need to be able to encourage their client base to share their experiences online. Local yogurt shops in my town have over 1200 yelp reviews. Do I really need that many shout outs to make a 5 dollar purchase? No. But people have an affinity for yogurt and restaurants and hair salons and they review those businesses so much more. If I need to find a plumber or an hvac company and need an ac unit that can be a pricey investment and I want to know who is reliable and recommended. It is those businesses that typically won’t be able to generate good online reviews if they don’t in some way promote it. I think about a plumber when I have a problem and then when it’s fixed I’m over it. I am at the yogurt shop often but my plumber I see maybe once every 5 years. They have a small window to mobilize me into leaving them a review somewhere and they shouldn’t be penalized for encouraging the feedback.

  6. Matt says at

    Ooooo, you have a great point. Reviews on small $ purchases are in the end not that critical but if the transmission on my car breaks down or I need a new roof, that’s time reviews will come in very handy. People are funny, they want to save money on low cost stuff but when they take their car to the dealership, most have no clue if they got ripped off or not.

  7. Melvin Davis says at

    As a small business owner myself. I can tell you that the fact of the matter is people will usually forget about writing a review unless they are unhappy with your service. If you leave a bad taste in someones mouth you are sure to get a bad review. I see nothing wrong with asking my customers to post positive feedback about my business. I also realize that you cannot please everybody all of the time and it makes me try harder to make changes so every customer will be happy with my services. Prices can always be adjusted and proper presentation and attention to detail. We back our work with a 100% customer satisfaction guarantee. The bottom line is the customer is always right. Yelp is for dummies.

  8. Dallas SEO Consultant - Mike Stewart says at

    Yelp has gone stupid.considering that positive experiences are hundreds on times less likely to earn reviews as negative ones… what are they thinking? First publicly bitching at Google and now this?

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  12. decomo vinstone says at

    YELP is afraid that its reviews become less trustworthy and therefore degrades its overall value. YELP enjoys seeing negative comments because it makes YELP seems ligitimate – even though the comments may be fake or malicious. Negative comments give YELP a perceived value at the expense of the merchants and their life investments. I see YELP more of being a fraud than the merchants asking their customers to provide reviews of their experiences.

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