What Yelp’s Crackdown on Solicited Reviews Means for You

Published: January 22, 2018  by 

Yelp, one of the top online review sites, is actively enforcing their ban on solicited reviews. Considering 73 percent of consumers say they trust a local business with positive reviews more than those that don’t, it is imperative for your business to know the rules.

Yelp’s content guidelines state, “your contributions should be unbiased and objective. For example, you shouldn’t write reviews of your own business, your friends’ or relatives’ business, your peers or competitor’s in your industry, or businesses in your networking group.”

Moreover, the guidelines also have a section which says, “don’t ask for reviews and don’t offer to pay for them either.” They mean it. Don’t ask customers to review your business as they pay for services, or in an emailed newsletter. Never offer a coupon or a discount to a returning customer who wrote a Yelp review.

Why is Yelp cracking down?

Yelp believes solicited reviews are biased and they support their claims with a study published at Northwestern University in 2016. Yelp’s guidelines have always told businesses not to encourage customers to post reviews, but now they are actively enforcing it.

Yelp discourages the use of third-party online reputation management software as well. They feel these services are a manipulative way to increase your business’ ranking on their platform. In fact, their software is specifically designed to weed out reviews generated in this way.

If you have been using a reputation management software for Yelp reviews, you may want to contact your software vendor for clarification on their review management policy in regards to Yelp’s recent enforcement notification.

How does Yelp analyze posted reviews?

Each posted review is scanned by Yelp’s recommendation software for dozens of factors including quality, reliability, and user activity. Users who are active in the Yelp community are considered more reliable than reviewers the software doesn’t recognize.

Yelp is proud to admit that they only recommend about 72 percent of the total reviews consumers post on their site. Their system chooses what they believe to be the most accurate and reliable reviews and include them in the rating system.

The other reviews go into a section of the site called “not recommended reviews”. These reviews are available for viewing but don’t factor into the rating posted for your business. Yelp’s automated software has recently been fine-tuned to not recommend reviews it deems guilty of solicitation or could be written by the business owner.

In addition, Yelp has more than 5,000 employees who are trained to scour reviews looking for any breach of their rules. If your business is caught doing something wrong– either by employees or the recommendation software–you’ll see negative consequences.

Social media imagery with text explaining that most reviews are hidden on Yelp and to help you learn to manage your online reputation. Statistic from WebsiteBuilder

What does this mean for you?

Wait, what kinds of negative penalties can Yelp impose on businesses that break the rules? There are a couple common ones used when businesses are caught soliciting reviews.

If  Yelp finds “indicators of systematic review solicitation,” their first action is to impose a search ranking penalty to the account in question. The search algorithm considers many factors including the search term used, ratings, and active reviews. The penalty adds a negative indicator for the algorithm to consider and, as a result, your business could appear lower in the rankings than normal.

If a business doesn’t change their policies or reverse attempts to manipulate reviews, a consumer alert will be placed on their Yelp page. The alerts are a warning message that pops up over the review section on your page explaining the manipulations Yelp found, often with a link to evidence. To see reviews, potential customers would have to close the pop-up.

Yelp lists several ways your business is in danger of getting stamped with a consumer alert: purchasing or incentivizing reviews, writing many reviews from the same IP address, or threatening negative reviewers with legal action. Generally, removal of consumer alerts happens 90 days after the offensive actions are terminated. However, if your business threatens legal action against a negative reviewer, those offenses are considered on a case-by-case basis.

Tips for success on Yelp

Protecting your online reputation is important and we’ve provided seven tips to help you manage your Yelp reputation without causing damage to your online ranking:

  • Use Yelp’s Guide to Success: This set of guidelines encourages you to provide the best experience for your customers, and to use a set of Yelp-approved tools.
  • Engage with your customers through the Yelp site: Both positive and negative reviewers can help your business. While the benefit of positive reviews is obvious, engaging with the people who left negative reviews gives you the opportunity to prove your business is working hard to improve customer experience and turn negative experiences into positive ones.
  • Display Yelp signage: Your business can request a “Find us on Yelp” sticker to display at the door or at your cash register. This will let people know your business is an active member of the Yelp community.
  • Add the Yelp review button to your website: Return customers to your website will continually see the Yelp review button, making it easy for them to remember to write a review.
  • Monitor your Wi-Fi: People who post from your business’s Wi-Fi could easily be considered illegitimate for being posted by an IP connected to your business.
  • Never ask for reviews: There is no way to ask for reviews without taking chances.
  • Never offer incentives: Never do it. Not once.

Moving forward with reputation management

Your business’s reputation wins over new customers when it has a sturdy foundation based on quality customer service. However, one negative review online could cause you to lose up to 22 percent of your consumers. That number jumps to 59 percent with three negative reviews.

Remember, your business connects with consumers on multiple review-based sites –Facebook, Google, and other industry-specific sites. There’s more than trust involved when customers read online reviews. Positive online comments increase sales by an average of 18 percent.

Yelp’s recommended reviews are always shifting, so remember to engage with your customers through Yelp’s messaging tools to increase the positive reactions to your business.

BigWing keeps local SEO services and algorithm updates top-of-mind. If you’re still in need of help with online reputation management, contact us today. BigWing can help you find a balanced path forward and create a strategy for positive results.