Yelp Won’t Save Itself, So Consumers Have To

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(This article in an opinion piece on how Yelp or new Yelp users can work to improve Yelp as a service.)

Yelp is fledgling. They’re advocating for antitrust action against Google in Europe and the US. They’re even participating in an anti-Google lobby which recently served this author a LinkedIn ad. These regulatory pushes are missing the pulse of what really could transform their service.

Google is eating up search engine result page (SERP) real estate with ads and answer boxes, this is causing a main traffic source for Yelp to decline. Google has also launched it’s own answer to Yelp, “Local Guides” a program that this author participates in. This author is also a Yelper (a Yelp user) since 2012. Yelp does not have to decline though, they can correct their policies that alienate consumers and businesses, while elevating eloquent complainers.

What’s frustrating is that Yelp is a truly great platform. It’s helped countless people find and learn about local businesses. It has legitimately strong SEO. Most businesses have their Yelp page (along with their Yelp rating) in first page Google and Bing SERPs. Yelp listings and ratings power Bing and Apple maps.

(As a marketer, this Author recommends all business owners claim and optimize their Yelp profiles via

Maybe you saw the 2015 South Park episode about the snobbery of “Yelpers” or maybe you’ve experienced this as a Yelper or business owner. Yelp is where melodramatic people are going complain. It’s a bastion of exaggerated whining about supposedly horrific experiences with businesses. Yelp’s filters and algorithms condone this behavior. This is Yelp’s tragic flaw. It’s undermining all the good they’ve done in the information age. It doesn’t have to be this way.

Yelp cultivated a user base that complains, not one that is out to help business or other users. In the digital marketing industry of which reputation management is a subset, we see that time and time again, Yelpers often only describing the most extreme experiences (typically negative) and satisfied majority leave their voices unheard.

Yelp needs to make two changes to correct this:

  • Allow companies to ask for reviews

    Why? Yelp is a sounding board for negative experiences because businesses hands’ are tied. According to Yelp content guidelines, businesses are not allowed to ask for reviews. This means only people who had extreme experiences are writing reviews, in turn skewing most business ratings lower. Google allows businesses to ask for reviews – and guess what? There’s typically more Google reviews for a business. Google gets more traffic and even more users. Yelp could follow this model.

  • Fix the dreaded Yelp filter

    Yelp filters a ton of reviews both good and bad. To see “filtered reviews” scroll to the bottom a business’s Yelp page and click “…other reviews that are not recommended.” A big part of this filter is that Yelp removes almost all first time reviews and reviews written within the first month of Yelp account creation.

    This is not an entirely bad move as it eliminates a ton of trolls and a ton of spam. In fact this filter is quite savvy, and Yelp did a good job with it.

    BUT along with removing junk, the filter is eliminating authentic feedback from real people. Yelp should put gateways in place that allow new accounts to have their reviews published. They could deploy rules like requiring the use a real name, and a profile photo that shows one’s face. Computer’s IPs could be tracked to validate that a user is close to the business they’re reviewing. Yelp has an actual team reviewing review ‘flags‘ – this is a heroic effort that they don’t have to support. What if a similar team was deployed to validate the authenticity of new Yelpers? Maybe have a receipt upload feature too? There has got to be a way.

Similar solutions to fix Yelp have been proposed by others. Yelp knows they have a problem, yet they’re focused on regulatory fixes rather than tackling fundamental challenges with their services that could in part be ameliorated with the fixes above.

Yelp Won’t Save Itself, so Consumers Can Step in and Help

There is a fix for this that doesn’t involve Yelp. Everyday satisfied consumers could intervene and work to set the record straight for the local businesses they know and love. Here’s how individuals can improve Yelp:

  • Create a Yelp Account
    • use a real name
    • use a head-shot photo with no hats or sunglasses
  • Install the Yelp App
  • Rate and review local businesses – get a decent cup of coffee? Leave a review and a couple sentences. Have an HVAC contractor or painter to an adequate job? Rate and review them.
  • Reviews don’t have to be long, but they should go beyond one liners like “they’re great” and list the services rendered, who served you, and general sentiment on the experience.

That’s it.

Consumers should not allow their favorite local businesses languish with low ratings from the shrieking minority of critics. Yelp is unlikely to change core policies, but real consumers can effect change by sharing everyday experiences on Yelp.

Love the article? Hate it? Please leave a comment or tweet at @oakfive.

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