Yelp Help for Your Business

Customer complaints are and have always been a cost of doing business. Despite your business’ best and most conscientious efforts to provide excellent customer service, pleasing everyone is simply impossible. However, the proliferation of crowd-sourced review sites and mobile applications such as Angie’s List, TripAdvisor and even (the 21st-century version of “The Yellow Pages”) means even local businesses must invest in reputation management.

Yelp remains a leader in the social media industry, with more than 100 million unique user visits every month and nearly 80 million reviews. Few business recommendation networks can equal Yelp in reach, scope and impact. Retailers, not restaurants, are the subject of the majority of Yelp reviews. According to a 2013 Nielsen survey, four out of five users consult Yelp when considering making a purchase. And those stars you see in Yelp ratings aren’t merely decorative. Research conducted by Harvard Business School’s Michael Luca found that each star in a Yelp rating can translate into as much as a 9 percent bump in revenue.

Yelp’s success has not come without its share of controversy, however. The company has been sued multiple times for fraudulent practices related to the content of its reviews, and both businesses and reviewers have suffered public embarrassment as a result of site interactions. To complicate matters, some business owners are unaware that their business has a presence on Yelp, and, once they discover this fact, experience difficulty in securing control of their listing.

Tips for Yelp Success

If you are a business owner trying to navigate Yelp, or if you are an established Yelp user who is struggling to maximize the service’s positive aspects while minimizing the negative, it pays to know the following:

  • You must have a valid business phone number in order to verify any claim on an existing Yelp business page.
  • If another party has already claimed your business listing, Yelp will not release account holder information in order to resolve conflicts over ownership.
  • Yelp is a tiered service and offers various advertising packages as well as increased functionality, such as call-to-action buttons, video content and extra control over the branding of your listing. Considerable debate surrounds Yelp’s ad pricing structure, as MarketWatch reported earlier this year, but ad revenues nevertheless drive a great deal of Yelp’s business.
  • Yelp allows businesses that rely on its free service to upload basic business information (location, hours, phone and email), upload photos and—most importantly—respond to reviews.
  • Businesses can respond directly to individual reviewers. That is, not all responses to reviews must be made in Yelp’s public forums. Managing communications with negative reviewers is paramount for businesses that maintain an active Yelp presence. In some cases, it may be possible to address customer concerns via private channels, to defuse disputes and to build enough trust to convince a negative commenter to post a follow-up or even change their review. However, any apparent incentivizing connected to securing revised or positive reviews is a violation of Yelp’s terms of service.
  • Yelp will remove suspect reviews from your listing, and Yelp alone reserves the right to assess the authenticity and credibility of reviews. If you are concerned that positive reviews of your business are not accessible to users, check the “Not Recommended” reviews at the bottom of your listing. Be aware that Yelp relies on an algorithm to determine whether reviews should be recommended as originating with “real customers.” According to Yelp, common red flags in this regard include: reviews from unfamiliar, “less-established” or otherwise anomalous users; reviews that deviate from the site’s content standards; reviews that originate from suspicious IP addresses or ranges; reviews clearly written by business owners or friends of business owners.
  • Yelp does not accept payments from businesses looking to remove, re-rank or supplement negative reviews with positive reviews.
  • Businesses are not at the complete mercy of Yelp reviewers. Courts are now setting precedents for libelous and slanderous content on the site, as a recent case in New York demonstrates. Yelp’s own “Terms of Service” caution businesses that “[y]our use of the Site is at your own risk, including the risk that you might be exposed to Content that is offensive, indecent, inaccurate, objectionable, or otherwise inappropriate.” Nevertheless, Yelp’s “Content Guidelines” offer businesses some assurance of protection from “threats, harassment, lewdness, hate speech, and other displays of bigotry.” The easiest way to report reviews that cross a line, become personal or make false claims and accusations is to “flag” them. Flagging reviews will then prompt an investigation by Yelp staff.
  • Yelp rewards businesses that maintain excellent customer ratings on its site. The “People Love Us on Yelp” stickers you’ve seen displayed in business’ window are real-life badges awarded as premiums on a semiyearly basis to qualifying businesses. Businesses cannot apply for this program and are only selected according to a patented (i.e., secret) formula. If you’re interested in procuring a “Find Us on Yelp” sticker for your business, you can submit your request online.