Last week some of our clients were visiting Denver and I took them out for lunch. It seemed the perfect opportunity to conduct a Yelp experiment so I made sure that my Yelp app was installed and ready to go. Upon arriving at the restaurant, I was asked some detailed questions such as, “Is the restaurant kid friendly?” and “Does the restaurant have street parking?”
I went so far as to post a picture of the quinoa salad with green, unripened strawberries that I was about to consume (and yes Acorn, you deserve a positive review on Google and Yelp for that divine dish!). I decided not to post a review to see what would happen; users can post pictures of a place when checking into it, but they don’t have to review it.
Two days later I received a text message from you asking me to write a review. And what a nice, friendly reminder it was, so thank you for that. However, since I was still in the middle of my experiment, I opted out of writing a review because I wanted to see what would happen next. Once again, two days later, I received a second solicitation to write a review. This time it was an email. I get it—we do this too, since asking for reviews twice using a different delivery method helps increase those star-ratings or reviews. Again, a nice move and well-thought-out.
But this whole thing has me scratching my head: Yelp, your review guidelines blatantly state that you are against this practice! Here’s a direct quote from your website:
Don’t interfere with the natural flow of reviews.
- Don’t post reviews of your business or of competitors — our content guidelines prohibit it.
- Don’t offer freebies, discounts, or payment in exchange for reviews.
- Don’t work with companies or 3rd-party vendors offering to “fix your reviews.”
- Don’t ask anyone to write reviews of your business, including friends, family, and customers.
- Don’t pressure (or pay or sue) people into altering or removing critical reviews.
So let me get this straight. It is NOT okay for a business owner to ask a customer for an online review since soliciting reviews interferes with the natural flow of reviews, correct? However, if a business does this and you catch them (check out this video, as we are not too sure how serious you are about this), then you will place a Yelp Consumer Alerts badge on that company’s Yelp page and even go as far as remove them from your search results?!
To try and clear this up, I asked a Yelp representative to provide me with some additional insight. I have excluded her name to protect her job because she is really great at what she does. And for the sake of transparency, I’ve included my question and her entire answer:
Question to Yelp rep:
Our content team will be writing a blog article to be posted next week about soliciting reviews on Yelp. I have a question as I am a bit confused. Last week I was at a restaurant with a client. I checked in using the Yelp app. A few days after my visit to the restaurant, I was sent a text message from Yelp asking me to write a review for the restaurant I checked into. A few days after that, I was sent an email from Yelp for me to write a review.
I thought it was against Yelp's policy to actively solicit reviews as it was not a organic process, but yet, Yelp is soliciting reviews. Isn't this a contradiction? What is the difference between a plumber asking for a Yelp review vs Yelp asking for the review? Does this "check-in" feature from Yelp only work if you have checked into a business? How can businesses who don't have a physical address, or service-oriented business take advantage of this check-in feature where Yelp will ask for a review?
I know this is not your department, but if you could forward to someone who can shed some light on this, I would sure appreciate it.
Yelp rep’s response:
“Yelp prides itself on minimizing the impact of bias in its reviews. Yelp doesn’t offer users compensation for reviews, and does not penalize users for posting a negative review. To be successful, a business should not ask for reviews or interfere with the natural flow of reviews (e.g. offering compensation, soliciting reviews), as outlined in the guide to success: https://biz.yelp.com/guide_to_success
Yelp sends out prompts to an already engaged user who has chosen to download the app, check in, etc. Yelp knows the active engagement of our consumer is already there, so this is a step in the flow of our ecosystem. Compare that to a store owner who asks “Have we wowed you, will you write a review?”. Knowingly or unknowingly, business owners tend to only ask people they believe had a good experience with their business to write a review, which results in biased content.”
Again, I was left scratching my head and I am sure there were emails flying around New York, (where this rep is located) making sure to respond with the perfect answer.
I get the reason that you and Google discourage businesses from selectively soliciting reviews—also known as Review Gating—which is why I probed further with, "But what if they (meaning the business owner) asked everyone for a review? How is that different than what Yelp is doing?”
Yelp rep’s response:
“Because we know when someone checks-in they're already an engaged user who has chosen to download the app, check in, previously write a review, etc. Basically, because they're already a Yelp user who isn't being asked on a biased basis. If a plumber does a job and it goes wrong or they showed up super late, broke a pipe, and then left the house a mess you probably wouldn't ask that customer to leave a review cause you know it won't be positive. When Yelp prompts a user after they've already taken actions on the platform we have no idea how your experience went so it has no way of being biased.”
This didn’t exactly answer my question, in fact, it fueled my belief that Yelp, you most definitely have your head up your a$$ and you are a playground bully. (The definition of bullying involves an intent by the bully to harm someone who is in some way less powerful than the bully.) I get that you're trying to keep businesses from offering exorbitant rewards for positives reviews, but don’t say one thing and then go and do it. Your fear of losing control is getting the best of you— this is the people's platform!
But then I had an idea!
What if business owners sent a review request to every client they did business with? If the operations of a business are fine-tuned, then it would be expected that most consumers would have a positive experience with that business. These companies should have no fear of asking all of their clients to post an online review. Statistically, consumers who have had a negative experience will go to great lengths to post a negative review since they have the motivation to do so. It’s those who have had a positive experience with a company who need a little nudge.
Would this scenario work, Yelp? You can't have your cake and eat it, too!
In my opinion (and this is just my opinion), Yelp, you are doing exactly what you are telling businesses not to do. You are soliciting reviews with your very own recommendation software which interferes with the natural flow of reviews.
Please practice what you preach.
Ginger E. Jones
WebPunch: A Reputation Management Company
PS - I made you your very own consumer alert badge that can be placed on your Yelp listing. It is easily downloadable by right-clicking on the image.
Ginger Jones is a co-founder and resident workhorse at WebPunch. When she’s not slaving away at her desk, she’s diligently playing with her many nieces and nephews, who are her soul. She is a lover of architecture, movies as background noise and all manner of kid food like pizza and tacos. She longs to one day be an urban farmer (bees and chickens) and solemnly vows to bring stylish farmer overalls to the masses.