The Fundamental Flaw Of Yelp’s Solicited Review Stance

by · October 23, 201239 comments

Ratings and reviews are an incredibly important resource for consumers online. Sites like Yelp and Urban Spoon convince diners to eat, or not eat, at restaurants every day. Other resources like Google Places, CitySearch, Angie’s List, TripAdvisor and more help people make purchase decisions on everything from vacations to plumbers and beyond.

According to most recent data from The Social Habit, online review sites were the second-most important resource for consumers considering a purchase behind the company’s website. As a result, smart marketers are paying closer attention to where they are reviewed, how many positive or negative reviews are there and how and when they, as a brand, can respond to them.

One such site, Yelp, has seemed to always have an air of controversy around its business practices. In late 2009 and early 2010, Yelp was alleged to be extorting businesses prioritizing negative reviews for businesses that didn’t advertise and intentionally ignoring those businesses when they have a legitimate concern. To this day, Yelp still has a stance — though I am unable to confirm it is actual policy — that businesses should not encourage their customers to post reviews.

In the site’s Q&A, for the question of, “Should I ask customers to write reviews for my business?” the site says:

Probably not. It’s a slippery slope between the customer who is so delighted by her experience that she takes it upon herself to write a glowing review and the customer who is “encouraged” to write a favorable review in exchange for a special discount. And let’s be candid: most business owners are only going to solicit reviews from their happy customers, not the unhappy ones. Over time, these self-selected reviews create intrinsic bias in the business listing — a bias that savvy consumers can smell from a mile away. Don’t be surprised, then, if your solicited reviews get filtered by Yelp’s automated review filter.

While I get where Yelp might be coming from — they only want organic, genuine reviews — they put the business owner on the defensive and assume far too much in how businesses actually operate. Here are the fundamental flaws of the company’s perspective:
  1. They assume businesses are encouraging customers to write positive reviews
  2. They assume businesses are encouraging customers with incentives
  3. They assume competitors aren’t encouraging bad reviews of other businesses (or don’t care if they are)
  4. They assume encouraging reviews would create “intrinsic bias” which is actually null and void if you consider points 1 and 2 may be inaccurate.
  5. They seem to assume that reviews are inherently bad or there’s some 50/50 split in good-to-bad reviews in general, thus inserting an intrinsic bias in their own approach. As we’ve discovered before in instances like banks and bank products, online sentiment about brands is inordinately positive.

They say, “And let’s be candid: most business owners are only going to solicit reviews from their happy customers, not the unhappy ones.” While incredibly condescending and presumptuous, this opinion leads the company to seem to prohibit encouragement of reviews at all? Why not say, “We’d love for you to encourage people to review you on Yelp, but feel strongly you should encourage them only to review, not ask for positive reviews?”

They don’t allow for the business owner that genuinely wants broad feedback. They don’t allow for a business owner who might not incentivize a review. Worst of all, they, in effect, prevent use of their own site. If business owners simply said, “We’d love for you to review us on Yelp!” my guess is that Yelp’s traffic and site usage would go up.

I received an email from a business I used recently asking me if I had a good or bad experience with them. It was a simple email survey with two big “Good” and “Bad” buttons in the body. I clicked “Good” because I had a good experience. It took me to Yelp in an effort to push me to share my good experience there. When I clicked “Bad” it opened an email window so I could talk directly to the business about my experience.

From Yelp’s perspective, this particular business’s use of the email survey is not in the spirit of their stance. And I agree that the “Bad” button leading not to Yelp but somewhere else is not in the spirit of providing balanced and genuine reviews on their site. But the fact the email sends people to Yelp in the first place is technically a violation of the spirit Yelp has emulated with regard to encouraging customer reviews.

Yelp is saying, “Don’t encourage people to use our site,” while at the same time saying, “Buy ads on our site and respond to the people who do use it.”

In whose per view is this a smart way to do business?

In my humble opinion, Yelp should continue to provide door stickers and collateral to the businesses that register with the site (Ironic they do this, isn’t it?), but include a little “Tell Us How We Did On Yelp!” line or similar to encourage people to review that business. They should also encourage businesses to encourage reviews, only in a fair and balanced spirit. “Tell us how we did. Yelp makes that easy. We’d love your feedback there.”

If they do this, then Yelp will stop underestimating the intelligence and ability of the business owners it both serves and relies upon for its revenue.

What are your experiences with Yelp, especially as a business? Do you encourage reviews? Do you respond to negative ones? Tell us more about how you use Yelp. The comments are yours.

Did you enjoy this blog post? If so, then why not:Leave Comment Below | Subscribe To This Blog | Sign Up For Our Newsletter |

About Jason Falls

Jason Falls

Jason Falls is the founder and chief instigator for Social Media Explorer's blog. He is a leading thinker, speaker and strategist in the world of digital marketing and is co-author of two books, No Bullshit Social Media: The All-Business, No-Hype Guide To Social Media Marketing and The Rebel's Guide To Email Marketing. By day, he leads digital strategy for CafePress, one of the world's largest online retailers. His opinions are his, not necessarily theirs. Follow him on Twitter (@JasonFalls).

Other posts by

Comments & Reactions

Comments Policy

Comments on Social Media Explorer are open to anyone. However, I will remove any comment that is disrespectful and not in the spirit of intelligent discourse. You are welcome to leave links to content relevant to the conversation, but I reserve the right to remove it if I don't see the relevancy. Be nice, have fun. Fair?