When a 5-star Yelp Review Doesn’t Help Your Business

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If you run a business, Yelp can either be your best friend or your worst enemy.

Stories abound about the businesses that have been ruined by Yelp reviews. And I’m sure just as many local businesses have flourished, in part because of the positive experience of customers who raved about their experience on the platform.

The truth nowadays is, managing Yelp is a part of managing a business. Whether you like it or not, customers use it. They are going to review their experiences, and others are going to read those reviews when they are deciding whether or not to try you out. So the best thing you can do is have a plan, or a strategy, in place to solicit positive reviews and respond to negative ones.

But not all reviews are built the same. Some have a greater impact than others. And some have no impact whatsoever.

One would think that a 5-star review is a great thing. If you are managing a business, or it is your job to manage the reputation of a company on Yelp, a 5-star review is the holy grail.

Here’s where it gets a little shady.

Over the years, Yelp has consistently changed their policies on reviews. Early on, those business that advertised on Yelp had a lot of control over what reviews showed up on the platform and which did not – giving an unfair advantage to businesses with deeper pockets. A lawsuit ended this practice, or at least drove it further underground.

Today, Yelp relies on an algorithm to determine which reviews are “recommended” and which are not. Reviews that are not recommended are hidden. Businesses can still see them, but they do not show up for users, and they do not impact the overall rating shown on the Yelp listing for that company.

So some 5-star reviews (and some 4-star, 3-star, and so on) don’t count.

Yelp tells companies that a review will not be recommended if it is done by an inactive user. They also say the algorithm will identify reviews that were clearly provided because the company asked for it, anything that looks too much like a testimonial.

(Anyone that can tell me the difference between a testimonial and a positive review knows more than I do about the English language)

Yelp’s official policy is that companies should not ask for reviews from their customers (though they still supply window decals and other signage that suggests the opposite is true). So the only reviews their algorithm is supposed to recommend are the ones that look natural, like a frequent user supplied an unbiased review without any suggestion from the business.

To those of you out there whose job it is to manage a presence on Yelp, I feel for you.

Turn Bad Yelp Reviews into Good Yelp Reviews in 2 Easy Steps

A bad Yelp review is something most business owners and marketers see in their nightmares. There is nothing worse than working to carefully craft a positive brand image only to have it marred by one customer’s negative experiences.

But getting a bad review does not have to be as negative as we tend to think it is. In fact, we can take steps to turn it into a positive. How?

Step 1 = Respond and React

When you get a negative review, view in the light of “how did we wrong this customer, and how can we make her/him happy again?”

A negative review is always a bad thing. Someone had such a poor experience with your brand that they went out of their way to complain about it in public. So the first step is to respond to the person (publicly on Yelp and privately if possible). Find out what went wrong and offer to fix it. Go out of your way to make this person happy again.

Step 2 = Request a New Review

Yelp makes it easy for a reviewer to update an existing review. In fact, it is incredibly easy for any user to turn a past 1-star review into a 5-star review if they are so inclined.

After you have made your customer’s day by fixing their issue, ask if they might take one additional step and update their review. This will reflect positively on your in two ways. First, it will show those who check your Yelp page that you are active in responding to customer complaints. And second, it will add to your overall Yelp rating.

Embrace Online Review Culture

Yelp was founded in July 2004 in San Francisco, CA. They didn’t invent the online review, itself a reincarnation of business reviews that existed pre-digital age. But they are the most commonly acknowledged online review platform, so I’m using them here as a way of showing how old online review culture really is.

12 years!

It’s been 12 years since people have been leaving reviews on Yelp. And in those 12 years, online reviews have only gotten more common.

Every company gets reviews on Yelp, Google, Facebook, etc. But not every company treats online reviews the same way. After conducting a little research, it appears that there are four main ways companies think about and react to online reviews:

  1. Ignore it. These are the companies that either don’t know or refuse to acknowledge that their customers are posting reviews online. You can usually spot these companies for their negative reviews that go unheard and un-responded to. I doubt there is much success in belonging to this group.
  2. Fight it. These are the companies who take a firm stand against the customer-is-always-right mentality. They respond angrily to negative reviews which they deem unfair attacks on their business.
  3. Accept it. In this group, companies at least accept that online reviews are valid. They are aware of the main review sites and actively seek to keep their scores up.
  4. Embrace it. In this final bucket of companies, we find cultures that have graduated from simply accepting that online reviews exist to creating a full strategy around them. They respond to people who leave reviews, engaging with fans and detractors alike. They actively pursue reviews from happy customers and they address the problems uncovered in negative reviews.

You can only ignore something so long before it ends up hurting you. With online reviews, your best bet is to embrace their potential to improve your business.