Yelp, Ratings and You.
After yesterday’s riveting introduction to Yelp, today we’re going to move onwards and start talking about how Yelp’s reviews work. After all, reviews are the heart and soul of the service, and are the main thing that business owners care about. And, as stated by Harvard’s Michael Luca, they can have an effect on the independent operator’s bottom line. With that in mind, here’s a primer on how Yelp works.
WHAT’S THE DEAL WITH YELP REVIEWS?
On the surface — and especially for business owners — Yelp reviews are kind of like the Cheshire cat; seemingly appearing and disappearing on a whim. There is a method to the madness, though, as we’ll see in a moment. First, let’s start at the beginning of the process.
In order to post reviews on Yelp, one has to sign up for an account. After that it’s just a matter of writing reviews.
Now back to reviews appearing and disappearing: in Yelp’s eyes, not all reviews are created equal. They have a filtering process happening behind the scenes to discourage people from making shill accounts to boost their own business or sandbag a competitor’s. And though the intentions behind the filter are good, in practice it doesn’t always work as well as it should. Let’s take a look.
THE YELP FILTER
The way Yelp is set up encourages (or at least attempts to) the active participation of its members. In other words, they want you writing reviews, and lots of them. Since I’m a cynical, glass-is-half-empty sort of guy, I personally attribute that to wanting what amounts to tons of free, user-generated content for them which, in turn, leads to more page views and revenue. The less cynical among you might say that active users are more “reliable” than the person who signs up for a review or two and leaves it at that. Yelp definitely asserts their desire for “credibility” to make the site useful for users, and I totally get and appreciate that. I also understand that the way the current system is set up establishes a barrier to entry that helps keep the riffraff out.
While Yelp won’t disclose the secret sauce behind their filtering algorithm, the kinds of reviews that most often get filtered tend to be from newer members, people with incomplete profiles, or only one review under their belt. Occasionally there’s some collateral damage and a review from an active, “credible” member also gets thrown out with the bath water; but to continue mixing metaphors, you can’t make an omelet without accidentally filtering a few legit reviews.
In other words, the more active a user is in writing reviews, making friends (not in real life, of course; Yelp allows you to have friends and followers on the site like any good social media platform) and rating other reviews (you can vote for them being “useful,” “funny” or “cool”), the less likely they are to have their own reviews get filtered. Having a completed profile (including a profile picture) also helps.
What happens to a review when it gets filtered? Well, it used to disappear into the aether, to maybe reappear one day when the filter deems it to be. Businesses rightly weren’t happy about that, so a compromise was struck. Nowadays they get sequestered away under the “proper” reviews, with only a tiny link that says “Filtered Reviews” to let you know that they exist. Note that filtered ratings don’t count towards your overall score, but at least they’re visible if people know where to look.
TO BE CONTINUED…
So, at best Yelp’s filtering system is imperfect. At worst, it can sandbag your score seemingly at random because of said imperfection. We’ll get into that a bit down the road, though, when we talk about claiming and maintaining your Yelp page. Which, coincidentally enough, will be tomorrow! Until then, drop the folks at Vanee a line to see how they can help your operation. Take care!