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Why Yelp Should Actively Embrace ‘Review Solicitation’

Among the sites that present online ratings and reviews, Yelp has always had the strictest policies against “review generation.” The company has historically not wanted businesses to ask for reviews, to say nothing of “incentivizing” them with rewards of any kind.

The reason for this is pretty straightforward. Yelp wants to maintain the objectivity of its content so that consumers will trust the site. Hence the “not recommended” review filter and consumer alerts, which are both intended to safeguard the integrity of its reviews.

Yet other sites, including Google, have more relaxed guidelines around review solicitation. Indeed, Google incentivizes its “local guides” to write more reviews with prizes and awards of various kinds. Here’s an example:

Local Guides Review Incentives

On Yelp, “not recommended” reviews have long been a source of confusion and controversy. Some SMBs see conspiracies in the apparent peek-a-boo quality of some of their reviews. (“Last week I had several 5-star reviews, now two of them are gone.”) This has been one of the primary factors behind the persistent theory that Yelp uses “review manipulation” to sell advertising. However, if Yelp doesn’t trust the review then it goes in the penalty box.

As a potential solution to some of this, I suggested to Yelp that the company use its transactional capabilities to help solicit reviews for SMBs. In cases where a reservation or purchase or RFP had been done on the site, Yelp could later email the consumer inviting a review. This is what happens on Amazon, Hotels.com and numerous other sites. In response to this idea, some at Yelp felt that my idea could still be “gamed.”

Yet helping businesses get customer reviews would solve a huge pain point for SMBs. It would also benefit Yelp and create good will, something Yelp needs in the SMB world.

Last week Yext introduced a new product called Yext Reviews. It provides review monitoring, review generation and analytics. Reviews can be solicited via email, SMS or in-app based on visits and purchases. The consumer is then deposited on a relevant site to write a review. That can include Yelp.

There’s nothing unethical about the Yext product. But simply because it involves a review ask, it would appear on its face to run afoul of the Yelp guidelines. However Yext and Yelp have apparently discussed it and Yelp is not fighting. Indeed, I spoke informally with several Yelp employees at the Yext Location World event last week in New York and was told that Yelp’s position is “evolving.”

My immediate response was that Yelp should actively embrace third parties that are helping solicit reviews but that it should work directly with them to minimize fraud. I recommended that Yelp build an ecosystem of approved partners that it works with closely so it could trust reviews coming from those sources (in addition to other anti-fraud mechanisms).

Businesses need reviews. Yelp needs to keep fresh content coming. Third parties are addressing a legitimate market need in helping local businesses (even enterprises) gain customer reviews. I think Yelp needs to stop resisting and work to help facilitate ethical reviews via third party partners.

It will not only benefit Yelp but the ecosystem as a whole.

4 Responses to “Why Yelp Should Actively Embrace ‘Review Solicitation’”

  1. Marc Hawk says:

    Great post Greg! All businesses need to evolve and it seems that Yelp is holding on to its conspiracy theory that businesses manipulate reviews to its own detriment. Everyone knows that not every review is valid and regardless of Yelp’s policies, that remains true of the reviews they generate. Interestingly, Yelp wants to be the friend of the consumer by controlling the content on their site but the ability to monetize their platform is on the back of the business owner…therein lies the problem. A move to supporting the goals of its paying business owners while working hard to manage fraud is great advice and would create value for both consumers and business owners.

  2. Greg Sterling says:

    Thanks Mark. I spoke to Yelp about this and they say they are “evolving” on this issue.

  3. Spot on Greg they should shift attitude towards the reviews I believe that would open their platform up to an even wider audience by allowing businesses to ask for reviews. great post

  4. Greg Sterling says:

    Agree. I think they’re going to yield on this.

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