I have been telling clients for a long time that reviews are an important part of their internet advertising. Search engines like Google like to see that people have been to your business. So we have encouraged our clients to ask their customers for reviews and if possible, to write them on Google or other sites like Yelp where they might have a membership. We are changing our tune and are not presently recommending Yelp.
A big reason that we have encouraged our clients to use Yelp is because of their reputation for filtering out reviews that are not real. One of the reasons we haven’t been in love with Yelp is it is next to impossible to delete a negative review–even if you have cleared up the situation that caused the review, or if the negative review was unfairly written. But…bad reviews happen, just like a business can have a bad day…so a small percentage of bad reviews make it look more “real” in the eyes of the review sites. And we can’t really disagree with that line of thinking.
Now it appears Yelp is removing legitimate reviews…even ones that have been on their site for months and that can be verified to have followed their terms of service.
This is all about what I view to be the biggest challenge to the use of review sites: they offer paid advertising slots which can seem to influence their site’s performance.
Sure, everyone should be able to earn a living…but is your site a review site or are you merely listing ads like a modern day phone book? Many of the sites will come right out and tell you that if you don’t pay for an ad then your site’s listing will not be at the top of the page. This is not necessarily a problem, because many of these sites are not seen by many people, but they are still read by the search engines and therefore is serving its purpose.
Now it seems Yelp is actually reviewing legitimate ads if a business owner does not pay for an advertisement on their site. There is evidence that suggests Yelp is even leaving reviews up that violate their terms of service as long as the business owner pays for advertising with them.
My response is to no longer support Yelp. In my business I make every effort to follow the various terms of service that other businesses have because I respect their right to set their own rules. It is important that businesses be clear about what their mission is, and Yelp always put it out there that they were a review site–their mission was to help people find good businesses that provide the service they want in the their city or town. I do not believe their customers believe that ONLY businesses who pay for advertising will appear.
While it may be if you check today your business will have reviews on Yelp and tomorrow they are gone because you didn’t buy ad space. I think this is a poor business model and we can focus on other review sites until Yelp figures out that it doesn’t have to strong arm people–or they figure out which business they really want to be in–reviews or merely a listing service for hire. There are just so many other options out there.
I am not making a blanket statement that no one should advertise on these sites…that’s NOT my point. If the sites are a good source of traffic for you and you want to try a paid ad to see if it increases the number of calls or visits you get, that’s great. Some businesses do well with paid ads on sites. For other businesses and sites it is not cost-effective.
My point is about reviews…and that it is not okay to change your ship’s course midway across the stream and then blackmail people into staying aboard.
Most business owners find that getting customers to actually write a review and put it online is a challenge–and I do not want to encourage people to post reviews in a place that will just turn around and take them down. So if your business has customers who want to post reviews for you, ask them to write them on Google and stay away from Yelp.