Review forums like Yelp know exactly the kind of power they have over small businesses.
When community trust is everything for an establishment trying to stay competitive, honest and descriptive reviews can spell fortune or disaster.
Yet despite their influential status, recent changes made to Yelp’s algorithm have caused many small businesses to lose their featured 5-star reviews, with genuine user reviews being moved to the “not recommended” section and out of public view. For businesses, this can mean many of their great honest reviews go to waste -- without even counting towards their star rating.
This is something you may have already started to notice, which likely brings you to this article.
Fortunately, there are steps you can take to understand how the current version works and how you can recover your precious reviews.
Read on for a quick guide through some must-know survival tips on for small businesses on Yelp.'
How the New Yelp Algorithm Works
Yelp’s system prioritizes truth, accuracy, and the site’s own community standards. As such, there are five primary factors that Yelp uses to determine the quality of a review:
- Language. If the user used profanity or other inappropriate language --whether positively or negatively-- you can expect their review to be flagged.
- Prior reviews. If yours was the first and only business that a user had reviewed, don’t be surprised if their review is hidden.
- Bias. Yelp’s algorithm claims to detect positive and negative bias in its users’ reviews. A strong slant in either direction can lead to a review being filtered out.
- Profile completion. In an attempt to weed out bots and dummy accounts, Yelp prioritizes reviews from users who’ve filled their profile with details --right down to a display picture.
- Location. Yelp’s algorithm is more likely to filter out reviews made off-site; reviews written on the spot are deemed more likely to be real.
When thinking about the way Yelp programmed its algorithm, it pays to look at things from their perspective. Building an algorithm to detect truth and reputability is next to impossible without some intelligent guessing. In all likelihood, you’re better off trusting a review made on-site, by an active user whose profile is full.
Granted, some honest reviews might be lost in translation, but you can’t fault the site for doing their best given the limitations of today’s technology.
How to Beat the Algorithm
Now that we’ve established how Yelp’s algorithm works, let’s dive into the ways that a small business can secure the glowing reviews that they’ve worked hard to earn.
The first things I need to mention is that this process is an active one. If you want to maximize your good reviews and write over the bad ones, you’ll have to work for it. You’ll know what I mean when we get into the details, but for now, be aware that the sit-and-wait approach will make your business listing on Yelp more trouble than it’s worth.
1. Engage with Your Reviewers
If you think of Yelp’s algorithm as a filter with layers, the first and broadest line of resistance would be the site’s efforts to discredit fake accounts. Review bots and dummy accounts are a problem for the website and those like it, but they’re relatively easy to catch --hence the greater priority for fleshed-out profiles and lengthy user activity.
Unfortunately, a handful of genuine reviewers can be caught by the filter as well.
Engaging with people whose reviews were filtered out can help them make it past the filter; make it a habit to try and add them as friends, leave a vote, and respond to their reviews. If you’re lucky, responsiveness can save their accolades from going to waste.
2. Help them Improve their Profiles
It’s likely that your reviewers are people who genuinely want to help their fellow men out by leaving useful reviews and giving businesses their due. Many of them might not be aware of how Yelp’s filter works, and may be just as frustrated as the number of business owners who feel victimized by the algorithm.
You can save your positive reviews and do some good for your customers by reaching out to them and talking them through the steps to making it past the filter.
The best approach for this is to be friendly and concerned; feel free to leave out the part where their improvement bumps up your star score.
3. Ask (Politely) for Edits
Some positive reviews coming from well-established users might not make it past the filter because they’re either too positive or include profanity. When you see a review that you suspect was filtered out because of its content rather than its writer’s reputability, you’re within your rights to send them a private message and ask for edits.
Take the following steps when asking customers to make some changes to their reviews:
Thank them for their review.
Explain that Yelp’s filter penalizes reviews that come across as too eager.
Recommend the changes you’d like to make in general terms (note: don’t tell them how to write it, as this might leave them with the wrong impression).
Thank them again, and invite them back for more of whatever you’re selling.
Be professional, be polite, and make it a point to let them know that you have their best interests at heart. Nobody likes a business that sounds desperate for glowing reviews.
4. Connect with Your Customers
This final tip is a bit of general advice for anyone running a small business: connect with your customers. Whether you run a store, restaurant, gym, or pool cleaning service, make it a habit to build relationships while doing business.
Not only does a strong effort at forming relationships improve your chances of securing loyal customers, it opens up opportunities for you to keep in touch with your Yelp reviewers. Unless you’re on great terms with the people you’ve served in the past, the three tips we outlined above are a gamble at best --they might follow through, or they might not.
When your customers like you, it’ll be far less awkward to reach out and nudge them towards better Yelp habits.
Yelp is a blessing for small businesses that know how to work with their algorithm. All it takes to keep your best reviews coming in is some perspective on how the site built their filter, and some effort to reach out to the people who took the time to try and help your business out.