I'm going to be honest: I really debated posting on this topic for a while - I struggled with myself and my typical business ethics regarding this subject matter. But nothing quite gets to me like a business that is built on lies and extortion. As a Sacramento SEO company, I have had many local clients over the years complain about the same thing when dealing with Yelp - "my good reviews are hidden, and bad ones are showing - and the salespeople at Yelp won't stop calling me promising to help." I personally have worked for several businesses and been the marketing contact - which meant I often received those calls as well - it was often pretty clear that there was something not quite right with the whole matter, and recently this has been confirmed.
Yelp Can Legally Extort Your Business
In a September 2nd court ruling in the 9th Circuit Court, which was basically People v Yelp Inc. (it was a group of companies who all experienced the same thing and sued), the court stated that "As Yelp has the right to charge for
legitimate advertising services, the threat of economic harm that Yelp leveraged is, at most, hard bargaining" (here is the entirety of the case and ruling). The plaintiffs argued that Yelp distorted their rankings by removing positive reviews and publishing negatives ones, and their sales people used that as leverage to get them to advertise. This subject has been talked about ad nauseam (here's a good overview), so I won't go into too much detail except to say that Yelp's position is now that "we don't extort our customers, but hey, we totally can if we want, so suck it." They say they don't extort, but when even your own shareholders are suing you, you know there's something going on - talking and walking like ducks and so forth.
But the Fact of the Matter is We're Stuck with Yelp for Now
The truth is, as much as I dislike the company's practices, even I use their app on my phone. There simply have been no good competitors that help me look for my next brunch adventure. I'm hoping there will be soon, and my usage of the app really has decreased, but there are still times where geo-locating all of the nearest restaurants on the fly, seeing photos and getting directions is too convenient to ignore. And on top of that, part of the nature of my chosen profession is monitoring online reputation - so I have to check in for myself and my clients to make sure that any negative reviews are responded to. It's the nature of the beast. So, knowing that, here are some tips and tricks for dealing with Yelp, and making sure you're not having headaches while doing so:
1 - Claim Your Business Listing
First and foremost, every business has a listing on Yelp one way or another at some point. If a customer checks in, reviews you, businesses share names similar to yours, or a previous business at your location had a page set up, you've got some form of Yelp data associated with you. This is a potential way to have your customers confused or turned off - if you have any negative reviews, misinformation or more, you could lose a customer. Some customers even are turned off just by the fact that you don't have a profile on Yelp - it's a sign (just like if you have a bad or non-existent website these days) that you're not serious about business. So claim your listing. It's free, and it's not too difficult. Here's how to do it:
- Visit the page on Yelp here. Click on the "Claim my Listing" button.
- Enter your business name and city (or maybe zip code if your name is common)
- This will display a list of businesses that might be yours. If you see yours, click the "Claim" button next to it.
- If your business is listed, but it says "Already Claimed" - then you've done this, or worse, somebody already has. You'll have to, unfortunately, contact Yelp directly to get it unlocked for you.
- After you click "Claim," you'll have to set up an account, and then verify it through your email.
- From there, you'll verify your account, and then be able to verify you own your business, typically by receiving a phone call on the business line and verifying a code on their website.
- Once you do this, you'll be done and have control over your business page!
But you're not done. Part of a good online reputation is filling out your profile with good info. Fill out your full information, including web address, add some photos of your business, write an "about the owner" section and any other relevant fields. Even if you have zero reviews, it still looks good to have a full profile and show that you care. And yes, this process is all free, so there's no reason not to.
2 - Monitor and Respond to Reviews
Another important thing to keep in mind, and to combat Yelp's "convenient" tendencies to hide good reviews and publicize bad ones is to always respond to reviews. Make a habit of checking in weekly (or daily if you're a restaurant owner since those are the most commonly reviewed) and take a look at your reviews. Reviews are listed in two places: The highlighted "Recommended Reviews" below your business info, and the hard-to-find "X other reviews that are not currently recommended" in light-grey text under the recommended reviews (by the way, this is typically where your good reviews go if you're being strong-armed).
It's a good idea to monitor these reviews to give yourself an idea of how you're perceived, but you also have a chance to save face by responding properly to bad reviews. Don't complain about the customer or say anything negative. Apologize, address the issue, and vow to make it better. DO NOT be another Amy's Baking Company and further damage your reputation by responding poorly to negative reviews.
And feel free to respond to positive reviews too. Tell the customer "thank you" and respond to their direct references. It's even better if you remember them and can say something nice about how wonderful they were. BUT, don't use this as an opportunity to upsell, offer coupons, etc. Just show them that you care and it was a pleasure serving them, and leave it at that. If you seem like you're turning it into a sale opportunity, other potential customers will be off-put.
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3- Dealing with Their Persistent Salespeople
I've heard the pitch over and over. "Do you like to eat at restaurants? How do you find the restaurants? Wouldn't you like to know what other people are saying..." and so on. They ask easy "yes" questions to begin to turn the conversation into something relatable for your business, thus convincing you that you will have the same benefit that a restaurant would by being on Yelp. They forget to tell you that your business can have a profile and be listed for free, so it's a little misleading. There are two ways to pay to advertise on Yelp - PPC ads which don't offer nearly the return on investment that Google or even Bing Ads do, and buying a "premium" profile which removes ads from your profile as well as a few other "perks." They butter you up to the point that when you hear the ridiculous price, it's hopefully not so offensive. But there are many, many more and better ways to spend thousands of dollars a month in marketing, so I never recommend marketing on Yelp.
But how the heck do you get rid of that salesperson that calls you EVERY DAY? Unfortunately, the most effective way I have found is by being rude, in the nicest way possible. When you see that 415 area code (San Francisco) number call your phone, you typically know you're about to be on the phone for half an hour. So answer the phone, and once they announce they're from Yelp, cut them off and say one of the following things:
- "I'm sorry, you're wasting your time as I have absolutely no money in my bank account to advertise. Thank you though, but please remove me from your list."
- "There is a zero-point-zero chance I will be advertising with you, so please stop calling me."
- Use the Frasier approach: "At Cornell University they have an incredible piece of scientific equipment known as the Tunneling Electron Microscope. Now, this microscope is so powerful that by firing electrons you can actually see images of the atom, the infinitesimally minute building blocks of our universe. Sir/Ma'am, if I were using that microscope right now, I still wouldn't be able to locate my interest in advertising with Yelp. Please stop calling me."
I've used the first two successfully, and haven't heard back from those salespeople. They're trained to try to talk you into allowing them to have a teleconference/screen share meeting with you, and you'll be stuck for an hour hearing the same pitch over and over again. So don't EVER agree to sit down with them for that presentation, and ask them to stop calling you. But remember to be nice and civil - they are salespeople and not the decision-makers at Yelp. They hear over and over again how terrible their company is, so don't add to their stress and headaches - they probably already know how bad it is, but it's their job for now.
Do These Things, and You'll Never Have to Worry About Being Strong-Armed by Yelp
For now, we're stuck with them, but we can do as much as possible to make sure that Yelp doesn't have a position to extort you via their reviews. Claim your profile, respond to reviews, and get their salespeople off their backs, and Yelp will go from a constant stress in your business life to just another side-thought that you check up on every now and then.
And of course, if you need help claiming your profile, or dealing with reviews and reputation management, don't hesitate to contact us today!
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