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Recent Yelp statistics show this business recommendation site gets 142 million unique visitors each month. The stats also show that Yelp’s largest income group, more than a third of Yelp users, earns more than $100,000 per year. Not a bad market to tap. The persuasive power of online consumer reviews is well-documented:

And then there are the bad Yelp reviews…

Bad online reviews are inevitable. Don’t overreact. Here are some proactive and reactive steps to take to make sure your positive reviews smother out any bad reviews.

CLAIM YOUR YELP PAGE

Don’t think because you don’t have a business page on Yelp, people can’t leave bad reviews about your business. They can. If Yelp knows about your business, they’ve already created a page for you.

What you need to do is claim your business page. It’s free. There are two main reasons why you want to claim your Yelp business page.

1. Every business page has multiple areas where you can present your own vision and description of your business. Why should reviewers be the only ones commenting on your business? Claim your page, post pictures, keep your hours and contact information up-to-date, and add other content about your business.

2. If you want to report a review as abusive or ask Yelp to remove it, you need be a registered business with Yelp. So if you haven’t claimed your Yelp page, now’s the time to do it.

MANAGE POSITIVE/BAD REVIEW PROPORTIONS

Having a few bad reviews will actually add credibility to your page. No business pleases everyone all the time. The more important question is: how many bad reviews do you have relative to positive reviews?

You want to encourage people to leave you good Yelp reviews to counter-balance any bad ones. But Yelp has rules. Officially, you can’t ask people to leave you a good review. You certainly can’t offer them freebies or inducements to do so.

Yelp recommends you ask customers to “check you out” on Yelp. They’ll even provide badging to use in your marketing to promote your Yelp presence.

Do your best customers even know about Yelp? To stay with Yelp’s Terms of Service (ToS), think of this as an awareness campaign for your Yelp page — not a “leave us a good review” campaign. If you focus on awareness rather than reviews, you’ll be less likely to step outside of Yelp’s ToS.

And Yelp does look for people trying to fool (or game) their system. It uses filters to suppress reviews it thinks are manipulating their review system. For example, say 20 gushing reviews get posted to your page in one week. But your business usually only gets 1-2 reviews a week. There’s a good chance Yelp might get suspicious. Yelp doesn’t advertise how their filtering algorithm works, but they appear to consider a variety of factors.

NOT ALL REVIEWS ARE EQUAL

Yelp has another top secret algorithm: How they weigh reviews. Yelp prioritizes the reviews they find to be credible, reliable, and helpful. Low credibility reviews, whether good or bad, won’t get included in your overall star rating. They’ll also be hard to find.

I want to be clear: A bad review doesn’t mean a low credibility review. Yelp may easily consider it to be highly credible. Two factors we know contribute to credibility: who wrote the review and how the community responds to it.

Yelp has their “Yelp Elite Squad,” or “Elite ’16.” These are power users that Yelp formally recognizes as highly credible reviewers. If you get a bad review from one of these, responding to this reviewer is definitely high priority. (I’ll get to how to respond to actual reviewers below – hang in there.) The community can also review people’s reviews! Yelp provides a few buttons that readers can use to rate a review, including marking it as “useful.”

HOW TO RESPOND TO A BAD YELP REVIEW

First, if you have multiple bad reviews – consider for a minute if any of them have a point. Can you be doing something better? Then, prioritize who you respond to.

Yelp does allow reviewers to update their reviews. So positive interaction between you and the reviewer may result in a revision. The higher up in the review queue it is, the more likely it will be seen. So use review placement, along with the credibility of the reviewer (you can see their profile to the right of their review) to decide whom to address first.

You can contact a reviewer privately – but only if you claim your business page and upload a photo of yourself as the business owner. You can also respond publicly. If you do choose to respond, stay professional.

Jean Dion of InternetReputation.com, writing for Search Engine Journal reminds us, “You’re writing about a specific moment in time in which there are two points of view. You’re not defending your firstborn child. Be passionate about your business, but don’t get personal.”

When you do contact a reviewer privately, treat them as you would any customer service experience. Be empathetic. If they have a point, let them know what you’ll do to make it right. (Caveat: You cannot offer the reviewer incentives to change a bad review. Again, violation of Yelp’s ToS.) If their bad experience was a result of a misunderstanding, help them understand what happened. And as you know – they may say “OK.” And then again, they may not.

If there is something factually incorrect in a bad review, you may decide to respond publicly from the start. For example, one spa user complained in a bad Yelp review that she couldn’t complete the spa’s intake form online. The spa explained that state law prohibits them from allowing that. Then they finished off the response noting that clients only have to fill out an intake form once.

THE VICIOUS REVIEWER

OK, let’s assume you don’t have a lot of bad reviews. Maybe you just have one or two, but they’re really ugly and vicious. What do you do?

If the reviewer is an obvious crackpot, trust that people will see that. You don’t have to respond to everyone.

If your private or public response hasn’t helped, you can ask Yelp to remove it. But this is a DefCon1 response. Pick your battles carefully. Yelp is very reluctant to remove reviews. It will make low credibility reviews hard to find and not weigh them, but they don’t like to remove reviews.

Officially, Yelp will only remove a review if it violates their Content Guidelines. That includes harassing or derogatory comments, apparent conflicts of interest, releasing private information, and other similar types of content. But even then, they don’t commit to it. Yelp’s ToS says they “may” remove such a review.

If you believe a review violates Yelp’s Content Guidelines:

  1. Click the “report review” button next to it. This sends it to Yelp’s review queue.
  2. Post a public response noting that you’ve reported this review for violating Yelp’s ToS. You can mention the specific reason. e.g. “This abusive review has been reported for violating Yelp’s Content Guidelines.”

If Yelp won’t remove the complaint after you report it via the button, you can contact support. Frame the issue for them since they didn’t see it the first time around.

Specify which content guideline(s) you believe have been violated. Specify what parts of the review you’re talking about. For example, you might write “The reviewer’s description of our staff as ‘smelly and shifty’ is abusive, derogatory language.”

Ignoring bad Yelp reviews won’t make them go away. Treat your online customer service as seriously as you do in-person customer service. And take advantage of the online tools you have available to dull their edges.

Have you claimed your Yelp page yet?

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