We get a lot of requests to help businesses with review campaigns on sites like Yelp. Underlying many of these requests, however, is the tacit acknowledgment that some sort of manipulation or system gaming is in order. Then we have to remind them that Internet titans like Yelp and Google work 24/7 to counteract and punish those that take that approach, and they keep getting better at it.
When it comes to Yelp and modern SEO in general, there are no secret levers to pull or magic wands to wave: success comes from reliably delivering positive experiences. The tactics may shift somewhat based on the platform, but the goal is always the same.
What Does Yelp Want?
Yelp is in the business of providing authentic reviews in order to offer useful, trusted information. Likewise, search engines like Google are after the same thing. If these companies allow themselves to be gamed, sooner rather than later people will stop finding value in their services and go elsewhere.
That’s why Yelp invests vast resources to engineer processes that reward authenticity and filter out less trusted information. This can be very frustrating to a business, when you know a rave review is real, but it’s stuck in filter purgatory.
The “Secret” to Yelp Review Success
The secret to Yelp success is understanding that Yelp wants to feature “real” people, so its algorithms are highly oriented to try and determine if a review seems natural and reliable. Any sign that a review is “unnatural” and it’s toast. Indeed, Yelp confirmed at Harvard study that at least 25% of user submissions are outright discarded. Even if a review makes the cut, it’s likely not weighted as highly as other more trusted reviews are, so it’ll have less of a positive impact.
Yelp: The Real Social Network?
You may just think of Yelp as a place for people to comment about your business, but it’s an entire social network beyond that. If you want more positive reviews to show up on your page, think social!
Here are four tips:
1. Get Real
Yelp understandably favors reviews by real people. “Real” people fill out their entire Yelp profile, include a profile image, have friends (i.e. connections) on the Yelp network, and review multiple businesses over time, not just yours. And by “over time” I don’t mean 10 businesses in a week out of the blue, which raises a warning flag.
Real people also use the Yelp app on their phone to check into businesses around town on a regular basis. As a business, you can and arguably should encourage this behavior by setting up check-in offers. If your customers are using the platform in this way, then it adds credibility to their reviews, which in turn will then be more likely to appear.
2. Be Friendly
Request to become “friends” with people who have reviewed your business, or just folks you find interesting. If they leave a quality review on another page, show your appreciation and mark it “useful.” This activity helps boost their authority on the social network, making their reviews more likely to stick.
3. Build Your Own Authority
If you’re constantly begging your customers for reviews, it only seems fair to also review the businesses you like, right? By adding your own reviews, marking others as useful, and befriending others, you’re also building your own authority in the Yelp community. That means a friendship with you makes Yelp newbs appear more “real.” You’re in effect vouching for them, and their subsequent reviews might be less likely to get discarded. See how this system reinforces itself by rewarding social activity?
4. Mind the Hyperbole
If a great review isn’t beating the filter, make sure it’s not too over-the-top (one client advised a friend to drop the extra exclamation points — good advice). You can even reach out directly through Yelp with a private message to make the request. If they love you so much they will probably understand why maybe their comment that you are “Literally the best restaurant in the whole world!!!!!!!” could — although appreciated — be pulled back a bit.
At the end of the day, by thinking of Yelp as the social network that it is, you’ll have a leg up on your review acquisition strategy.