Making Your Yelp Review Count (Especially if You Love Your Small Businesses)

This weekend I was reviewing some of my business and marketing materials when I made a surprising – and, to me, disconcerting – discovery. I have a Yelp business page and had several five-star reviews for my services from happy clients. You can imagine my astonishment, then, when I saw that my page showed that it had only one review. What? Impossible! Sure enough, only one review was listed. The other ones, I discovered, had been placed in the "not currently recommended" section of my Yelp page. You may have seen this section of reviews. It sits at the very bottom of the page and requires you to click on the little drop-down arrow in order to see them, which most people are probably not going to do. Now, four of my five-star reviews were sitting in a place where no one was likely to find them, and it appeared as though I had only one review from a satisfied customer. Decidedly unhappy at this point, I did some research into why these reviews, all of which I knew to be from clients of mine, had been marked as not recommended.

First off, a clarification of Yelp's services is necessary, compared to other sites such as Facebook or Google, which also allow consumers to leave reviews on their respective business pages. If a client (or someone with a fake account) posts a review to your business on Google or Facebook, it generally stays there for good whether or not you have actually had that person as a paying client. Yelp, on the other hand, has an algorithm they run which helps them filter out reviews which are potentially fraudulent or not helpful (e.g. all-caps rants about how great or terrible a business was). While I knew about Yelp's algorithm to sort reviews when I first signed up for the service, I did not realize just how picky it can be, or that it can act somewhat retroactively. Although Yelp has kept the exact parameters of the algorithm as proprietary knowledge so that unscrupulous individuals cannot work around it, it apparently looks for things like accounts with incomplete profiles (no picture, little background information, etc.), accounts with only one or two reviews to their name which then become inactive for a lengthy period of time, and reviews from such accounts that are either all high-star or all low-star. These tend to be flagged as potentially fake accounts, meaning that reviews from paying clients, who only used Yelp to give your business a high rating because they loved your service so much, may actually get relegated to the "not currently recommended" pile if they don't use Yelp for anything else or don't finish setting up their profile. Bummer if you're a small business like me and want not just high-star reviews, but also desire quite a few good reviews so that it is apparent that you have lots of satisfied customers.

So what can clients and business owners do to make sure that reviews on Yelp stay in the recommended section? For clients, especially those who don't use Yelp very often, it is ideal if you complete your profile and leave reviews for more than just your favorite business. Maybe go through and leave average reviews for other businesses that you weren't thrilled with but about which you didn't really have anything bad to say either. This will help the algorithm recognize you as a real person, especially if you keep popping back on Yelp from time to time to view check-in offers at your favorite businesses and leave reviews of places you visit.

Business owners, while continuing to ask clients to leave reviews for them on Yelp, can also encourage reviews on other platforms (like Google and Facebook, for instance) or can ask instead for the client to email them a review that they may use as a testimonial on their website. With a little effort, clients and business owners can make sure that reviews left on Yelp by real people stay active and visible for new clients who are in the market for a great service. That way, it's a win-win for clients who want great service and small businesses who are more than happy to provide it.