How the Yelp filter works and why you should get over it

Yelp logoIn 2013, online reviews are still trending and Yelp is the leader in the industry. In September 2013 alone, the platform had over 108 million unique visitors, and over 42 million reviews were written. But as much as customers love to consult Yelp reviews before deciding where to go or what to buy, business owners still hate them.  Most of the complaints I hear are about Yelp’s filter and how the site shows only the negative reviews and hides the good ones.

While no one is 100% sure how Yelp chooses which reviews are filtered and which are not, there are some known aspects of how the filter works. So before you go ahead and criticize Yelp, take the time to understand it – the site isn’t  going anywhere, and it’s probably just going to be more popular.

Here’s a list of the most important things you should know about Yelp, its filter and reviews.

  • Reviews cannot be removed: unless there are inappropriate words. “Horrible sauce,” “poor service ” and “rude manager” are not inappropriate words, even if they aren’t  completely true or if the review was posted by your competitor. For Yelp, everyone can have their opinion about your business.
  • The filter does not block all the good reviews: the Yelp filter uses a code to identify which reviews are going to be filtered. The code analyzes a lot of elements, but the main ones are keywords and the reviewer. If the reviewer isn’t active on the site or has written only a few reviews, it’s more likely that the code will filter his reviews. Also, if the review is empty and doesn’t have a good amount of details about the visit, it’ll be harder for the filter to identify it as truthful.
  • The site doesn’t show only the bad reviews: Yelp wants businesses to love the site and they wouldn’t try to hurt your company by making your good reviews filtered. If the bad reviews are prevailing over the good ones, it is because the code learned that those reviews are more reliable. To overcome that, ask your happy customers to leave you reviews. The more reviews you get, the more Yelp will learn about your business, and the more it’ll improve its filter. Also, make sure you investigate the issues pointed out in the reviews. Owners are often blinded by the passion for their businesses, and they don’t see that the problems are real. Even if you believe you have the best employees in the world and the reviews are lying, take some time and talk to your people about it. You might be surprised to find out that your customers were right.
  • Who the reviewer is counts for a lot: more than what the review said, the person who left the review is very important when Yelp considers what to filter. A very active Yelp user is less likely to be filtered than someone that has only left one review.
  • Replies matter: Whether the review is good or bad, all reviews need replies. Customers really appreciate when they see that the business owner took the time to leave a thank you note or an apology for something that went wrong. Also, replying to reviews gives you the opportunity to show customers your side of the story.
  • You cannot offer a prize, coupon or offer in exchange for reviews: besides being against Yelp’s guidelines, it isn’t ethical. Just mention to your customers that you are on Yelp and that you would appreciate if they would leave you a review.
  • Don’t post fake reviews or ask your employees to do it: I know it sounds silly, but I’ve seen it happen. A People hate us on Yelpbusiness owner finds that he has a bunch of bad reviews on Yelp, and then in the next week, a lot of 4-5 star reviews suddenly pop up on the account. That’s not only a horrible strategy, but it’ll show Yelp – and your customers – that you are desperate. If you are willing to write fake reviews to try to bump up your business, all the issues pointed out in the previous reviews may be true. You’ll not only ruin your reputation for potential customers,  you’ll also give Yelp’s filter one more reason to filter your good reviews.
  • Reviews go in and out of the filter all the time: it is true. Filtered reviews can go on the page at a later time, and unfiltered reviews can end up filtered. As you get more reviews and Yelp learns more about your business, the filter will change the algorithm to be more precise. So make sure you post replies to all reviews, in case they get out of the filter at some point.
  • The filter is not perfect: Yelp has admitted that its filter is not 100% accurate, but they work hard to improve it every day. I’ve seen very legitimate reviews going into the filter and false ones staying up on pages. Unfortunately, there’s nothing you can do about that, other than flagging the fake reviews. The more active you are and the more information you provide to Yelp, the more they can adjust the filter.

In summary, there is no way to get out of Yelp. The filtering system might be unfair and you might not agree with the way they run things, but as a business owner, you need to deal with it and make the best of it, because potential customers are looking at your page. The website can help your business grow, so stop whining and start dealing with it. Make sure you let your customers know that you have a page there, really listen to their reviews and truly investigate the issues pointed out. Good businesses get good reviews – even with Yelp’s filter.