Yelp is a powerful platform for expanding the reach and profile of your business, but it's not without its share of quirks. In particular, the platform's approach to filtering honest customer reviews can cause some real consternation. When success driving leads from potential customers depends largely on your ability to build up reviews, why would the review platform decide to filter some of them out? More importantly, what, if anything, can you do to stop it?
Simply put, Yelp markets itself as the premier place to get honest, unbiased, informative reviews for local businesses. To live up to that billing, it needs to carefully curate online reviews to ensure users see only the most useful ones. Reviews that are fake, biased, short, vague or vulgar incur the wrath of Yelp's review filter and usually get hidden away, keeping the overall quality of the content high.
In theory, this benefits both Yelp and the businesses that use the platform. If only genuine, substantive reviews are shown, users will be more apt to trust Yelp and continue using it. That means more potential impressions and greater visibility for the reviews that best reflect your business.
The Yelp filter is driven by a complex algorithm that decides whether or not to hide each review. To see which of your customer reviews have been hidden, pull up your business page and navigate to the bottom of the first page of reviews. You'll see a gray link noting "other reviews that are not currently recommended." The algorithm that makes these decisions isn't public, but we have a pretty good idea of which factors make reviews most likely to disappear.
Whether by bots or real people, fake reviews are overwhelmingly posted using new accounts with very few engagements. As a result, authentic reviews from new users are almost always viewed with skepticism by Yelp. If you scroll through the "not recommended" section of your review profile, you may notice that many these filtered reviews were by users who have left only a handful of reviews, are missing a profile photo, or have their listing location set incorrectly (for example, many users leave their location set as Yelp's default city "San Francisco"). This applies to both positive reviews and negative reviews.
Everyone loves the occasional glowing positive review, but even real reviews can go a little too far. Posts that are overly positive — or negative — are often flagged as suspicious, especially if they come in bunches.
Remember that Yelp's goal as a platform is to help users make more informed decisions about where they spend their money. Review content that is vague, irrelevant or extremely short is unlikely to help in that goal, which is why Yelp often removes them.
If a review comes from an IP address associated with known bots or scammers, it probably won't be around for long. Likewise, if a user claims to have visited your business in Chicago while posting from an IP address in Finland, they're likely to run into trouble with the algorithm. Another IP address issue to watch out for is asking customers for reviews when they are physically at your location. If they are connected to your in-house wifi network, the online review platform will start to see pattern of matching ip addresses from active users and penalize those honest reviews simply because they were likely asked for in person.
Yelp's review guidelines and terms of service (TOS) are designed to encourage customer trust and are rather straightforward, but they're still violated on occasion. If a review gets caught up in the filter, it may have included:
Despite the best of intentions, the algorithm-driven Yelp review filter often does as much harm as good. In an attempt to reign in shady behavior, it routinely stifles genuine reviews left by the customers you have worked hard to earn. Unfortunately, when it comes to dealing with the filter and its capricious ways, you're only left with a couple of options to improve your review counts and attract more potential customers.
While some questions remain as to exactly what makes a review get trapped by Yelp's algorithm, there are several strategies that can help reviews stick. Here we share four tips to avoid having your hard-earned reviews filtered.
The first option is also the easiest and by reading through most of this article you've basically got it covered: learn to understand the filter and do your best to work within its terms. Never ask friends and family to post five-star reviews for your business and never offer payments or promotions in return for reviews. In fact, don't solicit reviews at all and this includes the ill-advised impulse to leave bad reviews for your competitors. Instead, use Yelp badges, existing 5-star reviews from happy customers and other material to simply remind customers of your Yelp page.
Unlike Google Reviews, don't explicitly ask customers for business reviews on Yelp. We recommend carefully crafting your wording in customer newsletters, email signatures, social media posts or follow up emails to read more like: "Check us out on Yelp!" or "Read genuine reviews and customer experiences from our real customers!" rather than "Review us on Yelp!" or "Leave us a 5-star review!". Yelp is paying attention to these things and will penalize you for asking people for a positive Yelp review.
We also recommend leaving a link to the profile page of your business and not the review page URL. Although it may be tempting to save happy customers a step in the review process by leading them directly to the review page to leave their amazing reviews, why tempt fate by showing your cards to the review algorithm? This is in stark contrast to Google's review platform for Google Business Profile (formerly "Google My Business") which not only encourages businesses to actively ask for reviews but provides them with a direct, shortened link to the review page within Google Maps which can be shared prolifically and without reserve.
Here are some of the most common places you can link your profile while retaining peace-of-mind:
This third tip requires a little more legwork, but it can help you keep more of your hard-earned quality reviews. Engagement is a huge factor in deciding which reviews are shown and which are hidden, so why not use that to your advantage? When you get legitimate reviews, be sure to respond to them quickly and professionally. Use the available "Useful, Funny, Cool" options to tag the ones you like.
You can also engage with reviewers by adding them as friends and clicking the "Compliment" button. You can even reach out to customers with filtered reviews to explain that their reviews are being hidden and suggest what they can do about it, including completing their profiles and leaving reviews for other businesses. All of this will drive up engagement, making their reviews more valuable and more likely to stick around.
Customers are turned into loyal customers through Yelp's "check-in" incentive and Yelp has 100% confidence that the reviewer actually visited the physical location. Also, Yelp users who are active with the platform are more likely to have a built up a solid quantity of reviews, have complete profiles (including profile pictures) and are prepared to leave constructive feedback. These clients are more likely to leave credible and high-quality reviews.
This also gets around the ip address issue mentioned before. By "checking in" with the business, the reviewer's ip address is logged by Yelp as a "visit" and a few days later, the Yelp application on the customer's phone will pop-up a notification to leave a review.
Yelp's recommendation software is about much more than fake reviews, suspicious content and unhelpful rants. It's about how your businesses' reputation is affected online and this can have real consequences for real customers and business owners alike as honest opinions and the quality of content on Yelp drive leads from prospective customers across a number of industries. By understanding how the software works (and doesn't work) you can learn to ignore bogus reviews, re-engage actual customers for real opinions and learn the preferred, indirect method for approaching people for reviews.
Unfortunately, the current state of research regarding how Yelp's algorithm truly works and why we're seeing such widely varied numbers of filtered vs. visible reviews for certain business profiles remains a mystery. We're currently working on a study that looks at average filter rates within the dental industry and will be sure to post the results here. However, by following the above framework for understanding (as best we can) how the recommendation software functions, we can plan for long-term success that rewards excellent service, genuine 5-star reviews of personal experiences and penalizing bogus reviews and irrelevant one-star reviews.
Steve Lepore is the co-founder at Circulation Studio and Circulation Dental and has been in the SEO (search engine optimization) game and building websites since 2011. In his free time he likes to camp, play guitar and argue about the NHL. GKG!