Google has been fined by the EU for abusing its dominant position in search. In short: for promoting its own services above those of its advertisers.
The company has 90 days to make changes and must “refrain from any
measure that has the same or an equivalent object or effect”, the
Does this have any implications from the point-of-view of reviews?
This Commission/FT infographic shows just how important position in search is
Even the most cursory glance at any search will show Google reviews, very prominently indeed. Yelp and TripAdvisor have been complaining about this for many years. The EU did not directly criticise this aspect of search (the focus was predominantly on Google’s comparison shopping service), but logic says that they will be keeping a close eye on it. And so will we.
Google have 90 days to react to the Commission’s finding (ignore the comments already appearing in forums saying things along the lines of ‘Google’s so big they can tell the EU to get lost’ – they cannot and they will not) and make changes to ensure they are compliant with the ruling. When they do we will update you. If anything indicates a change of strategy we will advise you accordingly – that’s why you engaged a review manager, not a single reviews solution that can be great one day and redundant the next.
This month it’s the turn of Happy Fish Sushi. According to the Peoria Journal and Star (we’re sure you all read that!?) they allege that Yelp has been bombarding this business with sales calls and the business itself alleges that their Yelp rating dropped – inferring that Yelp were filtering out positive reviews.
Yelp’s business model is based on selling advertising on non-paying business’s listings. Fair? We’ll leave you to decide.
In desperation – we assume – this business has decided to reward customers for writing one-star reviews!
But seriously: it is difficult for a reviews site to comply with the spirit, let alone the letter, of the CMA regulations – which have the force of law. Most reviews sites in the UK rely on Google partnering for much of their revenue – which in turn relies on the client business being willing to tie themselves to long-term pay-per-click strategies in order to see their review scores appear in search – scores that, with effective review management would appear next to the business’s natural listing – and in the knowledge panel, for free.
Winkworth‘s reviews – not HelpHound’s, but verified by HelpHound (see below):
Note the ‘write a review‘ button – anyone can write a review at any time – no wonder potential clients give their reviews credence.
We hear first-hand reports of review sites employing boiler-house techniques – multiple calls by different staff, often in the same day, is just one example, ‘free trial’ periods (during which the business will be innocently generating revenue for the review site) is another. Often the offering is non-compliant in some way (check it against the six criteria here).
We consider that it is well-nigh impossible for a commercial review site to comply with the current CMA regulations and make money at the same time – the conflict of interest is just too great. It is possible – although we hasten to add that we have no evidence – that Yelp’s decision to quit the UK was influenced by legal advice; after all their business model rests on being able to up-sell advertising above its natural listings as in the screenshot above, something that the CMA might not entirely happy about.
Businesses must realise that there is no ‘magic bullet’ where reviews are concerned, that whatever solution they adopt must not mislead consumers and must be truly open and accessible to all.
The only solution – fortunately for well-managed businesses with a strict consumer focus – is proper professional review management; compliant with the regulations and effective for the business and consumer alike.
Where is the world of online reviews headed? It is a question marketing professionals constantly ask themselves. Here we will bring all of our decade of experience to bear to try to give you some answers.
But first we need a starting point – today would seem logical.
Reviews in 2017
Google – virtually every consumer’s gateway to every business on the planet – is completely committed to reviews. More real estate on any given search is devoted to consumer reviews – Google’s own and those of the independent review sites than anything else.
So – your business needs to look great on Google. Be aware that you are always in competition in search – you should aim to dominate that competition with your reviews.
Next – understand today’s consumer journey. The days of consumers lingering over search are long past – especially for those 70% that are searching on mobile devices. They click through to the most attractive option far faster than they would have done even two years ago.
This means you need to be aware of two things: the need to attract attention in search and then the need to look irresistible when they click through to your website – and that means hosting and prominently displaying reviews there – not behind a tab, not at the bottom of your home page – right in the consumer’s line of sight.
So – onto our forecasts:
Businesses that don’t engage will suffer
Two businesses – of a similar size in the same marketplace and location.Which one impresses at first glance?
For two reasons – one more obvious than the other: at the moment if your business has no reviews and your competitors have a handful your business will not suffer greatly by comparison. You will be missing a great opportunity, but that’s all. But when your competitor lights up and has hundreds of reviews and you only have a handful?
The second reason is the impact of reviewers’ behaviour – and this has now been subject to scientific study – if a business is passive it will eventually attract proportionately more negative reviews, simply because a negative experience is so much more motivation for writing a review.
We are already seeing this: reviews drive business. Of course there will always be a minority who decry reviews – ‘they are written by fools with too much time on their hands’ or ‘no-one believes what they read on the web’ but with the cost barrier to testing whether reviews work or not now so low, isn’t it crazy not to even test this contention?
Google reviews will continue to spread
Read the full story of the huge acceleration and penetration of Google reviews that took this multi-national business by surprise: from an average of one review per outlet just over a year ago to 10 now
We meet businesses every day who say ‘But we had no Google reviews this time last year!’ Of course Google reviews first began to make an impact in frequent-use and relatively low-value markets like fast food and hospitality, but increasingly they are making their presence felt in areas such as financial services and the law.
Google will continue to make changes
How about adding a ‘most relevant’ filter?
Now, we are hesitant about making any guesses about timings here, but we are working from a position of pure logic: in order to maintain its pre-eminent position in the search market (yes – it does operate in a competitive market) Google needs to continue to give its customers what they want, and those customers break down into two main constituencies. First the ‘user’ or ‘searcher’ then the business. Google’s business model means that it derives all of its revenue from the latter – so it must keep businesses happy. We make the following predictions fully-cognisant of these self-evident financial pressures.
For Google’s reviews to maintain credibility Google must refine its appeals procedure. Placing the burden of proving that a review is malicious 100% on the business under review is manifestly unfair, and anything that is unfair on the business in this context leads to misleading content that is demonstrably not in the interest of consumers. Consumers do not want to be misled by fake, malicious or factually incorrect reviews. Google’s image has already been tarnished by the recent advertising furore, it should address this issue if it is not to lose more face.
Deciding on the purpose of reviews
Look at the screenshot above. All but one of the 23 reviews of this business have been written as a protest against alleged ecological harm, not necessarily proven to be the fault of the business concerned. What is sure is that they are not reviews by customers of the business of the business’s products or service, and in this context they are of negligible help for prospective customers looking to see what previous customers have thought of the company’s services. What is sure is that they – rightly or wrongly – will be harming the business’s reputation, even if only at the margin. We are not sure of the solution, but we will make some suggestions – categorise reviews: ‘product’, ‘service’ or ‘other’ – or take a leaf out of Yelp’s book and introduce a filter for reviews (but not in the less-than-transparent way Yelp have!).
More filtering – squaring the circle
Google will introduce more and more sophisticated filters, across everything from accountancy to zoos, in order to increase the chances of its search results being more relevant for every individual search request. In the last twelve months it has introduced both its ratings filter and ‘Top rated’ – both in mobile search – expect this to be refined, by giving the user even more options. How about making search results relevant to the searcher’s own search history?
A cut-off – who wants to know what a business was like five years ago?
Reviews may seem to have been around a long time – but they are relatively new in the scheme of things. Few consumers want to know what a business was like in the distant past. We predict that Google will begin to trial an archiving system soon. This will ‘park’ older reviews – and their impact on the business’s review score – when they reach a certain age – five years perhaps.
Advertising will become more obviously separate from ‘editorial’
Everyone knows that the top two results are paid-for advertisements, don’t they? Well, if that’s so why not make it even clearer?
When is an advertisement not an advertisement? This is Google’s big conundrum. We would go so far as to say it presents a conflict of interest. And that conflict must be resolved if Google is not to run foul of the US Senate or the Competitions & Markets Authority in the UK. Google will argue that web users understand the difference between paid advertising and natural listings, and many, maybe even most, do, but there is a more elegant solution: be completely up-front and make the distinction between advertising and natural search so obvious as to be uncontestable by a regulator, print press have been doing this successfully for years, so it is proven that it works. Just make ads look like ads.
The independent review sites will wither away
This chart compares the share prices of Yelp (blue line) – the the world’s largest general review site – against Google (green line) over the last three years. There are, of course, other factors at play, but we think that the out-turns: plus 40% for Google (Alphabet) and minus 65% for Yelp tell a pretty conclusive story.
were the next big thing five years ago – the likes of Yelp and
Trustpilot – but, unfortunately for them, they woke the sleeping giant:
Google. A few years ago the web was all about choice, and consumers were
prepared to take time over that choice. Now it’s all about speed, and
consumers don’t want to be thinking ‘I want a plumber, which review site
should I use? – now I want a lawyer, which site is best for that?’ They
want all the answers in the same place – and that place is Google. If any more proof were needed the fact that Yelp quit the UK and Europe recently probably supplies it.
With one Google review when they joined – this business now has 123 on its own website – and showing in search (top left and centre right) and over forty on Google– delivering the great score (top right) and rich snippets (bottom right).
Get with the programme – get those reviews rolling in – to your own site and to Google. Make sure your business is as prepared as can be: get HelpHound on board and we will show you how to harness the power of your customers’ opinions to show your future customers why they should choose you.
Now – we have met more than one business that has been through every stage of this ‘evolution’ and many that have experienced at least two. And the questions they invariably ask us are…
how do I know if we are with the right site now?
if we move, can we take our reviews with us?
how do we know which site will be right for the future?
And our answers?
How do I know if we are with the right site?
There are two basic tests:
is it providing your business’s reviews with maximum visibility in search?
if it drops off Google’s radar, can you take your hard-won reviews with you?
There are others – does it show my competitors? Does it involve linking away from my site? Is it CMA compliant? But these two are the crucial ones.
Can we take our reviews with us if we leave?
We have not found a site that allows this – yet. Do tell us if you know of one (except HelpHound, but then, as we said at the beginning of this article, we are not a review site).
Right for the future?
All of the above sites looked set to dominate when they were ‘bought’ by the business in question, in 2010, 2013, 2016…
That’s why HelpHound’s business model is different – we work for you
Our role is to deploy your reviews where they will make the maximum impact – for now and for the future. You own your reviews, whether or not you remain a client of HelpHound. All the while you are a client of ours we will ensure:
your business has great – independently verified – reviews on your own website
your business has great reviews on external sites that matter
your business is protected from unfair, misleading or inaccurate reviews – anywhere
And if this means advising you to get reviews to TrustPilot or AllAgents, then that’s the advice we will give you.
Currently, of course (we say ‘of course’, but not everyone reading this will be doing this) we are advising our clients in estate agency to focus on their own website, then Google, then Facebook, like this…
But if and when the landscape changes – for us or for you – we will be the first to advise.
HelpHound: peace of mind – knowing your efforts will be paying dividends, now and for the future.
Along with announcing a ‘surprise profit’ Yelp told its investors that it would be pulling out of non-US markets, according to Forbes:
“However, Yelp has struggled to gain traction abroad, and on Wednesday [said]
that it would scale back its international operations. Namely, it plans
to drop its sales and marketing efforts outside the U.S. and Canada.”
As regular readers will know, we monitor Yelp closely (as well as all the other significant independent review sites). So what has gone wrong?
We think – and we have thought this since day one – that Yelp’s business model is fatally flawed:
Yelp lacks visibility in search – in spite of Google’s policy of ‘treating independent review sites fairly’ in search, Google’s own reviews now dominate. When your potential customers search they see Google reviews. In most mobile searches – the overwhelming majority of searches these day – Yelp reviews are not returned at all
Yelp’s revenue model has always depended very heavily on selling premium listings in business areas where word-of-mouth predominates – fast food, for instance. If you want a pizza do you search or do you ask a friend? Or, probably more importantly still, do you already know where to find your favourite pizza? You might know you want a Pizza Express, you just need to google to find its location if you are not on home ground – and then you will see reviews, Google reviews
The reviews – and reviewers. Yelp is built in its ‘Elite squad’ – overwhelmingly college age young people, who write the reviews. As a result Yelp’s audience is self-defining – other college age young people. Now there’s nothing wrong with appealing to college age consumers, until you realise that they only know about – and are potential consumers of – a very narrow range of businesses. You won’t find many reviews of corporate lawyers or oncologists on Yelp. The kind of reviews you may not need every day, but also the kind of reviews consumers place a very high premium on when they do need them
Once a ‘frequent-use’ business – fast food, local coffee shop – has established a reputation in its locality, does it need to pay every month to maintain it? Probably not – and almost certainly not hundreds of dollars a month!
On top of this, the constant drip of negative publicity surrounding Yelp’s algorithm/review filter and sales policies have probably impacted more in markets where Yelp was not already established. Faced with a Yelp sales-pitch their potential clients didn’t have to google far to see some pretty negative noise.
The final straw was probably the state of the UK economy: in the relatively buoyant south east and London, where Yelp has focused its sales efforts, it has to have been much more difficult to attract and retain quality salespeople when their pitch was not watertight.
As we have been saying for some time: independent review sites, of whatever shape or size (Yelp is currently valued at nearly $3 billion – it’s no minnow) will continue to offer significantly less value for businesses than Google-focused review strategies. Yelp pulling back to the USA simply reinforces this message. What businesses need are…
moderated reviews on their own site (to prevent inaccurate reviews misleading potential customers and harming your business)
Google reviews – that’s where your potential customers are looking these days
If you cannot trust reviews, what is their point? Our answer: there’s no point at all.
It’s not often that the Times makes reviews the subject of their leading article, but they did today – and the punchline is, as you can see, that you can’t trust them, and, for ‘proper scrutiny of products and services, read actual journalism.’
You might expect us to launch into a defence of reviews, but we are not going to. Why? Because we agree with much of the thrust of what the Times is saying.
Before online reviews there was advertising and there were testimonials and there were reviews written by journalists. At least with advertising you know the business is putting its own spin on the message, and with testimonials it’s the same – have you ever read a critical testimonial? And, while we’re sure the Times’ journalists have never been guilty of this – there were reviews written by journalists who had benefited from the product or service under review. From free holidays to long-term ‘loans’ of products from food-mixers to motor cars.
So along came the web – and with it, online consumer reviews. But there were, and still are, reviews and reviews.
Reviews should be the answer to all consumers’ prayers: honestly held opinions, freely available for all to see before a product is purchased or a service is contracted.
It’s – still – a minefield. Why? Because of two things: human nature and the business interests of those publishing the reviews.
It’s not compulsory to write a review when you’ve purchased a product or stayed in a hotel. So who does? Leaving aside those kind folk who see it as their life’s mission to help people they have never met find the ideal toast-rack, it is much more likely to be someone who is dissatisfied (about 15 times more likely according to Cornell School of Hospitality’s research). And this tilts the playing-field away from the product or service. In the world of online reviews if a product or service scores 9 out of 10 (or 4.5 out of 5 in Google’s own world) it’s probably pretty near perfect. Just because you cannot please all of the people all of the time – one person’s ideal hotel is another guest’s hell-on-earth.
But – on this benchmark – why are so many businesses we see on the web pretty near perfect in terms of their reviews and scores? It would be charitable to think that, because businesses mostly strive to be as good as possible, for purely commercial reasons, then most of them come close.
Just for a moment let’s look at a recent example of a business where the online reviews are in conflict with one of the Times’s august journalists:
Before you leap to point out that he’s just reviewing the breakfast, the full article makes plain that he’s reviewing his stay as well
And here’s the same Hotel on TripAdvisor:
And here’s a guest review written a week after Mr Coren stayed:
We’re not saying this review is fraudulent, just that, with TripAdvisor doing as little as they admit to doing currently to check the veracity of their reviews and reviewers, it could be. As could any of the other reviews – written by the business (positive) or their competitors (negative).
What can we learn from this? It would be nice to be able to say that Giles Coren and ‘aday375’ (for that is the TripAdvisor reviewer’s username) have differing requirements and standards, but, unfortunately it’s not as simple as that. Because we don’t know for certain that ‘aday375’ is a bona-fide guest. And this is of fundamental importance as far as HelpHound is concerned: if the review platform cannot stand behind its reviews, or is not doing its utmost to ensure that all its reviews – and reviewers – are genuine, then we think consumers should be encouraged to view it with a deal of scepticism.
As regular readers of this blog are aware, we have written about this aspect of TripAdvisor – and other review sites – for as long as we can remember. And, again: for as long as we can remember, TripAdvisor have been responding with the same platitudes as this quote in today’s Times:
“Because we have been tracking reviews for 16 years, we can spot what is normal reviewer behaviour and what isn’t. That said, the world of fraud is an ever changing landscape.”
Not good enough TripAdvisor.
For reasons better known to TripAdvisor, in spite of their acknowledgment that ‘fraud is an ever changing landscape‘, it is just as easy to write a fraudulent review now, in 2016, as it was in the early days of TripAdvisor. A reviewer can still register with any old Hotmail email address, you can still hide behind a ‘MickeyMouse123’ username, you still don’t have to provide any evidence that you have stayed at the hotel you are reviewing – you don’t even have to provide evidence that you have visited the country where the hotel you are reviewing is located! We know, because we opened a new TripAdvisor account today.
It may have been ‘good enough’ in 2002 when technology was clunky, Mark Zuckerberg of Facebook was still in high school and G+ was not even a gleam in Google’s eye. But it is definitively not good enough now. There are myriad ways that a company like TripAdvisor (profit of $63 million on turnover of $1.4billion at last count) could give its reviews, and its reviewers, more credibility. So why doesn’t it? Is is because of Abraham Lincoln’s old adage that ‘You can fool… all of the people’? Or is it, more prosaically, because its share price is influenced by the volume of reviews that are written?
Our message to TripAdvisor: Invest in credibility or, one day, ‘all of the people’ may rumble you.
It’s not only TripAdvisor. We know of another popular review site where, for fairness’s sake, any paying business member can appeal a review that they consider unfair, misleading or inaccurate and it will be suspended pending a response from the reviewer. So far so good, but unfortunately our old friend human nature plays into unscrupulous businesses’ hands here as well: they found that if they appealed every negative review, very few reviewers would bother to engage with the review site a second time. These sites are now known in the trade as ‘nine-out-of-ten’ sites because all their savvy business clients score – you guessed it – nine out of ten!
There is a flip side too: sites like Yelp believe so fervently in freedom of speech that a reviewer who has never used or visited a business can trash a business’s reputation simply because they don’t like something the business was reported as doing in the press.
It gets worse before it gets better: there’s one big US site that provides a feed of reviews for it’s business customers to display on their own websites. Again: so far so good, until you realise that the business can choose which reviews to display. Sigh!
Thank you Google
Thank goodness, from the consumer’s point-of-view, that Google got stuck in – better late than never – to the world of online reviews. They made some of the same mistakes in the early days, but they have upped their game recently. At least there are far fewer ‘A Google user’ anonymous reviews now compared with the early days. But there are disadvantages: it is still very difficult for a business to appeal against a review that is unfair or misleading.
Given the power Google has in influencing consumers – with a huge amount of real-estate on page 1 of search devoted to Google reviews, we think they could usefully loosen up their appeals process to allow patently false reviews to be appealed (we had success for this client whose hotel had been maligned by a sofa-bound TV-watching critic, but only after the hotelier had resorted to the national press and we offered to help).
So what about our clients’ reviews?
As you might imagine from reading everything we have said so far, we have put a lot of effort into making sure the reviews that our clients display give a fair and accurate impression of our clients’ businesses. After all, it’s our name on the review on their website.
Let’s follow our process right through from invitation to final review – and question every stage:
Stage 1. Our client – the business – sends an invitation to its customer to write a review. Or someone – who may of may not be a customer, visits the business’s website and clicks on their ‘write a review’ button.
How does HelpHound know that the business is inviting bona-fide customers to post reviews? If
a business really wanted to get fake favourable reviews published in
theory they could – by seeding their mailing list. But we have a strict
two strikes rule at HelpHound. If a business is found to have in any way
encouraged a fake review they receive a written warning, if they repeat
the behavior they are put into purdah pending an investigation (no more
reviews will be published). If the investigation establishes that there
is malice aforethought (as opposed to an intern ‘trying to be helpful’)
their membership of HelpHound is terminated. Stage 2. Our moderators read the review and then send an email to the reviewer so they can verify that they are the author of the review. If the review contains abuse or allegations of illegality we respond to the reviewer inviting them to re-submit their review. In the case of illegality they will be informed that they must seek legal advice.
Why won’t we accept abuse? We don’t consider that abusive reviews help anyone – consumer or business. If a consumer wants to abuse a business, including using ‘foul and abusive’ language there are websites like Yelp that will happily publish their views. The core ethos of HelpHound is built around the concept of businesses and consumers working together to ensure, as far as is possible, a satisfactory outcome for both. That does not mean that the consumer cannot rate the business one star as well as giving it a thorough going-over, it just means they have to use the kind of language acceptable in a family newspaper. Stage 3. Either: Positive reviews are published to the business’s HelpHound module displayed on their website, whilst simultaneously an email is sent to the reviewer telling them that their review has been published and inviting them to copy their review to a second platform of the business’s choice (Google, or Facebook or TripAdvisor – or any other open site).
Can the business/reviewer respond? Yes. If the positive review is subsequently established to be inaccurate or misleading can it be deleted? Yes, but the reviewer will be invited to post a revised review. Stage 3. Or: Negative reviews are sent to the business for comment. An email is sent simultaneously to the reviewer informing them and reinforcing their right to have their final review published, whatever the business’s response to the reviewer – we call this system Resolution™ because it is specifically designed so consumers can resolve issues with the business concerned. In theory the correspondence between the reviewer and the business has no cut-off point. In practice it is unusual for either party to communicate more then once or twice. What if the reviewer insists on having their original review published? That’s their right, and a proportion do. The business also has the right of reply and the reviewer has the right to edit their review.
Can a complete outsider influence our moderation policy? yes, anyone – absolutely anyone – can flag any published review on a HelpHound clients’ site and it will be reviewed.
There is a downside of this for HelpHound: we cannot work for or with a business that is not seriously committed to excellence in customer service. Because bad businesses will look bad thanks to our system. Their customers would rightly insist on their negative reviews being posted – and they would end up scoring badly. But that’s the only way we are happy to stand four square behind what we do.
At HelpHound we have done our utmost to make this system as fair to all parties concerned as we possibly can whilst retaining everyone’s trust. Resolution is very popular – we often get positive comments from users – and effective. But if you have any suggestions about how we can refine or improve it please comment.
The whole article is here for those of you who can negotiates the Times’s paywall
TripAdvisor and Yelp are accusing Google of favouring its own reviews in search. The European Commission is carrying out its own investigation. Even Google said yesterday that TripAdvisor and Yelp had been affected by a quirk caused by an update to its … algorithms.
But we would like to make a broader point…
Google is where your customers start every search – even when they know what they are looking for (and most certainly when they are not sure). And every time someone searches for your business Google are showing them reviews. Google reviews.
Part of professional review management is about not putting all your eggs in one basket. You may think that TripAdvisor will continue to be the be-all-and-end-all of search for your hotel or that Yelp is fundamental for your dental practice or that AllAgents will recover their pre-eminent position in search for estate agents, but we will make sure you have all the bases covered. You need to look great everywhere that matters to your potential customers – and that means looking great in whatever arena is delivered when someone searches for your business – and today that is on Google.
This raises one simple question for any business paying an independent review site: why would you do that when your customers are looking on Google and at Google reviews?
We are not betting large sums on Google giving up its clout in this area any time soon, but if they do (or are forced to) we, and our clients, will be ready.
Doubt the power of reviews? Listen to the first 20 seconds of this video.
So what do they accuse Yelp of?
‘Extortion’ – they allege they have been told (by Yelp sales) ‘advertise with Yelp and your great reviews will show up’ and even ‘your bad reviews will be filtered’
‘Manipulation’ – the implication that the Yelp ‘algorithm’ manipulates reviews to in some way promote negatives and ‘filter’ positives, unless the business pays
And we’re not talking small beer here; Yelp’s entry-level fee is said to be $300/£200 a month. So what do we think is the answer?
Yelp Who? Yelp What? Yelp Elite are Yelp’s hard-core reviewers (as you can see from that Yelp page, Yelp itself describes its Elite with this strapline: ‘You’ve heard legends about their reviews, their shiny profile badges, and—of course—their epic parties’).
We think there is absolutely no basis in fact for either allegation (apart from the occasional rogue sales person – Yelp employ thousands, so there’s always going to be the odd rotten apple). If Yelp sales were routinely offering to promote great reviews for cash then we’d have seen an expose on YouTube by now. We think it’s far simpler. We think Yelp don’t filter reviews from their Elite Yelpers and we know they do filter reviews from people who very seldom write reviews.
Yelp’s logic (and business model) is possibly at fault here. We don’t subscribe to their contention that a frequent reviewer is necessarily a great reviewer. Nor do we think a popular reviewer is a great reviewer either: funny/cool = right doesn’t always wash in our opinion. We process hundreds of – mostly great (well written, helpful and honest) – reviews every day, and we reckon most are the only review that particular reviewer has ever written. We also think that populating a site with reviews written by people who are predominantly in their late teens and twenties (who may or may not be motivated by having their social life enhanced) is not necessarily a better policy than listing every review regardless of origin (providing it’s authentic, of course).
The consequence – to our mind unforeseen – of this policy adds up to exactly the same net result on Yelp that the ‘extortion/manipulation’ algorithm paranoia would indicate:
Venues that make themselves popular with the Yelp Elite will get more reviews written
None of those – mostly great (don’t bite the hand…) – reviews will get filtered
Low-traffic businesses that get few (or no) reviews from Yelp Elites and few reviews from ‘normal’ consumers – who don’t write rafts of reviews – will suffer
This also explains why Yelp’s review base is so bar/fast food heavy – do we really want another review of our local McDonald’s (in fact – you might reasonably ask why we need any reviews of businesses that we are all familiar with)?
Can’t wait to read the 143rd review? Need to see photos of a Big Mac (there are 17)? Then Yelp’s the site for you. We are also mildly puzzled that most reviewers were disappointed – hence the 2* overall rating – were they surprised by McDonald’s? Mind you, the one on Nob Hill rates 4* – as you might expect from such an upmarket location – and has 120 photos (half-eaten burger shots seem to be popular – nice!).
Instead we might find a single well-written review by a client of a financial adviser, solicitor, estate agent or accountant very helpful indeed. But they are few and far between…
No reviews – except two that have been filtered (both singletons). Perhaps Grossmann Investments had better start being nice to the Yelp Elite!
The fundamental issue
People don’t write reviews! You’re probably slightly amazed seeing those words here, but it’s true. Yelp learned this very quickly back-in-the-day, and it’s the reason they set up the Elite system: people will write reviews if you organise cut-price drinkathons.
The only other reason people will write reviews is if they are asked to by the business: HelpHound’s Dialogue has proved that beyond doubt. Anyway, Yelp is on the wane, but until Google buys them or they find another way out of their current strife, we will continue to keep an eye on them.
Are you ready? On Friday Google launched its ‘Pre-screened’ service in San Francisco. This is what it looks like in search:
And this is what the click-through looks like:
So – we picked the highest rated plumber – what do you think everyone else will do?
To qualify, the business must agree to have its staff checked out by Pinkerton, but the most obvious qualification most people will be looking for (and at) will be the business’s reviews.
It has to be ‘high value’ businesses and services – outside the home. Even if only so Google’s sales people have high-value sales targets. Financial advisers, lawyers, medical practitioners, estate agents, wealth managers, recruitment consultants.
When Google roll this out, both geographically and by business sector, you must be prepared. Carry out a complete audit of your CPC strategy (do you think people will continue to respond to Ads when they have Eric Brand’s smiling face and his great reviews front-and-centre in every search?). Get Dialogue motoring to ensure that you have great reviews to show in time for Google to introduce this for your business sector.
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