Wednesday, 21 December 2011 22:08

Yelping Back, an Interview with Yelp’s Business Outreach Manager

Back in July I wrote an article about  Yelp—the well-known review website where customers can comment about businesses and rate their performance. My article was about body shops having a love-hate relationship with it. See www.autobodynews.com and search ‘yelp’ if you missed it. Like any business, shops appreciate postive reviews from customers and bristle at negative ones, but the issue we were addressing is what shops can do to mitigate negative reviews. Since then there have been some developments.

Darnell Holloway is Manager for Local Business Outreach for Yelp, the on-line review site. Holloway recently spoke at a Santa Clara California Autobody Association meeting and Autobody News subsequently interviewed him about what he said in more depth.

ABN: If a shop receives a bad review, what options does it have to respond?

DH: Generally speaking, the business owners who have the most success with reputation management on Yelp are the ones who are dedicated to providing a great customer experience in the offline world. Beyond that, we provide a free suite of tools via www.biz.yelp.com that allows business owners to respond privately as well as publicly to reviews, upload information about themselves and add photos, among other things. Once a business starts receiving reviews, it’s important for business owners to join the conversation. We provide a whole host of information on Yelp for business owners, including how to respond to online critics. We also recently released a video featuring business owners as they share their thoughts on this subject. The most important takeaway for business owners is: 1) Remain calm. 2) Think about the complaint in relation to our existing customer service policy and then respond diplomatically.

ABN: Why do bad Yelp reviews stay at the top of the list while more positive reviews disappear over time?

DH: To clarify, the order in which reviews appear on a business profile page is determined by Yelp Sort, and does not automatically assign a negative review as the first review. We encourage body shops to look at a variety of business profile pages to verify this for themselves. Yelp Sort is the default view, which factors in the recency of the reviews, and user voting (useful, funny or cool), among other factors. More importantly, we give users the ability to sort reviews by date, star rating, friends, Yelp Elite reviews, etc. Do some reviews disappear over time? You bet they do. And here are the three reasons why that might happen: 1) A Yelper may choose to remove his/her own review. 2) If a review is reported and found to be in violation of our Review Guidelines or our Terms of Service, our user support team will remove it. Business owners can contact our user support team and/or flag reviews for our user support team for evaluation. 3) The review may have been caught in our automated Review Filter which runs 24/7 on the site and aims to filter away biased or suspicious reviews from the business profile page. It’s important to note that because of our methods of quality control, review number fluctuation is common on Yelp. All businesses, whether they advertise with us or not, are subject to the same rules and standards. It’s also important to note that our stance on quality control is why consumers continue to come to Yelp in large numbers.

ABN: How can a body shop use Yelp to help promote its business?

DH: Consumers turn to Yelp for information about businesses before they step through the door. In the 3rd Quarter of this year, Yelp had a monthly average of 61 million unique visitors. On top of that, we had an average of over 5 million monthly unique users on Yelp’s mobile application for smart phones. If a potential customer is looking at a body shop’s Yelp listing, it means that they are actively searching for that type of business. The information on a Yelp listing can help users make a buying decision, which is why it’s important for business owners to claim their free business owner’s account at: www.biz.yelp.com. From there, we help business owners by providing them with a free suite of tools which allows them to maximize their presence on Yelp. Businesses can respond to reviewers, add photos, post check-in offers and run their own Yelp Deals. We also offer paid upgrades for businesses looking to expand their visibility even further.

ABN: If a body shop suspects that some of their bad reviews are from either former disgruntled employees or competitors, how can it respond?

DH: The situation you describe is against Yelp’s terms of service. Business owners can report these situations by alerting our User Support team at www.yelp.com/contact or by flagging reviews using the “flag” button that appears right under the review itself. Our user support team evaluates these situations and may remove reviews that violate our guidelines.

ABN: Many of the positive Yelp reviews that some body shops see on their competitors’ pages suspect that they were written by themselves or friends, as opposed to genuine customers. Can anything be done about this and how can Yelp detect fake reviews?

DH: Yelp has had an automated review filter which is designed to identify patterns of abuse, such as the scenario you are describing. It’s an automated system that has evolved over the years, but its purpose has remained the same—to protect consumers and business owners from fake, shill or malicious reviews. Some companies attempt to manipulate the system by soliciting reviews and reaching out to friends and family to write glowing reviews for them, but after a while the system can detect it. In addition, consumers are very savvy and they can read between the lines. If someone joins Yelp to write one positive review and then doesn’t use Yelp again, it’s red-flagged. So, we tell businesses they should focus on providing good service and let the Yelp reviews build organically. It won’t happen overnight, but it will happen eventually.

While our filter system isn’t perfect, it is effective at catching fake and shill reviews. We also understand that our review filter system sometimes raises questions and frustrations amongst body shop owners, but this is the high cost that we’ve chosen to accept, because we know the infinitely higher cost would be to not have an algorithm in place at all. We obviously need a review filter system to stop people who will spam and cheat the system. We know that there are companies out there who will sell reviews and create fake content for people and we need to work against it in order for us to retain our objectivity. Sure, it’s not a perfect system, but there isn’t anything out there in place that has proven to be better. We hear back from companies all the time that say Yelp has helped us. One important final note: Our system is 100% automated and we never favor advertisers over non-advertisers. And a lot of people don’t know it, but reviews are never deleted from Yelp. If one does get filtered, it goes into a section at the bottom of the company’s Yelp page, where it can still always be read.

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