Can You Yelp Me Please?

If you are a plumbing contractor (insert any business really) and have any online presence then you know that this article title is wrought with sarcasm and double meaning. Websites whose sole purpose is to allow consumers and customers to review businesses have been a around for awhile, however in the last two years or so they have become very important to a business’s online profile. Google + Reviews, Yahoo Local Listings, City Search and Yelp are but a few.

Consumers and Competitors Can Give You a Plumbing Review

So the long and short of it is this, consumers can review businesses in any field from Lawyers, and Doctors to Restaurants and Plumbing Contractors. If you think about this a bit you can already begin to see the cracks in function and implementation behind these types of sites.

Here are some of the ways these sites can be implemented negatively for business owners:

  • You have a crazy competitor that jumps on a bunch of different computers (different IP addresses) and trashes your company giving you a one star review.
  • Over the course of some years most businesses have had their fair share of difficult customers. No matter what your company does you will never please them. What do they do? They take it to the internet and trash the company on every review site they can find. That customer can also do what the crazy competitor did in the above and make matters much worse.

Here are some of the ways a plumbing contractor (business) can combat the above: 

Some are very obvious but as you’ll soon find out those obvious tactics are becoming dangerous as innocent as they may seem.

  • The first thing the plumbing contractor or business owner should do is sincerely respond to the irate customer. This does nothing to increase your ranking but it does allow people to know you care and it is one of the things I would still recommend you do as a business owner on any review site with a negative review. I do not recommend getting into a verbal war with a former customer, just a simple explanation and an apology stating you’re sorry your company didn’t perform to their expectations. Make it that simple.
  • You make a concentrated effort for your service technicians to obtain positive reviews from happy customers. If your guys are doing a superior job it shouldn’t be that difficult, right? More about that method in a second.
  • You sign up with a company i.e. Review Buzz, register.com, reputationchanger.com, reputation.com, etc. to monitor your online reputation. Some of them like Review Buzz give your customers one place to go to post a positive or a negative review and they are given the option to post to any of the review sites, Yelp, Google+, Facebook, etc. It also gives you the business owner one place to go to monitor your reputation both good and bad.

Sounds great right? Well……unfortunately it’s never that easy.

Where is Yelp in All of This?

Because the title of this piece contains the word “Yelp” I’m going to pick on them for the rest of this article. Founded in 2004, Yelp has seen a meteoric rise in monthly viewership and as of January of 2013 they receive 100 million unique visitors per month. To say that Yelp is the 800lb gorilla in the room of revue sites would be a gross understatement. Along the way Yelp has developed and continues to develop an algorithm to try and give accurate reviews and by accurate I mean reviews that are organic, not manufactured, not by crazy business owners or by one nutty customer hell bent on ruining a business. For those of you who don’t know Yelp you may think this is extremely responsible of them but for those of you who have had dealings with them you know quite often their algorithm and Yelper certification process does not work. In fact it’s put small businesses out of business. The FTC (Federal Trade Commision) has let it be known that there are currently 700 complaints against Yelp basically charging that Yelp approaches companies with bad reviews for advertising dollars so they can boost their rating. The end result being that their bad reviews get pushed down to the bottom. A charge Yelp vigorously denies. Yelp has been at the center of many class action lawsuits based around this claim.

I did not write this piece to confirm the validity of these claims, I am writing this piece to tell you about an experience I’m familiar with and about the continuing fight small business owners are having with Yelp in particular.

Reputation is Becoming More Important to the Plumbing Contractor

A small business I am familiar with begins taking their online reputation seriously, so because of an industry recommendation they begin using reviewbuzz.com. As I mentioned above, a company can monitor their reviews and send customers to the site to review them and post that review to any number of other review sites. If you need Facebook reviews you can steer the customer to Facebook, Google+ the same, etc. In the midst of all of this new reputation management they see that Yelp has 2 bad reviews visible and between 8 and 10 that are filtered. Only the visible unfiltered reviews count for your Yelp rating. You can still go in and read the filtered reviews but who bothers when the only 2 you see are horrible? I shall add here that the 2 bad reviews were done by people who had 1 and 2 Yelps respectively, so they were not active Yelpers. (Just as a bit of information, there is a whole not so secret community of elite “Yelpers” that actually make a living by giving businesses good reviews.) Because the service technicians leave a small Review Buzz card they began asking them to choose to place their review on Yelp. Sounds logical right? Read on……

So shortly after, I began getting involved and I decid to do a bit of digging to see what could be done to raise this company’s Yelp rating and to address the negative reviews either by having the contractor contact the customer or by having the review taken down because it was inaccurate. Here is what I have found:

  • Having the service technicians ask for customers to use Review Buzz to post a review on Yelp is a no no on two fronts. First of all a review coming from a third party review site like Review Buzz will ALWAY be filtered. End of Story.

  • The second reason deserves it’s own bullet point because it applies universally. You cannot ask a customer to review you on Yelp. Their reason is that you can attempt to pad your reviews. The reviews must come organically from people who use Yelp. If Yelp sees an influx of Yelp reviews for a given company they have a team that will contact those individuals and if they find that they were asked to give a review, those reviews will be disallowed or at the very least filtered.

  • There is no rhyme or reason as to how negative reviews are handled and negative reviews are handled differently from positive reviews. A first time Yelper posting a negative review can show up and count against a company’s Yelp score.

  • If you are an advertiser with Yelp you can address that Yelper that posted a review personally by sending them an email through Yelp. Which I suppose is positive but does nothing for the review or your score.

If You Can’t Beat Then Join Them. Right?

So after some careful thought the company decided well if you can’t beat them, join them by paying $450.00 per month to advertise. Advertising with Yelp gives you featured banner placement, the ability to post advertisement videos, the ability to contact Yelpers to thank them or to beg for your life should they decide on a bad review, the ability to post specials and coupons amongst other things. However, I am here to say that as of yet it did not change the way Yelp handles reviews.

This is Where is Gets Frustrating for The Plumbing Company

Here is where the conundrum lies, if you have a few bad reviews on Yelp the only way to increase your score is to have active Yelpers use your company and review your company positively. The only way to get in front of active Yelpers is to……you guessed it, advertise. However, if you already have a bad review or two that show up it’s very difficult to have someone take a chance. I was told by an advertising account manager that this company should offer a deal that couldn’t be refused. So in other words offer a loss leader to get Yelpers to disregard the negative review and use the company anyway.

I Promise There is Good News Here

The good news is there are ways beat them at their own game but those ways take time and resources. The bad news unless one of these class action lawsuits wins and really takes a pound of flesh from Yelp it looks like they are going to be around for awhile. Without getting into too much detail here are some things you can do to lessen Yelp’s impact on your business.

  • Because Yelp gets millions of unique visitors per month when a potential customer looks up your company the Yelp review is usually right in their face and if it’s bad, most times you can say bye bye to that customer. One technique is push down the Yelp review, meaning get further down the first page or preferably to the second page. How can this be done? One, create vibrant content that will replace Yelps reviews for the keywords you are ranking for. And the second is to buy domain names with your company name in them. For instance if your company is Acme Plumbing Service and your domain is www.acmeplumbingservice.com buy www.acmeplumbing (insert town) or www.acmeplumbing (charity) if the company is involved with a charity or www.acmeplumbingservicereviews.com. The reason this works is because the company name and root domain name is in the web address which should automatically place you higher in Google’s search driving the Yelp placement down the page. (Someone asked me the question “what is vibrant content?” Vibrant content is first and foremost original and should be funny or controversial or be really relevant to your area or town. Here’s a hint, if your company is coming up in a Yelp review for “Plumbing in French Lick” or “French Lick Plumbing”…..Gosh is it fun to type French Lick……..write an article about plumbing in French Lick. What is a unique plumbing problem people have in the town? When the houses were being built during a certain time did the plumbers use ABS waste and vent piping? Talk about it, tell people about the potential dangers in having ABS piping in their homes. Get creative. If you can’t get creative contact me @ skavanaugh1@gmail.com and I’ll get creative for you.)

The reason for this piece is not to bash one review site over another. If your Yelp score is outstanding then God bless you. However I’ve personally met more businesses in the above situation then not. Please stay tuned, we will have a detailed white paper for a step by step guide  on how render Yelp meaningless to your company’s on-line reputation. I will warn you in advance though it’s detailed and takes effort and patience. I hope you enjoyed and I certainly hope it helps.

by Sean Kavanaugh

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