The Complete Yelp Reviews Guide: Obtaining, Removing, and More

Since its inception in 2004, Yelp has been one of the most popular Internet rating and review sites for local businesses.

The founders of Yelp recognized that word-of-mouth was a powerful source of new customers, but with the traditional local community structure crumbling in an online era, how could individuals know which businesses to trust? Yelp was the solution – an online review site where customers shared their experiences, allowing others to make more informed decisions about restaurants, auto repair shops, and other businesses.

Many review sites have gone, but Yelp has remained a reliable source for local business ratings and reviews. Why? Yelp observed that other review sites are far too cluttered with spam and advertisements, so they have kept theirs to a minimum.

Yelp also prioritizes long-form reviews over short one-liners, providing the in-depth, thorough review that skeptical customers seek. “Good coffee” isn’t always sufficient.

How Yelp Reviews Can Affect Your Company

Yelp is the most popular and influential online review site, making it a formidable ally or, at times, a despicable foe.

If your company has a Yelp rating of 3.5 stars, you have the entire world in your hands and clouds in your coffee. You have a hard life if you get less than three stars. Poor Yelp ratings have been known to devastate more than a few businesses. There’s a lot on the line!

Worst Yelp Ratings

Dealing with such a fickle foe can be disheartening for some business owners, but don’t think that ignoring Yelp will make it go away – users will write about your business on Yelp whether or not you activate a business page. In this case, it is preferable to be proactive and set up your business’s Yelp page yourself. Fill it with eye-catching images and valuable information to put your best foot forward for potential customers.

How to Get Reviews on Yelp

I know you want positive Yelp reviews. Not just Yelp feedback. The bad news is that Yelp (understandably) does not allow businesses to request positive reviews specifically – you can only encourage customers to review you honestly in all your glory or blunder. The good news is that if you run a good business and do things correctly, you will most likely receive positive feedback! Hooray for hip hop!

There are a few methods for getting customers to leave reviews on Yelp.

Activate Your Yelp Page: Take the lead and activate your Yelp page. Add photos, descriptions, menus, phone numbers, hours of operation, and so on.

Put up a “Find us on Yelp” sign. Sign: Promote your restaurant or local business with Yelp posters, stickers, badges, and other merch. Visitors may see those signs and go to Yelp to review you even if they are in your restaurant!

  • Signs and Stickers from Yelp
  • Adapted from the Reward Me Blog

Hosting a Yelp event will encourage Yelpers to visit your business while establishing yourself as an active community member – it’s a no-brainer for getting acquainted with local Yelp users.

How do you organize an event? It’s pretty simple. Go to yelp.com/events, select your city, and click the “Add an Event” button. Then enter your event information.

It’s now time to publicize your fantastic event! Send the invitation to Yelpers who have already visited your business or reviewed a company similar to yours. Consider contacting a local Yelp Elite (mega Yelpers with many clouts) and asking if they’d be interested in assisting you with your event.

It’s a great idea to have some sweet swag giveaways at your Yelp event – perhaps all event attendees get 10% off their meal with another 10% coupon for later. Try a raffle for dinner with a friend, a free reusable water bottle, or anything else! Make it exciting and fun for the attendees!

Post a Yelp Deal: Yelp Deals are an excellent way to attract new customers. Unlike Groupon or Living Social, customers who take advantage of a Yelp Deal are almost undoubtedly active Yelp users, increasing the likelihood of them leaving a review.

Yelp specials

Add Happy Staff Photos: Featuring friendly, smiling, waving staff members on your Yelp page will create a positive first impression for visitors and may even discourage disgruntled customers from posting something negative.

Offer Foursquare Check-in Rewards: While Foursquare has long since outlived its heyday as a popular location check-in tool, many incredible people (including yours truly) still use it to broadcast micromanaged location updates to our adoring fans.

Even a tiny Foursquare award, such as free drinks for the mayor, can pique users’ interest. It’s also safe to assume that many Foursquare users also use Yelp. After all, who else uses Foursquare besides media-obsessed foodie-photographing weirdos? Offering a check-in incentive to Foursquare/Yelp users may be just what they need to write you a glowing review.

Respond to Existing Yelp Reviews: It’s always a good idea to respond to existing Yelp reviews, especially if they ask a specific question or express a concern. People like to be acknowledged, and responding to Yelp reviews creates a positive impression for your company and demonstrates to readers that you care about their needs.

Print & Display Positive Yelp Reviews: One expert technique for obtaining Yelp reviews is to print out and display your existing positive Yelp reviews on the wall of your restaurant or business.

Enlarge the reviews so they are easy to read, frame them, and hang them where patrons waiting in line can easily read them. When new customers see existing positive reviews, they’ll be more likely to think positively of you and leave a similarly positive Yelp review.

Include a Yelp QR Code: Yelp QR codes are a simple way to encourage smartphone-toting customers to check out your Yelp page and leave a review in-store!

Yelp for Business

Encourage Reviews on Other Networks: Request Yelp reviews on Twitter, Facebook, and other social media platforms. It’s best not to sound too desperate (“Please say we’re super-awesome!”). Choose something subtle, such as “We’re now on Yelp and would love to hear what you think of us!” “Instead of blatantly saying “Review us on Yelp,” say “Check us out on Yelp,” suggests Yelp.

Include a Yelp link in your newsletter: Your newsletter subscribers probably already think you’re pretty cool. Reminding them to leave a review on Yelp is a surefire way to get some positive feedback.

Add a Yelp Website Badge: A Yelp website badge informs visitors that your business is on Yelp, and all they have to do is click the badge to be taken directly to your Yelp page. It doesn’t get any simpler than that.

Be Awesome: Without a doubt, if you provide excellent food, excellent service, and an excellent experience, you will receive excellent Yelp reviews. Be the best you can be, and the compliments will come!

Offer Bribes for Reviews: Yelp’s review policy is stringent. You cannot and should not provide a reward for a review. Even something as simple as “half off your next meal if you review us on Yelp” is a no-no that can land you in hot water with Yelp’s powers that be.

As previously stated, do not specifically request positive reviews, but rather studies in general.

Buy Yelp Reviews: We’ll go over this in more detail later. For the time being, know that buying Yelp reviews is not worth the trouble.

How to Handle Negative Yelp Reviews

Yelp Reviews

In life, it is impossible to please everyone. Even great businesses occasionally receive negative Yelp reviews. It stinks. When companies make mistakes, they deserve to be called out. Sometimes a negative review feels completely unnecessary.

What to Do If You Receive a Negative Yelp Review

1. Don’t Respond Right Away: Having a Yelper bash your business can be excruciating, and your initial response may include hair-pulling, obscenities, and ALL CAPS action. Responding to one rant with another will not help you; it will only compound the damage.

Instead of responding with a flurry of keystrokes, take a deep breath, make a cup of tea, and distract yourself from the review. Don’t even think about responding for at least a half-day – two or three days is even better.

2. Examine the Reviewer’s Mindset: The scathing review will lose its sting after a few days. Try to read the negative Yelp review objectively – does what the Yelper is saying make sense? Is the review agitated and emotional?

3. Is it better to respond publicly or privately? While public responses help correct mistakes, consider whether a hidden private message could help.

4. Address the issues raised in the review calmly and reasonably.

A feature on Yelp allows business owners to respond to negative reviews. The key is to keep your cool and take the high road. Above all, be courteous and respectful. Those who skip step one are more likely to respond to negative reviews in an angry, emotional state, which can lead to name-calling, insults, and expressive language that makes you look as bad and unstable as the reviewer, if not worse.

Your goal in responding to the reviewer is to undermine their evaluation. It may not take much to accomplish this – Yelp readers aren’t children, and most can recognize an unreasonable and baseless rant when they see one. If the negative Yelp review makes claims you can refute, do so objectively, using facts or other customers’ experiences as a talking point. As an example:

“Gretchen, we’re sorry to hear you didn’t enjoy our cheesecake. Other customers have said it’s their favorite of our desserts, so perhaps you caught us on a bad day.”

If you believe the reviewer is being harsh, apologize. Readers will appreciate your honesty and think more highly of you.

Responding to a senseless rant calmly and collectedly makes you appear much more reasonable than the emotionally-charged reviewer. It casts an unfavorable light on them rather than you.

5. A Sense of Humor

The make-em-laugh technique does not always work, but it can be very effective at defusing an overtly flaming review. Check out this REAL Pigalle review (it was posted on Facebook, but the same rules apply!).

Wow. I’m not sure why you’d think throwing pumpkin chunks into a cold pre-baked pie shell and then covering it with a cream sauce that tasted like vomit was a good idea. I’m serious! And topping it off with runny whipped cream would be anything resembling pumpkin pie?”

This is not something that any business owner wants to see. Unfortunately, the owner responded with an even more evil response, exemplifying how NOT to respond to a negative review. He should have instead tried something like:

Hello, Sandy. Wow! Is it that bad? I haven’t had the opportunity to sample many different types of vomit, so I can’t say I can relate to your experience, but it doesn’t sound fun. We’re usually swamped around Thanksgiving, so it’s possible that one of our chefs made a mistake with the Pumpkin Pie – we’re sorry you found it so genuinely nauseating. Come back, and we’ll see if we can make amends with something more you like, J.

6. Offer an Olive Branch: If you believe you can save the situation, send a private message inviting the displeased reviewer back for a bakery tour or a free dessert. Reviewers can use Yelp’s update function to change their initial review. Everyone wants to feel important, and feeding a disgruntled user’s ego can sometimes calm them down and cause them to reconsider their opinion of you.

7. Utilize Constructive Criticism

Remember that negative feedback isn’t always a bad thing. Negative reviews are well-deserved and serve as honest feedback on how to improve your business. If reviewers raise valid concerns, work to address them before informing the Yelp community that you’ve made efforts to improve. Customers will appreciate this because it demonstrates that you care about them and are interested in their feedback.

8. Keep Things in Perspective: Don’t throw in the towel and cry yourself to sleep whenever you come across a negative review. Even great companies receive negative feedback from time to time. According to Yelp:

“Negative feedback is an unfortunate — but entirely normal — part of doing business… While it is important to look for patterns in your reviews (for example, the bread is stale and the same employee is repeatedly described as rude), you should take any individual perspective with a grain of salt.”

Don’t worry about every review. People can be nasty online, so prepare to toughen your skin and ignore the mindless ranters.

Check out John Greathouse’s article Protecting Your Online Reputation from Trolls for more information on tricks, techniques, and examples of how to deal with a bad Yelp review. He provides excellent advice on dealing with negative thoughts and defusing tense situations.

Haters Gonna Hate: Should You Accept Negative Yelp Reviews?

Most businesses try to mitigate the effects of negative Yelp reviews by defusing anger and responding to concerns, but some take the bold step of embracing the haters.

Those who have given up accept that most of their customers despise them. For some, there is an appeal to being an outcast.

Bad Yelp Reviews

The “if you can’t beat them, join them” approach only works with restaurants and businesses that embrace a counter-culture lifestyle and have patrons who might revel in the disapproval of others.

The Craft & Commerce Gastropub is one such establishment, offering very unusual, even bizarre, spins on classic drinks. After receiving some vehement one-star reviews, Craft & Commerce decided that, rather than brood over the poor thoughts, they’d have some fun with them. The owner had friends read the restaurant’s worst Yelp reviews while recording them. The recordings were then played in the Craft & Commerce Gastropub’s bathroom, amusing visitors and sticking it to the Yelp man.

Despite the unique and clever approach, the bathroom recordings backfired when Craft & Commerce Gastropub got blasted with a slew of more one-star reviews from patrons who aspired to have their reviews featured in the bathroom.

Mocking absurd Yelp reviews has become a bit of a fad. There’s even a whole YouTube channel dedicated to showing video clips of Yelp reviews read by actors.

There is some logic in going gung-ho with the one-star reviews. Some would even say one star is better than two; a one-star establishment drives curiosity and gets people wondering why they are so incredibly terrible. What’s the story there? A kind of car crash rubbernecking morbid fascination is involved with one-star restaurants. Two stars are just a sub-par joint, no account or excitement there.

Can You Remove Yelp Reviews?

Sometimes. Yelp will not remove any reviews unless they conflict with their Terms of Service or Content Guidelines.

  • Some things that violate Yelp’s TOS:
  • I am writing a fake or defamatory review.
  • Promoting another business or other commercial venture

Rants about a business’s employment practices, political ideologies, extraordinary circumstances, or other matters that don’t address the core of the consumer experience

Below, you’ll find some guidelines on what kinds of reviews can potentially be removed from Yelp (via ReviewPush):

removing negative yelp reviews

Suppose the lousy Yelp reviews you want to be removed don’t violate Yelp’s terms. In that case, your best bet is to either publicly defend your business using the points noted earlier or privately contact the reviewer and try to convince them to remove or update the review following a second visit. Appeal to their better nature!

Avoid self-proclaimed “Reputation Management Companies” that claim (for a fee, naturally) they can remove Yelp reviews from your Yelp page.

Yelp Reviews Disappear

This is a scam – Yelp does not take bribes or financial incentives for review removals; it’s simple as that. There are also some rumors around town that those who advertise with Yelp are given the option to remove negative Yelp reviews from their business page, but this is 100% false. Yelp will not remove a review unless it is against their Terms of Service.

Should You Buy Yelp Reviews?

We’ve discussed the pros and cons of buying Twitter followers and even buying Pinterest followers online in the past, but with Yelp, the issue isn’t really up for debate – don’t do it!

Buying Yelp reviews is not worth the risk. Since Yelp’s main selling point is the authenticity and trust of its reviews compared to lesser review sites, so Yelp protects its legitimacy by tooth and claw.

If you’re caught buying Yelp reviews, you could end up with this on your Yelp page, which would be a PR disaster and a half!

  • Fake Yelp Reviews
  • Now that’s public shaming! Don’t let it happen to you.
  • Posting Fake Reviews on Yelp
  • The Yelp Review Filter & Fake Yelp Reviews

Yelp designed the Yelp review filter to help filter out fake reviews, leaving users with only authentic, legitimate reviews on which to base their consumer decisions.

How does the filter decide what are fake Yelp reviews and genuine reviews?

Yelp reviews that are usually filtered are:

  • From users who have only written one review
  • From users with little to no profile information (profile photo, links to other social media networks, personal description, et.)
  • Questionable objectivity – reviews that are strongly slanted positively or negatively
  • Short and have very few details.
  • Written by friends, staff members, or other unreliable sources
  • Reviews where it seems that the reviewer has not personally visited the business

The Yelp filter gives preference to established reviewers who have reviewed multiple businesses and have fully built out profiles while filtering away reviews with questionable authenticity.

While the Yelp filter seems fine in theory, it can be a mixed bag in practice. The filter isn’t perfect, and many businesses complain that the filter removes legitimate reviews in addition to fake Yelp reviews. There’s no denying a need for such a filter system, though – the Stanford-based research firm Gartner predicts that as many as 15% of reviews on social media sites could be paid-for fakes by 2014.

Filtered reviews can be found at the bottom of a Yelp business page and can be viewed by any users who care to click.

Filtered Yelp Reviews

Some filtered reviews are below:

Yelp Business

Above, you’ll see that most filtered reviews are from profiles with no image, no friends, little engagement, and very short, uninformative text.

Yelp takes its job as the honest review gatekeeper very seriously. Yelp conducts sting operations to find businesses paying for reviews. In Business Week’s test, Yelp was the only review site out of seven others to successfully detect and filter each, and every fake consumer review presented.

Yelp’s automated review filter system filters around 20% of the more than 39 million reviews. That’s a hefty chunk of reviews, and when every star counts, it’s no wonder businesses are left feeling apprehensive.

It may not be entirely fair, but protecting consumers is the cost. As we’ve seen from Google’s Panda algorithm, even filters with the best intentions can end up hurting the innocent. Dolphins get trapped in tuna traps, and birds get hit by windmills; such is life.

Of course, more legitimate, honest reviews surpass the Yelp filter than those that do not. Trustworthy and helpful content should come out ahead.

How to Avoid the Yelp Review Filter

You can take a few steps to improve your chances of having a review get through the dreaded Yelp filter. Businesses can make efforts to engage the review and reviewer by:

  • Adding the reviewer as a friend
  • Upvoting the review as funny, practical, calm, etc.
  • Sending the reviewer a compliment (Yelp’s tool for letting other Yelpers call a user out for an excellent review)

If you’re a user who wants to avoid having your reviews hit the Yelp filter, make efforts to:

Write Lots of Yelp Reviews: If someone’s account has been made just to review one restaurant or business, that raises some serious red flags for Yelp. The more reviews you write, the more authentic you seem. At least ten reviews will make you much less likely to sound the Yelp review alarm. Make sure your thoughts are legitimate, though – you should tell us the range of 1-5 stars. Writing all fantastic or all terrible reviews looks suspicious.

Fill Out Your Profile: Add profile pics, a personal description, etc.

Connect to Your Other Social Media Accounts: Connect your account to Facebook and Twitter for an added dose of authenticity.

Add Yelp Friends: Add friends to Yelp and interact with them by complimenting, voting their reviews as funny, etc. Your engagement with other users shows that you’re an authentic user who is part of the Yelp community.

Leave Tips (in Addition to Reviews): Tips allow users to add a short, concise statement when they check in somewhere using the Yelp mobile app. Tips show your entire range of motion as an online user.

Steady & Consistent: Don’t just blast a hundred reviews in the span of a few days. Take the time to strengthen your reputation by reviewing various local businesses over several weeks or months.

Don’t Fear Yelp – Embrace it!

I know we’ve talked a lot today about some of the scarier aspects of Yelp with its raging customer rants and threatening filters. Still, Yelp is a pretty neat community that’s just trying to help consumers make intelligent decisions regarding local biz.

Yelp Business Page

Don’t be afraid – most Yelp reviews are great! Yelp did a study in 2011 and found that nearly 40% of reviews posted on Yelp are 5-star reviews!

Reviews on Yelp

For the most part, Yelpers are users who want to give small local businesses credit where it is truly due.

As long as you operate a great business that gives folks a reason to smile and manage your bad reviews with grace and poise, you’ll find Yelp can do amazing things for your business!

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