I received an interesting email today from Yelp. It wasn’t the typical recommendations of popular places in and around my community but rather what they titled as an “Important Public Service Announcement.”

It was in fact a message warning Yelp users, specifically business owners, about the unsavory practices of certain online reputation companies, specifically companies that claim to work with Yelp to remove your negative reviews or otherwise boost your ratings. The warning includes a form where Yelp users can report on companies using these tactics.

Here is the contents of the email itself:

We’ve recently seen an uptick in reports about “reputation management” companies that claim to work with Yelp to remove your negative reviews or otherwise boost your ratings… for a fee (of course!). If you’re wondering how these companies can make good on this offer, the answer is simple: They can’t. There’s never been any amount of money one can pay — to Yelp or any third party — to manipulate reviews.

If you’ve been contacted by someone offering something along these lines, we’d love to get the details so we can prevent them from preying on others. Please use this form to loop us in. For general questions, contact our user support team at www.yelp.com/contact.

Finally, as we’ve said in the past, the best strategy for reputation management is to provide great customer service, and respond diplomatically to your reviewers.

So are their claims valid? Well, I’ve never heard of an ORM company being able to “work with Yelp” to remove negative reviews. So, any claim by a company who says they have a “special relationship” with Yelp is most likely hogwash. True there may be “Yelp Elite” users that offer ORM services but still the best way to deal with negative Yelp reviews is to provide the very best product and/or service in the first place.

Now, that being said, I’m very aware that you cannot please all people all the time and that there will be scenarios where no matter what you do, someone will be displeased and post a negative review. However, negative reviews are not always the worst scenario. In fact I appreciate a combination of positive and negative reviews when looking at a business on Yelp or any other review site for that matter. When a company has all positives, it just looks unnatural, unless they are simply a kick-ass company and do everything to perfection. I know, rarely happens – we’re all human.

So what is the best way to deal with negative listings at Yelp? First of all, make sure you have claimed your business on Yelp. This offers you the opportunity to respond to reviews – both good and bad. When you respond to those who took the time to submit a review, it shows the customer that you care.

And often times in the case of negative reviews, responding offers the opportunity to “make things right” or if nothing else, at least learn how to improve from the experience. The video below shows how Yelp users appreciate responses to their reviews.

Secondly, encourage “positive” reviews. Now I know that Yelp discourages businesses from trying to “force” positive reviews but there are legitimate ways you can encourage customers to review your business on Yelp. Consider the following options:

  • Integrate Your Yelp Profile on Your Web Site – Possibly within your Contact or About Us pages, provide links or logos to some of the most popular review sites, including Yelp and then encourage feedback.
  • Post a Physical Notice – Something along the lines of “How are we doing” on receipts, menus, brochures or other prominent locations that then encourage customers to visit your site where they can then submit feedback.
  • Encourage Check-ins – Sure Foursquare is the prominent check-in service but there are now other sites that offer check-in functionality such as Facebook, Google and yes, Yelp. If customers check-in using Yelp, they might be more apt to leave a review as well. What I personally do most often is to check-in at Foursquare, take a photo of my food, my room or something else relevant to the business, upload it in conjunction with my check-in and then use that same photo later to post a review on Yelp.
  • Offer Discounts to Yelp Users – Yelp allows businesses to post discounts, coupons, and events for free. So, by all means, utilize this function! If Yelp users spot a discount, not only may they be  encouraged to stop on in, but keep in mind that active Yelpers write reviews.

* Hat tip to Bridget Ayers  for the above suggestions. See “How To Get More Yelp Reviews For Your Business” for additional tips and further details on the four I posted above.

In summary, online reputation is a valid service that many companies need on a daily basis. We offer such services ourselves. Just beware when an ORM company (or any company for that matter) promises something that you know inside your gut is too good to be true.

David Wallace

David Wallace

David Wallace, co-founder and CEO of SearchRank, is a recognized expert in the industry of search and social media marketing. Since 1997, David has been involved in developing successful search engine and social media marketing campaigns for large and small businesses.

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