Yelp increasingly cracking down on ‘review solicitation’ across the internet

As reviews have become more important (to consumers and as a local ranking factor), multiple companies have emerged to monitor reviews, but also to help small business owners obtain them. Yelp is trying to stop many of those efforts.

We were provided with the following, received by one of these reputation management companies:

Yelp is, of course, just one of a number of online directories and search sites that feature consumer reviews. Google, Facebook, TripAdvisor, OpenTable, Amazon and various others also encourage and publish consumer reviews. Yelp, however, has the strongest (some would argue “most extreme”) policies against what it calls “review solicitation” — asking for reviews in any form.

Yelp has historically taken a hard line against this behavior to preserve user confidence and the integrity of its content. If people doubt the veracity or authenticity of consumer reviews on Yelp, usage could decline, and so would the company’s value.

Many other sites, though not all, have a range of policies against incentivizing or paying for reviews. For example, Google’s policy says the following:

Reviews are most valuable when they are honest and unbiased. If you own or work at a place, please don’t review your own business or employer. Don’t offer or accept money, products, or services to write reviews for a business or to write negative reviews about a competitor. If you’re a business owner, don’t set up review stations or kiosks at your place of business just to ask for reviews written at your place of business.

Google’s Local Guides program “incentivizes” its members to provide reviews and other content with points and prizes. This is Google itself encouraging participation, not the individual business owners. And Yelp asks users to write reviews (i.e., “your next Yelp review awaits”).

However, Yelp’s more expansive “don’t ask for reviews” policy says:

  • Don’t ask customers, mailing list subscribers, friends, family, or anyone else to review your business.
  • Don’t ask your staff to compete to collect reviews.
  • Don’t run surveys that ask for reviews from customers reporting positive experiences.
  • Don’t ever offer freebies, discounts, or payment in exchange for reviews — it will turn off savvy consumers, and may also be illegal. Yelp has a Consumer Alerts program to let people know about businesses that engage in this sort of activity.

With the phrase “don’t ask,” Yelp goes further than others. It also advises business owners not to work with third-party review solicitation vendors. The question is how broadly the company is defining that phrase.

More recently, Yelp has also sought to prevent partners and those using its API from soliciting reviews on sites other than Yelp. The company explained in an email to me recently that if a “partner or API user” is soliciting reviews “on Yelp or other platforms,” the company will try to persuade the partner to stop, but if unsuccessful, will potentially discontinue API access or the relationship.

While some of the companies seeking to help business owners obtain reviews are unethical, others are trying to address a small business pain point in the market. Their only way to continue operating, it would appear, is to discontinue any practice that looks at all like asking for reviews on Yelp.


About The Author

Greg Sterling is a Contributing Editor at Search Engine Land. He writes a personal blog, Screenwerk, about connecting the dots between digital media and real-world consumer behavior. He is also VP of Strategy and Insights for the Local Search Association. Follow him on Twitter or find him at Google+.


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