How to Avoid Yelp Traps: Tip #1

This is part of a series of articles: How to Avoid Getting Trapped by Yelp’s Self-Centered Algorithm.

As I have said previously in many places, small businesses who don’t take care to set themselves up properly from Day 1 may quickly find themselves to be unintentional victims of Yelp’s self-centered algorithm.

One of the most important things to consider early on in your relationship with Yelp is the email address you will use when you claim your business account.

Using an owner’s personal address is a very bad idea. Even using your general customer service email is potentially fatal.

Here is why.

When an individual — one of your customers for example — joins Yelp, they are immediately pressured to share their facebook contacts and email contacts with Yelp. Most people fall for it.

Yelp tells new users that sharing this info will immediately connect them with their friends on Yelp. And since most people are suckers for almost any promise of added convenience (myself included), we fall for it and click OK.

However, this is a very bad idea. The minute we do that, Yelp knows who we have prior relationships with. So if your email address is in my contacts or if we are connected on Facebook, Yelp assumes we are genuinely friends.

So if I review your business of Yelp, my review is likely to be suppressed, hidden or otherwise discounted — because Yelp assumes that our prior connection creates a conflict of interest.

It is essential, therefore, for businesses who are claiming their business accounts on Yelp to use a clean email address. By clean, I mean an email address such as yelp@example.com that will not be in anybody’s contact list.

Setting up a clean email address will help you avoid what I call Yelp’s Prior Relationships Trap. It takes a few minutes to do, but it is absolutely essential if you want to increase the chances of reviews by friends and family to actually be displayed on your Yelp business page.

Why Yelp Sucks: Reason #1

Full disclosure, I am a Yelper. Or a Yelpie. Or whatever we call ourselves nowadays.

This does not mean I am an ass. Or at least, it doesn’t mean I am the kind of ass you expect to find on Yelp.

I don’t use Yelp as a revenge platform. In general try to use my Yelp powers for good.

If I go into a family-owned business and get less than five-star service, I don’t go running to Yelp to scalp the owners. In most cases, in fact, I do nothing. Instead, I write if off as a one-time thing and keep my mouth shut. If the bad service persists over multiple visits, that is a different story.

I have no problem giving low-star reviews to corporate giants with notoriously bad service. I have no problem giving parks or monuments or other public places below average reviews because nobody gets hurt. But I am loathe to punish family-owned businesses with poor Yelp reviews because I understand how a single bad experience with a single loathsome douche bag can scar a business and put at risk the family home for many years to come.

In fact, the only time a family business can count on me to give them a bad Yelp review is when they prove to me beyond a reasonable doubt that they have earned it. Short of that, I am pretty easy to get along with.

The way I see it, family owned businesses need to stick together — especially on Yelp.

Yelp, as you have probably already heard, is brutally unfair. Or to put it another way, Yelp sucks.

It really does. And I can prove it.

Like any massive, multi-billion dollar enterprise, Yelp is all about Yelp. Contrary to what they would have you believe, it is not about its users. It is not about the “Yelp community”. Or community service. Or even the truth. It is about shareholders and return on their investment.

It’s about what is good for Yelp and Yelp alone.

The logic of this business model gives rise to a lot of really stupid rules. For example, Bart U. was a customer of ours for years. He loved our store. He came back again and again and again. We loved him back for this very reason.

While Bart was a customer, he never left us a Yelp review because he was not a Yelper. He didn’t have an account. He wasn’t interested in having one.

After several years of being a happy customer, Bart decided he wanted to work for us. Now I don’t know about you but I think that an I-liked-the-place-so-much-that-I-applied-for-a-job-there outcome gives more valuable insight into the quality of the business than a 50 word I’m-giving-them-one-star-because-the-clerk-rolled-her-eyes-at-me Yelp review.

Bart knows our business inside an out. As a customer, he learned to trust us. But now that Bart works for us, Yelp’s ridiculous rules preclude him from reviewing us.

So a guy who knows perhaps better than anybody what we do and how we do it is not allowed to provide a review while some know nothing first time customer who doesn’t understand the difference between Sport Chek and a pro shop is allowed to review us and Yelp is more than happy to put that review on the front page of our Yelp business page.

That, in my humble opinion, is the first reason that Yelp sucks. But it is not the only reason. Stick around for a few more months and I will give you some of my other reasons.