Monday 15 April 2024

Yelp CEO inadvertently makes the case for Google reviews


Our take?

As you would expect, we adopt the consumer's point-of-view; not for reasons of altruism, but simply because what works best for consumers works best for HelpHound and our clients. 

Jeremy Stoppleman, CEO of Yelp, understandably thinks that Yelp results (links to reviews) should feature higher in Google searches. Google appears to be perfectly happy with the status quo. 

The relevant (for us) part US case focussed heavily on the way Google monetises its offering to businesses: with Google Ads being its principal revenue generator. We all know what this looks like, but for complete clarity here is an example...

Yes. All these are 'Sponsored' PPC advertisements. Generating lots of lovely cash for Google.

And on Yelp?

Effectively the same. Any sympathy we might have had for Yelp begins to ebb. What other factors do consumers take into account when they are looking for independent validation of a business? Let's see. How about...

  • Quality reviews - written by people who have a) used the business and b) have some life experience to back up their opinions
  • Credible reviews - as above, plus the backing of a credible platform
  • A broad community of qualified reviewers
  • Scores they can trust to lead them in the right direction
Other factors
  • Sales - is there a link between Google and Yelp sales and reviews?
  • Is the reviews function monetised?
And here we have issues with both platforms, but more so with Yelp:
  • Quality: the more you can be sure a review is written by a real person, unconnected with the business under review and qualified to comment on the product and/or service provided by the business the better. Yelp relies heavily on its 'Elite' users to provide a steady flow of content. This cohort is rewarded with social and tangible benefits (meet-ups and hosted events in the main). Our research shows, contrary to the image presented in the shot of three mid-lifers in the article linked to above (with the attendant life experience) that most Yelp Elites are college-age. This explains the heavy review weightings towards the likes of fast food outlets and away from professional services, leading to some interesting search results (the 'top' 'restaurant' in 'Mayfair' in London is a fish and chip shop, for instance). Google reviews have no such proactive reviewer recruitment unless you count Local Guides who tend to be much less concentrated towards one single demographic or age range. There is also the added comfort with Google that it knows exactly who the reviewer is - as a result of their search history and membership of one or more of Google's services, even if their username is MickeyMouse 123. So: in terms of quality and credibility we would suggest that Google wins hands down. So should they be returning Yelp (and other review sites - there are literally hundreds) results as prominently as their own reviews? Well, our simple answer is 'No'. After all, if consumers actively want reviews from other sources through Google they can always search for them. 
  • Scores? It is relatively easy for any business to gather a dozen or so 5* reviews without being overly proactive. It is certainly the case that, in the UK at least (before Yelp withdrew their business sales operations from the UK and EU), Yelp Elite would 'blitz' venues and a restaurant or bar (Yelp Elites didn't appear so keen to be reviewing law firms or accountancy practices) would suddenly go from a handful of reviews to over a hundred. To get over a hundred Google reviews a business has to be proactive in inviting its customers to write those reviews. This has led, in the UK at least, to endemic cherry-picking and gating, both of which are against the law (the latter against Google's ToS as well - Google will delete all reviews if it finds evidence of gating). Whilst there are solutions to this the fact that many businesses would appear to be happy to flout the law to achieve respectable scores (4.8+ is the benchmark in 2024) and critical mass in terms of number of reviews (100+, soon to be 1000+) just shows the power of Google reviews to drive business (if the score is good) and deflect business (if the score is substandard - less than 4.2 these days and in most service sectors the business will find itself in the bottom quartile of Google scores).

Above: a common enough search. You can see the paid advertisement (for GetAgent) under 'Sponsored' at the top, but you also see individual businesses and their Google scores - and links to their Google reviews prominently displayed. At the bottom of the screenshot, you see the top result in organic search with the star rating and score from its own reviews - all 660 of them, hosted on its own website, which we think is pretty fair of Google

  • Sales/monetisation: There is no charge for businesses to use Google reviews, and anyone can write one (OK, strictly speaking, you have to have used one of Google's products to do so, but just about anyone not living under a rock has. But we still run into businesses that think someone needs a Gmail account to post a review). Yelp earns its core fees by offering to promote a business up its listing for a monthly fee (you can see Sweet James Accident Attorneys paying to come top in the example above, some might say somewhat misleadingly, given they are listed just under the heading 'Top 10 best lawyers in San Francisco...' and 'Recommended' - they score a woeful 2.8). Google does roughly the same, but at least it allows businesses to shine in natural search through effective SEO and proper schema use. 


We will continue to advise almost every business we meet that moderated Google reviews are by far the best long-term solution for their businesses. Not review sites (although these increasingly appear to be used by some businesses to bury their reviews). 

The moderation (see below) will enable them to confidently and effectively invite reviews to their own websites and to Google without the fear of unfair, inaccurate or plain misleading reviews that currently drive some - many? - businesses to cherry-pick and gate. 

Further reading
  • Moderation - the professional solution to review management
  • Results - more enquiries and better quality business, a proven win/win 
  • Compliance - boring but essential. Non-compliance hands a valuable weapon to the competition

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