Yelp Lets Businesses Yelp Back

Yelp founders Russel Simmons, left, and Jeremy Stoppelman, with Darwin

The user-submitted restaurant and small business review site Yelp has been the subject of some pretty hot debates over its policies as its influence in local markets from San Francisco to New York has grown. Now it seems they have softened their stance on one issue: letting business owners respond to their reviews in public comments. When I interviewed Steve Kaufer, founder of the larger—and profitable—travel review site TripAdvisor, he explained why it's a good idea to let owners continue the conversation:

"Hoteliers don't like it when the one oddball writes a scathing review—this person was inebriated, they thought we were on the beach, but it clearly states on the website that we're 3 blocks away from the beach. So if someone complains about how terrible the pool was, and the restaurant was closed, the hotelier can respond: the pool was undergoing renovation and the kitchen was closed we had a sign on our website but it's all fixed now or whatever the facts actually are."

This is a smart move for Yelp—-not only does it get them some positive publicity, but it will lead to business owners spending more time on the site. Smart businesses realize that complaints are, as Kaufer says, "free customer research," and responding to them openly and honestly is a good way to win more customers.

Related: The Perils and Promise of the Reputation Economy
Related: Yelp Accused of Shaking Down Restaurants

Yelp founders Russel Simmons, left, and Jeremy Stoppelman, with Darwin | photograph by Dan Escobar

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  • David Bruce Jr

    I too fear competitors will enter false reviews, it is a little known tip that a yelp listing for a small business will help boost the GoogleMaps rankings (I should know, I do Local Google Advertising)

    That's the same problem with the merchant circle directory. An inbound link is still an inbound link (and Google loves those with inbounds and ingnore those with no inbounds)

    Maryland Internet Marketing by David Bruce of Frederick Web Promotions
    301 363-8206

  • Adryenn Ashley

    Now the fun begins. What will Yelp do when a small business owner tries to get the obviously false review (more than likely written by a competitor) removed? Is the answer now, "just counter it with your own retort?" or will they investigate like they say they do (and obviously don't have the man power to actually do)? With Yelp using negative reviews as a "trigger lead" system to get biz owners to pony up the dough to beef up their presence on the site, will this new ability to set the record straight impact Yelp's bottom line? And what happens when another small biz owner gets one of the calls Jeremy claims never happen and a biz owner Yelps about it? Will Yelp continue to remove those? Only time will tell, but I for one am happy to see Yelp embracing transparency. After all, wasn't that one of the core values of their brand?

  • blog orama

    It took yelp six years to even consider giving small business owners a voice on their website, and only after a flurry of negative media attention threatened the viability of its own business. Yelp has never apologized to the small business community for its actions, nor did it bother to even announce this change to the business owner community. Instead, they send a message to their reviewers, which seems more like an apology for "giving in" to the demands of business owners. If yelp truly cared about the small business community, it would have included its needs in the original business plan, it would not have waited six years to respond to the needs of business owners, and it would not be apologizing for taking the first step toward creating an equitable site. Why on earth would any business owner advertise on a website that begrudgingly supports their needs? Yelp has offered up far too little, far too late, and it simply won't be enough to recover from their long term mistakes.