Customer reviews are the heart of Yelp's popularity and success, and yet you couldn't write a review from mobile until August 2013.
Consumer and Mobile Products Vice President Eric Singley tells us how they figured out how to get users to write out high-quality reviews—through gentle nudges, clever filtering, and a little bit of social priming.
Below is an edited version of our interview.
The worst-case scenario for writing a review on mobile was "Good fries, five stars." That was failure for us. So everything on the product design was based on mitigating that risk, ensuring that wasn't the path we went down.
This is Yelp's bread and butter, this is what we do better than anybody else: encourage high-quality contributions. We've learned how to make that work well on the web. There are concepts there that we could re-use.
One is modeling or mirroring—you show people the kind of content that you want them to write before they write it. They have an idea for what the goal is.
For example, on Yelp.com, you see the highlighted review of the day, front and center on the site. We reward our best contributors, and this hand-selected group of elite Yelpers get a stamp on their profile that says they create the best content. Other people see these badges and they get an idea of the type of content they should be writing to achieve that kind of status.
It's also very instructive to look at what we don't do—we don't tell users that they need to write X number of reviews to be elite or that we consider a high-quality review to be 150 to 200 characters. It's important to keep the objectives a little bit fuzzy. You don't know exactly what the bar is, but you should know that the bar is high. That's what we're going for, both on the web and on mobile.
When you tap to write a review on mobile, there's a brief moment where we show you a recently written review that's of good quality. You see that for a moment, and then the keyboard pops up, and then you can start writing. When you start writing, you get that last flash of content we'd like you to write.
During the writing process we do something else. We were a little apprehensive about this starting out, but if you did that "good fries" review and stopped, you will get a gently admonishing line at the bottom that says "This review is shorter than most." We're very careful to not make that message feel intrusive or overly admonishing; it should just be a nudge in the right direction.
When we rolled out mobile reviews, elite users were the first to get access. We wanted to reward them, but it enabled us to ensure that this first batch of reviews written on mobile were coming from our best users. Since we modeled that behavior, we started out on the right foot. This is how Yelp has gotten where it is today: we've always emphasized quality over quantity.
A lot of what we do is focused on identity. You're way more likely to put something forward that you're really proud of if it's really you. If your profile is a picture of a pony and your name is like PonyGuy72, you're less incentivized to have something that you're really proud of. We put a strong focus on identity. Having your real identity associated with your content leads people to put their best foot forward.
We highlight that on a lot of places on the site. You'll never see content on Yelp without a name and a photo next to it. When you go to the "about me" page on Yelp, we list all of the reviews right there.
We're also fortunate enough to be popular, so if you're writing great things on Yelp, you know that a lot of people are going to read them. You're going to have a voice. You're going to have a megaphone. Yelp is that megaphone.