How Yelp Encourages Users To Write More Thoughtful Reviews (Even On Mobile)

Reviews are Yelp's "bread and butter," says VP Eric Singley. Here's how they train their users to write high-quality ones.

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.


Eric Singley

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.

How to get past "Good fries, five stars"

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.

Coaching content 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.

Test with the best users

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.

How identity creates the right incentives

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.

[Image: Flickr user Tambako The Jaguar]

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9 Comments

  • lolson3691

    We just had another great experience at KRC ROCK in San Marcos and just wanted to say how great all the employees there are! Very professional, knowledgeable, courteous and friendly to say the least. But the backbone of this operation is the workers outside in the yard...OMG kudos to Troy, Victor, Seph and even the new kid on the block...Joe Smith. These guys really need to be compensated and recognized for the mainstay they provide this organization. Thanks everyone, we'll be back!

    Linda and Karen

  • Shane Fromaggio

    Yelp is useless. They hardsell small businesses to pay $300 a month to hide/remove bad "reviews" (ahem) that mysteriously show up on your establishment's page. Their system doesn't do anything to prohibit a rival's establishment from sabotaging another business by posting fake and critical information. It's a joke. When will people realize how USELESS this fraudulent company is to get real reviews? I hope someone sues their @$$ off, sooner than later. If you believe everything you read on Yelp, you are being duped, plain and simple.

  • John Beckwith

    Its not unusual to see a 1-star review from someone who didnt get a call back from the business. They neither met the owner or stepped foot into the store yet their review stands.

    They don't allow businesses to avoid being listed on their site. They hold them hostage after manipulating their reviews, punish them with a false warning label, and literally drive them into the ground.

    Their time is coming, I cannot wait to see the day they go belly-up.

  • Ronald Holden

    Yelp is a criminal enterprise that empowers know-nothings to lie about a restaurant experience, then extorts the merchant with offers to moderate the fabricated reviews.

  • Airlines...Spirit is the worst EVER!!! The WORSE. Customer Service. Lies double charges. Give you wrong information and e-mail addresses to trouble shoot. THE WORST. I am not the only one that thinks this... Jeannine Giesregen Los Angeles. My Mother had a stroke and I gave two days notice. They had already charged my card and would not give me any travel credit after I jumped through their hoops and hoops again and again. It was awful. Not only did my Mom have a terrible stroke and but their attitude and lack of compassion was epic.

  • I gotta hand it to Yelp. The service does offer some of the best and most detailed reviews around. It's good to get a behind-the-scenes look at how it makes that happen.

  • John Beckwith

    And yet we can all google Yelp Extortion and see 1000's of blogs from business owners complaining of the same thing. You can see this among the comments in this article.

    You must work for Yelp. I wonder if you are the Yelp salesman who used to call my office and leave a long-winded speech's on my voice mail about all the great things Yelp can do for me. And when yo didn't get a response you removed all my good reviews and left my one bad review. Was that you? We I just called my client and had her remove the bad review. Soon I expect you to start calling me again...right after I have a good review is posted. After all , that is your m.o., wait for the rating to climb then sell/extort advertising