Is There Anything You Can DO to Get Yelp Reviews These Days – without a Public Shaming?

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For years Yelp has told business owners not to ask for reviews on Yelp.  Not that you shouldn’t ask only for positive reviews or tell customers what to say.  Not that you shouldn’t ply them with discounts or gift cards or other wampum.  You’re not supposed to ask for Yelp reviews, period.

In practice, Yelp’s as bad at enforcing that dumb demand as it is at consistently enforcing other, more-commonsense standards – like that the reviewer is a real customer (or client or patient).

That hasn’t stopped Yelp from piling on even more no-nos.  Recently they demanded that makers of review-encouragement software not present Yelp as an option to customers (which I know also because some of those software-makers have told me so).  Yelp also has threatened to issue “Consumer Alerts” or Yelp-rankings penalties to any business caught asking for Yelp reviews (no matter how ethically).

Worst of all, Yelp has left it vague as to whether you’re not supposed to encourage reviews on any site.  Let’s just assume they haven’t gone quite that far yet.  Let’s also assume that, like me, you’ll only bend so far to comply with absurd demands.

Anyway, the result is that these days you need to tiptoe around more – whether you ask for reviews by using any kind of outreach product, or a “Review Us” page, or an email, or any other nonverbal approach.  Whether you interpret “tiptoe” to mean either (1) “Sounds like I need to cover my tracks even more” or (2) “I’ll follow Yelp’s rulebook to the letter” is up to you.

Yelp’s hope is that your customers review you spontaneously there.  Sometimes it works out that way, often in cities where Yelp is popular.  Where that becomes a pipe dream is in places where few people give a hoot about Yelp or write reviews there, but where it’s hard to miss Yelp search results in Google’s local search results.  In that case you’ve got a glaring hole in your online reputation, but no way to fill it.

Even though Yelp often isn’t fair, and most of their policies are moronic, you might want at least to try to play by Yelp’s rules.  But you also want to get some reviews there (and elsewhere).  Can you do both?

Your options now are more limited than they’ve ever been, but there are a few ways you can try to rustle up reviews and not (1) violate Yelp’s silly rules outright, or (2) risk becoming the first business owner Yelp makes a public example of because you tried a sly workaround.

Here are the 4 most Yelp-policy-friendly approaches (that might actually work for you) to encourage customers to speak up:

1. The “Find Friends” strategy, with a twist (more on that in a second). “Find Friends” is a feature in Yelp that allows you to see who’s an active reviewer on Yelp.  You can enter a name or email address one a time, or bulk-check a list of email addresses.  (You can also do a “Find Friends” search by syncing with your Facebook page, but that’s not as reliable.)

Once you’ve determined which customers have written more than a few reviews (let’s say 5), just ask them for a review/feedback in whatever way has worked for you.  Because Yelp is probably their preferred review site, they’ll probably review you there without your needing to ask for a Yelp review specifically, or drop a link to your page, or do anything else that Yelp discourages.

2. Make your “please write a review” link a query string in Google that shows your Yelp page near the top of Google’s search results. The link should look something like this:

Again, customers can pick Yelp if that’s their preferred review site.  You’re not asking them to pick Yelp, explicitly or implicitly.

3. Splatter your best Yelp reviews all over your site. (Or your one good Yelp review, if you only have one at the moment.)

Try to pick reviews that are relevant to the content of the pages you stick the reviews on.  For instance, if you’re a dentist, maybe don’t put a review from a tooth-whitening patient on your “Full-Mouth Reconstruction” page.

If you do it right, you may condition new customers to think “Yelp reviews” when they think of your reviews in general.  When it comes time to ask them for a review anywhere, there’s a good chance they’ll think of Yelp again.

It’s also a nice passive way to encourage reviews in general, if for whatever reason you just aren’t comfortable with asking anyone for reviews (even if you don’t specify the site).  You probably won’t get a gusher of reviews as a result of this approach, but you’ll probably get a little trickle.

Yelp’s embed feature is convenient.  Here’s a great example of that in practice.

4.  Do a Yelp “check-in offer.” They’re only available to bricks-and-mortar businesses, and not to service-area businesses, so there’s a good chance this one just isn’t relevant to you.  But if you do see customers at your business address, then it may be an arrow in your quiver.

What’s worked for you – or hasn’t worked for you – on Yelp?

How “by-the-book” do you figure it is?

Any new strategies you’re considering?

Leave a comment!


  1. Is Yelp sort of becoming a cult? *asking for a friend.

  2. avatar Rather Not Say says

    The hypocrisy of Yelp knows no bounds. They have admitted to paying for reviews to be written on Yelp to get Yelp going in new markets (cities) — My company was on the receiving end of a review attack aimed at a member of my family. I have 436 reviews in Violated TOS and 40+ more 1 star in the Not Recommended section. So far I have been able to get them removed to Not Recommended. But it’s just a matter of time the fake reviews start to float out and into view. Plus they won’t show the 60+ 5 star reviews I gotten. You cannot get a hold of anyone at Yelp, except for the sales dept. They allow anyone to post a review and unless they Violate TOS it won’t get removed. I once had there sales dude, on the phone, he would not take a no, I left him on speaker phone, while I worked and kept saying “Tell me more” After 1 1/2 hours he hung up on me… Laughed my ass off wasting his time. Oh did I mention I HATE YELP!

  3. Phil,
    I was speaking with a very notable gentleman in our space about this. His words were, “It’s like the last breath gasp of a dying man.” I couldn’t agree more. Yelp contacted our company about selling their advertising and only after sharing confidential customer information was I informed that because our company offered review management (I think they called it review manipulation) software, they would be unable to do business with me unless I decided to pull the plug on that service. Really? Yelp is trying to play hardball with the very agencies who could help increase their revenues….guess they still don’t want to learn from Google.

  4. This Yelp “strategy” is cutting off their nose to spite their face. I get not compensating someone for a review but this seems like a way to decrease their overall traffic and relevance.

  5. I don’t bother with yelp, i focus on google reviews.

  6. Yelp can kiss my A**. They spam can a good percentage of our good reviews, yet authorized a bad review that came out of state and on an account that was made that day. Then tell us how their algorithm wants to make sure that quality reviews get through and checks that accounts are active, etc .
    We don’t ask for yelp reviews and never will. They also screwed us on ‘advertising’ and sent us a ton of garbage leads that were not in our category or state. Admitted they had a problem and then in next contact said everything was working as intended.

    • I hear you, Rob. As long as you’ve got piles of great reviews on other sites, and not too many bad ones on Yelp, then you’ve made it as much of a non-factor as it can be.

  7. Yelp should be sued, that’s all I wanted to say…

    • They have been in California. And apparently another one is up before the CA Supreme Court.

      The first one I remember was about their extortion-like practices attempting to man-handle businesses into doing business with them and if you didn’t they would boost negative reviews.

      I guess the dumb-a** judge has never run a business, because he/she ruled in favor of Yelp calling their extortion-like practices a form of “extreme negotiation.

    • Their lawyers have already racked up some nice billable hours, but I’m confident there will be a legal day of reckoning.

      It’s a Falling Down kind of situation.

  8. Justin & Rob are correct; Yelp sucks. They “hid” most of my reviews, saying they aren’t “recommended.” Then they have the chutzpah to call me and ask me to pay to advertise!. I told them the truth: I don’t need them. I have 60 positive reviews on Google, and I show up on the map for my area. The leads I get from Yelp are usually worthless, anyway; they are mostly from people whose first (and only) question is “how much do you charge for a resume.” Not my target clientele.

    • Perfect scenario for ignoring them. The sad thing is, Yelp advertising can be useful in about 5% of cases. If Yelp were smart, they’d focus on those 5%, and either present a different “solution” to everybody else or just leave them alone.

      • It’s too late for them now, but I always though a stronger play for them would be to build some trust with the business owners and monetize by selling them complimentary services. Just like Intuit does with Mint.

        Then again, focusing on the 5% would still be a much better idea than what they’re doing now, too.

  9. Helpful article Phil. Despite the hatred for Yelp (some of which is evidenced above) Yelp remains an important source for reviews and those reviews impact readers and visitors. They remain important.

    Our smb’s suffer from Yelp similar to the complaints above: I looked at the Yelp reviews for the smb w/the most yelp influence. 3 times as many “filtered” reviews as those showing. Of the over 40 filtered reviews the reviewers average a little more than 3 reviews per person/ meaning that some of those filtered reviewers did a fair # of yelp reviews around the web….but they still aren’t showing. Go figure.

    Phil: One thing that has grabbed me for a while is that certain businesses should adjust their staffs. That could make a difference in procuring reviews and creating customer satisfaction plus customer feedback. Particularly I’m thinking of medical offices, legal offices and some other services wherein there is actually a lot of customer interaction.

    I’ll be brief but they should reassign some staff to a customer friendly position. Big businesses do this: frankly their sales staffs are “your friends” as much as sales people. They have a lot of interaction. Cripes I was a sales guy/consultant to a lot of businesses. I took my clients out to eat a lot. There were times we were working on complex actions and possibly 80% of our interactions were “friends” and the other 20% was the technical stuff.

    If service firms had “customer friendly staff” that interacted more with the patients, clients, customers…they could, among other things, pull in reviews and customer assessments simply by asking, rather than going through some outside source. That of course would also erase yelp’s “snooping” on whether you are requesting a review or not.

    All of our smb’s have staff that do that. They are all services. We get reviews and feedback by asking directly rather than having to go to the outside.

    Just my $0.02. Happy Thanksgiving

    • I’m with you, Dave. Many business owners bring most of their reputation-related problems onto themselves. But in my opinion Yelp is creating unnecessary problems.

  10. I haven’t tried it out yet, but what do you think about offering “photo offers” if you’re an SAB? Same setup as the check-in offer, except customers just have to upload a photo to your Yelp listing. You still get the engagement bump and the customer still ends up on your Yelp page, in a good mood.

    • I hadn’t heard of “photo offers.” They sound as applicable as check-in offers: a good idea for maybe half the businesses out there, but not applicable to the other half.

      Thanks for the intel, Joe!

      • I haven’t seen anyone trying them either, but we’ve had a couple of SAB clients ask how they can use check-in incentives. So far, that’s the best alternative I can come up with.

        I’ll see if I can talk anyone into it, and (if you’re interested) I’ll let you know how it goes. 🙂

  11. Unfortunately customers are becoming victims of Yelp’s fear mongering and it needs to stop.

    I personally think they are at a point where people are no longer relying on Yelp for reviews.
    Why? Because Yelp has been pushing ads hard these last few months by selling additional ‘premium’ features to clients.

    Yelp.. Attila the Hun of the Internet.

    • Yelp has been pushing ads hard since day one – I don’t expect to see any new impact on consumer trust here. If anything, I think this is a move by Yelp to double down on regaining consumer trust, since they’ll soon have to compete with verified reviews on Google Local ads in more markets, though the strategy is questionable at best.

    • Hey, you owe Attila the Hun an apology!

  12. A word of warning: The best strategy with Yelp! is to not piss them off. I tell my clients all of the time that they should NEVER tell the Yelp! sales guys on the phone to “go pound sand” or tell them where they can shove their advertising. Rather, just let them know politely that they’re not currently in a position to budget for their advertising, and ask them to contact you again in about 6 months. Yes, you did read that right – ASK THEM TO CALL YOU AGAIN. In this way, you can keep leading them onward, without causing the horrendous effects of what happens to others who tell them to stick it where the sun doesn’t shine – and then find all of their good reviews removed – usually within minutes of the phone call….!!!!

    • Have you ever actually seen reviews removed after a phone call? I’ve heard it anecdotally enough times but never seen it firsthand.

    • Ed – I told their sales people off in no uncertain terms, and nothing happened…and that was well over a year ago. Business continues to boom

    • Good call, Ed. Although I’ve had similar results from telling them (in an email) “I’m not interested in Yelp advertising at this time,” in so many words.

      • Great news, Lynda – but I wouldn’t trust that it couldn’t happen. It happened to one of my clients a few years back, and I’ve been recommend the “prevarication” solution since that time – just in case… 🙂

        @Phil – it probably depends on the “mood” of the sales guy on the other end – and they’ve gotten enough bad press that perhaps it no longer applies – but, you never know. Thanks for the article and Happy Thanksgiving! 🙂

  13. I think I’m just going to put a large banner across the top of my site that says “DO NOT LEAVE US A REVIEW ON YELP!”

  14. Here’s a funny: type in and it takes you to a yelp site.

  15. Yelp reviews were hard to get anyway, they just made another step to the impossible. Even if I have 100 happy customers in a city like New York, I bet none of them would think on their own to leave a review on yelp. .

  16. Yelp is so far up its own ass it’s almost unbelievable. I mean, you have to admire that level of flexibility.

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