Will Yelp Transplant Your Reviews?

Yelp reviews aren’t something you want to lose, if you can help it.  Under what circumstances can you get Yelp to move, transfer, or transplant your reviews from one business listing to another?

Darren Shaw and I were wondering about that the other day.  The answer wasn’t in Yelp’s FAQ (or anywhere else), either.  So I contacted Yelp to ask:

Can a business owner (or anyone else) request for Yelp reviews to be moved / transferred to another listing?  And if so, under what circumstances might Yelp be able to move the reviews?

The scenario I’m thinking of is if a business has two duplicate listings on Yelp and each one has 5 reviews.  It would be a shame to lose those 5 reviews, so can the business owner get the reviews on Listing A transferred to Listing B – if they’re truly for the same business and location?

-Phil

Stella from Yelp HQ replied:

If there happen to be duplicate listings of the same business, whether there are reviews on each listing or not, our team will merge the listings and all content will be combined. So, if there were 5 reviews in each listing before, once merged, the new, single listing would then have 10 reviews.

-Stella

So getting your reviews transferred sounds like a pretty hands-free process on the part of you, the business owner – if and when Yelp finds listings.  But I’ve seen duplicates and near-duplicates stick around on Yelp for a year-plus, so Yelp’s finding the rogue listings spontaneously might be a big “if.”

My suggestion: if your reviews are being spread thin by duplicate or near-duplicate listings, don’t just wait around for Yelp to discover and merge the listings.  Report those listings sooner rather than later.

The Afterlives of Filtered Google+ and Yelp Reviews

There is an afterlife.

If it sounds like I’m saying that with too much confidence, it’s because I’m not talking about people.

I’m talking about reviews – specifically on Google Plus and Yelp, the two sites where it’s most important but hardest for most “local” business owners to get reviews.

What’s the big difference between those two ultra-important sites and others?  It’s that reviews don’t simply travel from the typing fingers of your customers, to your business listing, to the eyes of potential new customers.

Somewhere along the way, they can disappear because of Google’s or Yelp’s infamous review filters.

It’s possible for a review not to show up even when you know for a fact that a customer wrote one, and it’s possible for it to show up for a while but later disappear.  You name it, it can happen.

What happens to a review once the anti-spam filter mafia works it over?  Does it swim with the fishes?  Is it gagged and tied to a chair in a dingy basement, held captive until you meet certain demands?  Will it be freed?  What can you or others do to free it?

I’ve got some thoughts on those points, and so do Mike Blumenthal and Darren Shaw.

Those two guys were kind enough to share some excellent insights (as you’ll see).

 

Afterlife: Filtered Google Plus Reviews

 

You know some of your reviews have been filtered if your customers are the only ones who can see their reviews on your page.

Let’s say you asked Bob, a customer, for a review.  You know for a fact he went to the right listing, signed into his Google Plus account, and wrote you a review.  If he’s the only one who sees the review on your business page – if nobody else can see Bob’s review – then you know it’s been filtered.

If Bob signs out of his Google account, even he won’t see it on your page any longer.  Bob is in a séance with the ghost of the review, made possible by the hocus pocus that is Google Plus.

 

Where is the filtered review floating around?  Mike Blumenthal has some insight on that:

Google has not been totally transparent about their review filtering. In other words they have been totally opaque about the rules and technologies that they are using.

Reviews are kept in a separate index and not with the basic business data. This allows them to remove or move individual reviews. In the past there were also issues where some reviews were lost, misplaced or otherwise missing that didn’t involve their filter. So sometimes it was difficult to know whether they had just “misplaced” a review or had “misjudged” it.

I think most of those problems have been put behind them so at this point if they are not showing up (but do show under the author) then they are being filtered by the filtering algo.

Assuming that a review is visible under the author then if it were ever to be unfiltered by a human at Google. Google can now also move reviews from one business listing to another. These both mean that Google has obviously developed internal tools to allow support staff to this which they never had before.

[Links added by me, not by Mike.]

It’s possible for the review to come back.  It may return to your page – exactly where you and your customer wanted it to go – if Google relaxes its filtering algorithm.  This happened in January of 2013, after about 7 months of draconian filters that sent far too many innocent reviews to the gallows.  It was a great feeling to see many of my clients’ legitimate and hard-earned reviews reappear on their Google listings.

But is there anything you or your customer can do to resurrect your reviews?  I’ve never seen it done, and it doesn’t sound as though Mike thinks it’s doable:

Given that we do not know all of the parameters that cause a review to be filtered we don’t really know and can’t easily test if any given review can be unfiltered in some way. The review filter, unlike Yelp’s, seems more complicated and layered. If that is the case and Google scores multiple attributes of any given review it would seem that it would be unlikely that they could be surfaced by user activities. Possible but unlikely.

So, aside from wait and hope that Google later recognizes that your reviews were legit all along, what can you do?  I think all you can do is the following:

Ask your customers to log into their Google accounts, copy the review that they wrote, and email it to you.  (They have to log into their Plus accounts, click on the “Home” and then “Local” tabs on the left, then click the link under “Your places.”)

First study the review itself and see if you can discern anything that might have tripped the filter to begin with, and see if you can glean any insights that way.

Then copy and paste a sentence or two of the review text into Google, and see what comes up in the search results.  It may be the case that Google accidentally stuck the review onto someone else’s listing, in which case you may be able to get it moved to where it belongs.

Don’t give up.  Google reviews are never truly dead, as I’ve noticed, and as Mike explains:

Nothing at Google is ever thrown away. Not a listing, not reviews, not anything.

You can’t really even delete a listing. If Google thinks a listing should be shown that you have “deleted” in the dashboard they will show it. Only by “closing” a listing can you make it inactive.

Reviews are the same. They never go away and the system is always looking for a listing to attach them to.

However now that 1) they can unmerge listings and 2) move reviews around it is possible to get reviews off of one listing and onto another if they are there inappropriately.

 

Afterlife: Filtered Yelp Reviews

 

The “afterlife” of Yelp reviews isn’t nearly as mysterious.

They rest securely in Yelp’s “filtered reviews” section.  Like Egyptian mummies, Lenin, or poor cryogenically frozen Ted Williams, they can be seen by humans.

Yelp grants these reviews a little privacy:

Not all visitors are allowed in the mausoleum:

I’ve learned over time that reviews on Yelp get filtered out based on reviewers’ activity – or, more specifically, their inactivity – rather than on what they write.  I’ve seen Yelp both filter and allow reviews that are short, long, helpful, lousy, full of keywords, devoid of keywords – you name it.  I’ve seen helpful, appropriate reviews get filtered, and I’ve seen raunchy ones go through.

What Yelp seems to look at, above all, is how active a Yelper the reviewer is.  If your customer goes onto your listing, gives you 5 stars and a review, leaves, and isn’t already in the habit or doesn’t get in the habit of writing reviews on Yelp regularly, his or her review probably will never see the light of day.  The reviews of first-timers are marked for death.

What can you do if your reviews have been filtered?  Can you rouse them back to life?  Well, it depends on how close you are with your customers.  You can’t do it alone.  Here’s Darren Shaw’s advice

As far as I know, the key to unfiltering Yelp reviews is to engage the reviewer. Many reviews get filtered because the reviewer created an account, left a review, then didn’t use the site again. Yelp trusts reviews from its active users more than the inactive ones, so “activate” that reviewer. Friend them. Respond to their review. “Like” their review. Send them a message through Yelp. Encourage them to review other businesses on Yelp. With a bit of activity, we’ve seen reviews raise from the dead on Yelp.

One tip I’ve wanted to share is how to find people you know on Yelp. I discovered that this google search can help:

yelp “first_name last_initial.” city_name

(Try it on yourself)

Now imagine you have a database of customers, and you check them all with this search. You could put a little “flag” on their account and have your staff let them know you’re on Yelp the next time they come in.

Reviews on Yelp weave in and out of life.  As Darren says, the variable that determines whether they stay on terra firma is how active the user is.  Even if a review is unfiltered, it can get filtered again if the reviewer goes inactive for more than about 3 weeks.  I’ve personally seen it happen to reviews that I’ve  written for businesses I frequent.  Yelp reviews can die off and be resurrected more than once.  There’s not just one afterlife for them.  They can always go “poof” or rematerialize, depending mostly on whether the reviews come someone who’s part of or becoming part of Yelp’s “community.”

Pretty much all reviews benefit your business – a little or a lot.  Here’s my geeky way of thinking about their value to you:

length of time you’ve had a review X how positive the review is X your local rankings = its value to you

That’s why you need to do what you can to get reviews in the first place, and to do what you can to get them back if they ever go anywhere.  Now you have the ability to do both.

Last but not least…thanks to Mike and to Darren for their great insights!

7 Ways to Kill Your Local Search Rankings without Touching a Computer

There are a million online misadventures that can snuff out your business’s rankings in local search – in the Google+Local (AKA Google Places) search results and everywhere else.

Attempts to spam or deceive Google usually backfire.  You can also destroy your rankings through sheer laziness – like if you never update any of your business information or never bother to understand Google’s quality guidelines.

You may be aware of what online actions can hurt your local rankings.  Maybe you’ve learned the hard way.

But there also are offline ways you can kill your local rankings.  Simply not doing anything stupid or naughty in your local SEO campaign isn’t enough.  You can lose local visibility and local customers without ever touching your computer (or smartphone or iPad).  To be more precise, I can think of 7 ways:

 

Offline Way to Die Online #1:  Relocate, rename, or use a new phone number without updating your Google+Local page or other business listings to reflect the change(s).

By “update” I mean you must do two things: (1) update all your business listings with the new info, and (2) scour the web for listings (AKA citations) that list your old info.  (By the way, doing a free GetListed.org scan can be a huge help when you get to this step.)

If you fail to do the above, you may be OK…for a little while.  After some months a major third-party data source (most likely InfoGroup) will catch wind of the change and create new listings for your business with the new info.

This will cause your business to have inconsistent info spread all over the web – which itself is a rankings-killer – and may cause Google to create unwanted and inaccurate Google+Local pages for your business (another rankings-killer).

 

Offline Way to Die Online #2:  Get a phony address, like a PO box, UPS box, or virtual office.  Eventually your fake-o address will enter the local-search “ecosystem” (in the way I described above) and you’ll end up with inconsistent business info all over the web, penalties from Google, or both.

(It’s likely that the only reason you’d want a phony address in the first place is so you can try to game Google – so it’s likely your rankings won’t die as a result of your offline actions alone.  More likely, you’ll try to update your business listing(s) with the fake address and end up getting flagged by a competitor or good citizen.)

 

Offline Way to Die Online #3:  Mistreat your customers and get slammed with bad reviews.  This probably won’t have a direct effect on your rankings unless you have dozens or hundreds of scathing reviews, BUT it may affect your rankings indirectly.

For instance, nobody knows for sure whether click-through rate (i.e. the percentage of people who see your business listed in Google and click on it) is a factor that Google takes into account when sorting out the local rankings.  But Google does “know” a bunch of user-engagement stats.  If people simply don’t click on your listing because they see a 10/30 average Google rating, or if nobody clicks your link from (say) your Yelp listing because you have a 1-star average, Google may very well take your rankings down a peg.

Bad service = bad reviews = fewer clicks = low rankings / fewer customers

Also, although “social signals” like Facebook shares, tweets, and Google +1s don’t seem to affect your local rankings much or at all as of this writing, they most likely will become a stronger ranking factor in the future.  If potential customers are scared off by bad reviews, you’ve got fewer opportunities to get social shares.

Most of all, at the end of the day, it’s about getting people to pick up the phone.  You can’t do that very well if nobody clicks on your Google+Local page or website because your reviews reek.

By the way, you get bonus idiot points if you get hammered with bad reviews but don’t write thoughtful “replies from the owner.”  Yes, you can do this: Google+Local and Yelp (and probably other sites that aren’t coming to mind now) let you respond to reviews.  It’s easy to write a reply and takes you maybe 90 seconds.  It’s even easier never to check up on the sites where you’re listed or  simply to live in ignorant bliss, oblivious to the public criticism.

 

Offline Way to Die Online #4:  Hire and fire an unethical SEO.  He or she has access to your Google+Local page or other listings (and maybe even your website), and may do something nefarious or simply not hand over your command codes when you need them.

 

Offline Way to Die Online #5:  Let your domain name or hosting expire (thanks to Chris Silver Smith for this one).  True, technically you don’t need a website to rank in the Google+Local or other search results.  But if you don’t have one, you’re shooting yourself in the foot, because many local-search ranking factors depend on your website.  If you’re in a competitive local market, forget it: Without a site you’ll fare about as well as Lance Armstrong in a polygraph test.

 

Offline Way to Die Online #6:  Never grow your site.  No, I’m not talking about updating the copyright at the bottom of your website so that it no longer reads “© 2002.”  I’m talking about keeping a “static” website to which you rarely or never add useful, non-promotional info that might cause a potential customer to think “Hey, that was handy!”  A static website is a lost opportunity.

Google knows when a website is an online paperweight, and may very well reflect that fact in your rankings.  Worse, if your site is devoid of fresh, helpful info, nobody will link to you, share your site, or give you a juicy unstructured citation or review – all of which are factors that otherwise could boost your rankings.

If you’re going to rank well, your site needs to show signs of life.

 

Offline Way to Die Online #7:  Never check your Google+Local page and other listings.  They say a watched pot never boils.  The corollary is that an unwatched pot can eventually boil over or boil until there’s no water left.

Things will happen to your online local presence, whether you know it or not – and probably not all of those things will be good.  Sometimes you’ll need to fix or remove inaccurate info on your listings, respond to reviews, or double-check your Google+Local page or website is compliant with the Google update du jour.

But you can’t fix problems if you never know about them.

By the way, there’s no offline way to fix most of the above problems.  The solutions involve getting with the times, getting on the computer (or tablet), getting a little bit of local SEO know-how (as you’re doing now!), and getting your hands a little dirty.  That will help you become or stay visible to local customers, and it will help keep the phone ringing.

Any other offline “ways to die” you can think of?  Any questions or general suggestions?  Leave a comment!