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

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!

Dumb Shortcuts to Getting Online Reviews

Image credit Vinny DaSilva / / happy customers/clients/patients to speak up and write online reviews is usually tough.  Even if you do everything you should, it’s still tough going.  Not all the happy people will speak up, and there’s always a chance the unhappy few will.

If you’re wise, you’ll realize you can’t get to perfect, but that you can always get closer and that the payoff is worth the effort.  So you’ll continuously work on your strategy.

On the other hand, you might have considered at least one shortcut to get more reviews and better reviews.  I bet I know what you’re considering.   I hope you don’t do it, but if you do it anyway, I’d at least like you to know the arguments against it.

Here are 10 all-too-common “review shortcuts” some business owners try to take, and why you might not want to be one of them:

Watching over reviewers’ shoulders.

Maybe you set up an iPad in your office, and walk reviewers through exactly what to do, while you’re in the same room.  That’s noble, and you probably just do it because you want to make the process hassle-free.  But there are downsides.
Why it’s a mistake:

  • Many reviews won’t look like honest opinions because they won’t be honest opinions. How can reviewers say what they really think if you’re standing there?
  • The unhappy people will decline to use your review station, or they’ll get even more steamed if they felt “pressured.” Either way, they’re just as likely to write you a bad review anyway.  “Quality control” it is not.
  • The happy people may not feel at liberty to take their time and go into detail about why you’re great. You want them to.
  • It’s against Google’s rules.

Holding a contest.

You ask people to review you because you’ll donate to charity, or because you’ll pick a “review of the month,” or something like that.
Why it’s a mistake:

  • It’s illegal or legally questionable.
  • It’s against most review sites’ policies.
  • You’ll get short, unhelpful, artificial-looking reviews from people who just want the freebie.

“Getting the ball rolling” with reviews from family, friends, colleagues, etc.

You plan to get real reviews at some point, but don’t want your first reviewers to feel uncomfortable, and you don’t want your business to look unpopular in the meantime.
Why it’s a mistake:

  • It’s against Google’s rules and Yelp’s rules.
  • It’s illegal or legally questionable.
  • It’s unnecessary if you’ve got reviews from real customers.
  • For would-be customers it just calls into question the authenticity of your real
  • It looks sad and desperate if you’ve got no reviews from real customers.

Reviewing yourself.

Why it’s a mistake:

Posting on behalf of customers.

They sent you perfumed letters to say they feel, but they didn’t post online reviews, which are what you really want.  You don’t want to bother them with that process, so you figure you’ll publish their reviews for them.  They’re the same words, so what’s the problem?
Why it’s a mistake:

  • Either you have to impersonate your customers/clients/patients, or you have to say in your review that you’re posting on their behalf. “Bad optics,” as they say in Washington.  You raise more questions than you answer.
  • The reviews you post are more likely to get filtered.
  • What if those people see “their” reviews and say you never had permission to post their review?

Offering incentives.

You offer a gift card, or free service next time, or a discount, or enter customers into a raffle.  People are so busy, and they won’t bother to review you unless you grease the skids, right?
Why it’s a mistake:

  • Even if it works, you’ll get unimpressive, bare-minimum reviews from customers who just want free stuff.
  • It’s illegal or legally questionable.
  • You may have hell to pay if you’re a doctor or a lawyer.
  • It’s against most review sites’ policies.
  • It will offend some people, who would have been perfectly willing to write you a good review if you didn’t imply that you can just buy their praise.
  • The person you’re trying to get a review from may not believe your reviews anymore.
  • Armed with that knowledge, there will be murder in your competitors’ eyes.

Having marketers or so-called SEOs review you.

Hey, you pay them good money, and their job is to help you make rain, and reviews can help with that, so what’s the harm?  You’ll even do some work for them so they’re technically your “customer.”
Why it’s a mistake:

  • They’re usually poor writers. (Especially the SEOs.)
  • Either they disclose the relationship or they write a Jell-O review with no specifics.
  • There’s a good chance your competitors know the name and face, because the marketer may have tried to pitch them on working together. It’ll be an SEO soap opera full of “Before there was us” and “But I thought you knew” and “How could you!”  Probably won’t end well.
  • It’s illegal or legally questionable.
  • It’s against most review sites’ policies.

Swapping reviews.

You refer people to Fred.  Fred refers people to you.  You won’t pretend to be each other’s clients, but Fred can tell the world what you’re made of, and you’ll do the same for him.
Why it’s a mistake:

  • Either your reviews are mutually useless, or both of you have to lie through your teeth.
  • It looks shady.
  • You hitch a little piece of your reputation to someone else, whom you can’t control.

Including a gag clause to prevent negative reviews.

Maybe you’ve had crazy people take a hatchet to you in online reviews in the past, and you don’t need more of that right now.  If they have a problem, they can take it up with you and you can probably, but they can’t malign you publicly or you’ll sue them into the Stone Age.
Why it’s a mistake:

  • You know how they say “love will find a way”? Well, rage will also find a way.  Angry customers will find a way to get the word out – about the original issue, and about your effort to silence them.  (See “Streisand effect.”)
  • Your reviews will look too good to be true. Some people will question their authenticity.
  • Your competitors will cause you all sorts of misery if they find out.
  • You miss out on the benefit of letting would-be customers see how you handle problems. As Matt McGee says, we don’t live in a 5-star world.  If you get a bad (or even illegitimate) review and respond to it in a classy way, you look good.  Perhaps even better than if you had no reputation warts.  People love a comeback.

Buying reviews.

Happy customers don’t want to speak up.  The crooked competitors do it, and they’re making off like bandits.  Google and Yelp don’t filter their reviews, but seem to filter all your good ones.  It’s not fair.  You wish you could think of another way, and you want to get more real reviews eventually, but you’re losing money, so what else can you do?
Why it’s a mistake:

  • The reviews will range from mush to gibberish to lies.
  • It’s against Google’s and Yelp’s and other sites’ rules.

  • Real customers may call you out.
  • Competitors will call you out.
  • It’s lazy.
  • It’s illegal.
  • It looks shady.
  • It is shady.
  • It’s a missed opportunity to get to know your customers better.


Gee, thanks, Mr. Killjoy.  Sounds like I can’t do much of anything.  How SHOULD I get reviews?

Read these posts and apply the suggestions:

How to Execute the Perfect Local Reviews Strategy

Principles For A Review Plan: Considerations in Encouraging Customer Reviews

60+ Questions to Troubleshoot and Fix Your Local Reviews Strategy

How to Remove Fake Google Reviews

The Ridiculous Hidden Power of Local Reviews: Umpteen Ways to Use Them to Get More Business

Is there a “reviews hack” you’re considering?

Can you think of any other counterproductive shortcuts?

Have you tried an approach that didn’t help you get reviews the way you thought it would?

Leave a comment!

The Most Obscure “Rule” in Google My Business – a Nasty Surprise

A few days ago I wrote about a tricky issue I seem to have figured out based on a hunch: that having two or more Google My Business pages in the same service area can cause problems if you need to owner-verify one of the pages.

When I was troubleshooting with my client, I couldn’t remember where I saw that overlapping service areas might be an issue for Google.  That bugged me.

Turns out I hadn’t gone totally senile (yet), and that at one point I must have seen this MapMaker thread (or one like it), where MapMaker editor Gregg “Flash” Gordon wrote that:

It is important to note that there is only one listing permitted per SAB per urban area and per location. [Emphasis added.]

Here’s a screenshot (click to enlarge).

As of today (April 4, 2016), that “per urban area” part is not in the Google Places Quality Guidelines:

Businesses that operate in a service area should create one listing for the central office or location and designate service areas.  If you wish to display your complete business address while setting your service area(s), your business location should be staffed and able to receive customers during its stated hours. Google will determine how best to display your business address based on your inputs as well as inputs from other sources

Nor is it in the Google My Business Quality Guidelines, nor in “Service-area businesses on Google” guidelines, nor in “Address entry guidelines,” nor in any other document I know of.  It’s certainly not in any documentation a business owner will ever run across.

It’s not even mentioned by any of the Google My Business Forum “Top Contributors” in my 2014 post on “What’s Missing from the Google Places Quality Guidelines?

Apparently, the only people who know about this dumb, buried “urban area” rule are Googlers, MapMaker editors, and maybe Top Contributors at the GMB forum.  Fine.  Whatever.

But what in tarnation constitutes an “urban area”?

Is it a small town?  Is it Manhattan, or the Five Boroughs of New York City, or the Tri-state area?

What if you’ve got two locations of a business in the middle of nowhere – where the definition of “urban” is the dirt road between the church and the general store?


If it’s a rule that’s actually enforced – especially a mushy-worded one like this – it should be present and visible in the rules that Google expects the average business owner to read.  Period.

I guess Google has had bigger fish to fry, like Mic Drop.

Did you know about the “urban area” rule?  If so, where did you read it or hear about it?

Have you seen it enforced?

Leave a comment!