When you were in high school, nothing was more important than your reputation. What others thought about of you meant everything. Many people learned a very important lesson in high school about reputations. Once soured, it’s almost impossible to overcome it. Once given the title of class floozy or dirt bag, that’s it. Four years would not be enough time to overcome it.
I got into a conversation today with a lovely independent consultant at the SMX conference in NY. She was a mature savvy marketer and she had a nice rolodex of small and mid-size customers. The conversation was largely about local data management and the overwhelming amount of effort required to clean up the ecosystem for her clients. Dirty data – one of my favorite subjects.
While talking, she brought up the topic of consumer reviews and how she believed that reviews are the next big data issue that needs to get tackled. We talked about Google reviews and, of course, we talked about Yelp.
In January, Mike Blumenthal wrote Yelp: Real People. Real Reviews. Deceptive Sales Tactics and drew further attention to the aggressive and frankly dishonest advertising sales tactics for which Yelp has become known by small, local advertisers.
A vast number of small and medium size advertisers have also come forward with their respective Yelp stories and how they have been pressured to advertise. When they chose not to buy, they claimed to have been punished by Yelp’s controversial filter. Many of their reviews disappeared and some businesses no longer show up in searches at all.
As quickly as Yelp came up in my conversation today was as quickly as we both acknowledged the diminishing value of their content. We seemed to both be acknowledging that Yelp’s reviews were tarnished. SMX is an industry conference and my counterpart was someone from the industry. We both knew the stories, our perception of Yelp had shifted and their reputation had been soured with both of us.
In August, Andrea Chang expanded her previous coverage of this topic with her article on Don’t trust Yelp reviews? Six tips for consumers in the Los Angeles Times. Andrea took the story to the consumer who is now growing aware of the questionable nature of Yelp content. So I guess Yelp is being called a dirt bag in the public forum. When consumers come to believe it, Yelp’s reputation could be shot.
Remember when Yahoo was the search engine? Do you Yahoo? A brand has made it when it turns into a commonly used verb right? Xerox it. Of course when people found out about paid inclusion, that advertisers paid to be included on page-1 of organic results on Yahoo, they were heavily disenchanted with the brand. The fact that a slick, new clean page offering search results with the words “Google” on it had shown up right around the same time eventually led to our Googling it for the foreseeable future.
Perhaps the fall of Yelp’s reviews will pave the way for yet another Google product to rise to the top as well. After all, Google does a pretty darn good job at managing their rep.
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As a user, I see value in Yelp’s tools as a highly specialized search engine. Sure, I can google to find the nearest coffee shop around me, but the Yelp iOS app is a more pleasant user experience. It’s less cluttered and has the information I care about (hours of operation, address, etc)
As far as the reviews themselves … I think they are about as valuable as the stock recommendations that came out of wall street research shops in the late 90’s. Remember the ‘Strong Buy’ recommendations on companies whose entire business model was “sell something for less than marginal cost and make up the difference on volume”? 🙂
Hope all is well with you in Denver.
LoL…nice analogy…made me chuckle.
Part of what I am pointing out though is the pay-to-play strong-arming that Yelp is being accused of. Once your store or brand gets enough reviews and lift, Yelp contacts you to sell you advertising. Should you chose not to buy, the filter removes many of your reviews and your likelihood of showing up in a search results is diminished. So even if the iOS is a more slick interface, those who don’t pay-to-play, don’t show up on your device. You may be missing out on the best meal of your life because of it.
Also – I think people look at reviews for more than what are written. For example when comparing two four star restaurants, many simply look at the number of reviews to make a nap judgement. A restaurant with 400 reviews is probably a lot more popular than one with 11.