When it comes to local SEO, one of the most valuable things you can have is a positive online customer review. In the past, that simply meant getting your customers to leave sparkling reviews of your company and service on Yelp. However, after New York State Attorney General Eric Schneiderman announced the conclusion of a yearlong sting operation dubbed Operation Clean Turf a few years ago, it quickly became apparent that Yelp and everything tied to those reviews, was in big trouble.
Not directly, of course, but when it comes to your online reputation, all it takes is the slight scent of a scandal to make a mountain out of a molehill. See, the problem was that Yelp, along with other websites that allow for consumers to leave their personal reviews, were designed to work much like traditional word of mouth advertising, just on a much larger scale. So, if someone went to a restaurant and received excellent service, they could later go onto the Yelp website and leave some positive remarks about it for others to see. The more positive reviews a company got, the better they looked to others looking for the same service, which in turn, encouraged more people to patronize the business. It wasn’t until the focus shifted from global SEO to a more local approach and search engines started to put more emphasis on these reviews that things began to get interesting.
Several small online advertising agencies, also known as SEO or search engine optimization companies, saw that companies that had positive overall profiles on Yelp and other consumer review sites began ranking better in search engine results, which lead to the conclusion that placing bogus positive reviews for a fee would allow them to boost the rankings of their clients. In all, 19 companies, within the state of New York as well as countless others across the country were participating in such schemes.
The businesses who advertise on Yelp are also in a lot of trouble. Not legal trouble, mind you. But now that Yelp’s issue with fake reviews have been uncovered, these reviews have lost almost all of their credibility with consumers. Suddenly, businesses who pay good money to advertise on Yelp and who have built up a positive reputation by delivering high quality service are now on the same playing field as those who have chosen to pay for their reputations. Customers don’t know who to trust.
So what does that mean for your business if you are looking to establish more real customer reviews to boost your local ranking? It means that Yelp simply isn’t the gold standard anymore for quality word of mouth advertising anymore. While Yelp hasn’t done anything intrinsically wrong in this situation, their database has been tainted with thousands, potentially tens of thousands, of fake reviews. This makes the value of a Yelp review….well, almost worthless. But, not quite.
Customers still look to Yelp to help them find businesses they want to patronize, it’s just not the only site they use. This means that limiting your customer reviews to Yelp might actually be doing you a disservice rather than helping you establish a stronger positive online reputation. There are many other trusted websites out there that can help you gain more ground in local search engine results. The key is simply to discover which ones your customers are comfortable with using and the encouraging them to leave positive feedback there. Yelp is still a power player in this industry. However, it is important to note that a positive review on Yelp simply doesn’t hold the weight it once did.