Why Does Yelp Block Reviews and How Do They Get Away With It

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The Connect the Doc Team

Last week I had a prospective client (let’s call him Dr. X) reach out to see if we could help him get positive reviews on Yelp. I responded: “yes, we can do this by…” He interrupted me and explained “I don’t care about the new reviews for now, what I want to figure out is how the hell I can get all the positive reviews my patients have left me back on my profile because they keep hiding them.”

After learning about Dr X’s scenario, he wasn’t doing anything wrong. In fact, he was doing everything right. For a long time now, I’ve been preaching the importance of internal marketing at practices. If you’ve read some of my other posts before, you’ll know that I define internal marketing with 4 R’s. Rebooking, re-activation, referrals, and reviews. If I’m in a good mood, I’ll even throw in a 5th “R” and include reminders – because nowadays there is no excuse to not remind your patients about their next appointment. When we discussed Dr. X’s checkout process he specifically told me that he re-booked his patients, told them about the practice’s referral program, and encouraged his patients to write a review on either Google or Yelp when they got back home.

Every practice owner knows that Yelp’s review algorithm has been pretty controversial. Unfortunately, since so many patients rely on Yelp for advice to find local health providers, practices need to find a way to get their reviews online – especially on Yelp (and Google). Now historically, Yelp has claimed that they filter reviews on a practice’s profile if they believe the reviews are fraudulent. Here are some reasons why reviews on Yelp may not be displayed on your profile. Note, this is not coming from Yelp, it’s my research online and feedback from my existing clients that use Connect the Doc. If you have some other reasons, definitely post a comment and share it with everyone reading.

Here’s the list:

  • If Yelp believes that you have purchased your reviews
  • If Yelp believes that you have incentivized your patients to write positive reviews
  • If reviews are being submitted from the same IP address / device
  • If a review is being submitted from an IP address in a different state (because travelers definitely do not share their experiences online)
  • If a Yelper (most likely just your patient) is writing a review for the first time (or is not a frequent Yelper)
  • If a Yelper does not have a complete Yelp profile
  • If a Yelper does not integrate their social accounts to their profile
  • If a Yelper only posts positive reviews and not negative reviews
  • If a Yelper does not have Yelp friends (Really?! Without a social footprint, they’re going to remove your reviews – that’s BS)

While Yelp has not explicitly outlined how their filtering process works, they did shed some light on their FAQs that describes their process:

“We use automated software developed by our engineers to recommend reviews from the Yelp community. The software looks at dozens of different signals, including various measures of quality, reliability, and activity on Yelp. Most of all, however, it’s looking for people who are intrinsically motivated to share the wide range of rich and detailed experiences they have every day with local businesses. On average, our software recommends about three quarters of the reviews that are submitted to the site.”

You can click here to read some of the other Yelp FAQs, they’re fascinating!

Now, here is where things get interesting. I’ve heard 2 completely different sides of the story. Some of my clients have told me the reason why Yelp blocks reviews is so they can sell you featured ad placements. Is this true? In the case of Dr. X, it’s not true and no amount of money could make those patient-submitted positive reviews show up on Yelp. I know this because he told me that he asked. Seems like the only way those positive reviews are going to surface is if the patients continue to write more reviews for more local businesses in similar neighborhoods and truly become “Yelpers.” For many healthcare providers whose patients write reviews on Yelp, it’s their first and only review, which is why Yelp is blocking the review.

The other side of the story really pisses me off. Is it possible that Yelp would extort small businesses to promote featured ad placement on their listings? Even if this were true, it wouldn’t matter, Yelp has the legal right to do this. I found this PDF online that outlines a court case where 3 companies, Cats and Dogs Animal Hospital, Marina Dental Care, and Wheel Techniques, teamed up to sue Yelp for “attempting to extort advertising payments from them by manipulating user reviews and penning negative reviews of their businesses.” However, according to Judge Berzon, “the facts and legal theories alleged in the business owners’ complaint are insufficient to make out a prima facie case of unlawful or unfair business practices against Yelp.” While the business owners believe that Yelp created negative reviews of their business and manipulated the reviews and ratings to induce them to purchase advertising, there was no proof that the these reviews were done so by Yelp – and for that reason Yelp was off the hook.

There are way too many instances of these types of stories. But what can be done? It’s the “Golden Rule…” Whoever has the gold, makes the rules. Since more than 95% of consumers who visit a business’s page on Yelp end up making a purchasing decision of some sort, Yelp is going to continue to do whatever they want, whenever they want, however they want, and with no penalties. The question is, how long will they get away with it for? So without a whole lot of options, the best way  for your practice to improve its reputation on Yelp (and the web for that matter) is to continue asking your patients to write reviews for you online. While they may block majority of the reviews, eventually some will squeak through the cracks and overtime reviews that have been hidden in the past may find their way on your profile page. So if you’re like Dr. X, keep doing what you’re doing.

If you’re not like Dr. X, click here download the whitepaper that I published earlier this year on how to get more referrals and reviews from your patients. On that note, please share your experiences on Yelp. If you are a consumer, do you take the reviews you see online with a pinch of salt? If you are a business owner, what has your experience been with Yelp? Help many positive reviews are showing up online? How many “fake” negative reviews are online?