The below post is in response to an original LinkedIn post by Brian Pasch, entitled: “Yelp Spam Filters Fail to Prevent Damage to Auto Dealers”, https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/yelp-spam-filters-fail-prevent-damage-auto-dealers-brian-pasch?trk=prof-post.
Unfortunately, the Yelp spam filter issue isn't going away. Yelp is not a review model business; they are an advertising business. If you look at most of the dealer pages, you'll see multiple paid, competitive ads mostly for the service side, the part of the business (unlike new vehicle sales) that is not captive (by design I suspect). In many cases those competitive businesses all have a better star rating. And then there’s the “best of” section that shows competitors and the “people also viewed” which are competitive.
But Yelp is Yelp. They haven’t exactly claimed to be anything other than what they are, which again, is an ad model. Part of the problem is both dealers, and now OEMs, are trying to manage that, which cannot be managed. The more customers’ dealers send to Yelp either directly, or as a proxy for the OEM under a required program, the tighter Yelp tightens the screws. This is no secret; Yelp says that is what they will do if they detect review solicitation. It appears to be a good model for Yelp, but for dealers, not so much.
We have a number of examples but I know of one example of a great dealership and our numbers show them above 4.5 stars for verified customers. Their Yelp score is 1.5 stars with ten reviews. Now here is the kicker; if you go to their website, they have the biggest Yelp badge you’ve ever seen with text to the effect of “check us out on Yelp”, which of course is what Yelp recommends you should do - https://biz.yelp.com/support/review_solicitation. Worse yet, it’s a redirect link so it takes you from the dealer’s site to Yelp without spawning another window, a serious site defection given where it takes the consumer. We’ve talked with the dealer numerous times to no avail. For some reason, they want that badge on that site even though a click on that badge reveals 10 reviews with a 1.5 star rating and no less than seven competitors all with better star ratings on Yelp. To make matters worse, the way they’ve implemented the badge provides the Yelp page with referential link equity to help compete with the dealer in Google and Bing search; talk about competing with yourself. By the way, this dealer also has 39 filtered reviews, so there is no doubt they are soliciting.
I totally understand the need for dealers to attempt to manage Yelp, but email solicitation of Yelp reviews is not the answer. In many cases, the dealer would be better off doing nothing with Yelp. In studies we’ve done, I’ve seen dealerships with hundreds of filtered reviews. And to make matters worse, OEMs are jumping on board with the “spend to send” model. In this model, dealers and OEM’s pay third-party companies to send their newly minted customers to Yelp and other ad model portals. And of course, the customer is prequalified first so now there’s a level of manipulation going on that’s never disclosed. (Per Yelp, this is one reason why they don’t want reviews solicited: https://biz.yelp.com/support/review_solicitation). When these programs are initiated, review submission velocity skyrockets. A Yelp executive told me that they refer to this as “unnatural velocity”. That in turn (presumably) tightens the algorithm. We’ve done studies on Yelp review scores, Yelp review count and Yelp filtered numbers for over 10,000 dealerships; most of whom are using an OEM sponsored program. Based on our findings, solicitation programs lead to higher filter rates. For example, we did a study for all US based Chevy Dealerships (who have RepMan as a requirement). At the time of our study, 70% of Chevy dealership Yelp reviews were in the filtered (not recommended) status. Seventy percent! We used one other OEM who did not have a required program as a baseline. Their filter rate on Yelp was 56%.
The bottom line is that dealerships and manufacturers need to start thinking about a “me first” strategy for reviews. They need to start generating reviews outside the typical ad model portals and get that content in front of customers. Only then, when they’ve created content for their captive eyeballs, should they focus on creating content for their ad competitors. If you think about the captive, in market consumers that OEMs and dealers have on their sites, you really have to wonder why only a few have content that doesn’t belong to an ad model portal.
Consumers are on the OEM site and the dealership sites. Give them content, don’t send them away to see ads from your competitor, and then provide valuable user generated content to someone else. OEMs generate millions of page views on their consumer site, but only a few have ratings and reviews on those sites. Dealers are better, but most have a link out to a competitive ad model portal or sites that show a competitor’s inventory. This is business 101; don’t compete with yourself. In business, it’s the one thing you have complete control over.
David Brondstetter is CEO of SureCritic, creators of the industry’s first SocialCSI® Customer Experience Management (CEM) platform. You can reach him at David@surecritic.com.