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David Brondstetter

David Brondstetter CEO

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Is Yelp Damaging to Dealers?

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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

Mike Jeffs
Great discussion! Thanks @David for sharing this blog. We appreciate your feedback @William and recognize Vendor Ratings isn't perfect – no rating service is. Part of that is because people aren't perfect and there will inevitably be dishonestly. However, that doesn't mean rating services cannot be of value. We at DrivingSales spend a lot of resources calling to verify each vendor rating came from someone within a dealership. If our callers determine it's unlikely the job title does not use the product being rated, they do ask the dealership professional if they use that product and confirm. If they do not say "yes" the review is blocked. Can and should we do more to improve Vendor Ratings so it's better for all parties involved? Yes. In fact, we're in the process of upgrading the entire site with an emphasis on Vendor Ratings. We know the product has value and we are currently consulting with dealers and vendors (including consultants) to improve the product to increase the value, so this feedback is awesome and vital to Vendor Rating success. @William-We'd like to schedule a call and hear more of your feedback. Now's is a great time as our dev. team is in the engineering process. Let me know if you're interested. Thanks!
William Phillips
In response to Chris Yes I take my business and your ratings serious and the notion that I should not take them serious is devaluing of your own product. Poor suggestion, you correct this system to properly allow the person who actually signs my contract to tell other dealers of their experience. The sales staff who went on your site and rated my services are not the leaders in their respective stores they are the block to the stores results, and we are brought in to identify them. My service provides profits that the dealer was not currently realizing, and not the reverse of the staff providing money to hire me so the dealer can spend it. Can only imagine how you voted. My Tip: Get your site corrected so companies like mine will take it serious and you provide the valued claimed to dealers. Thus we don't spend our time blogging our defense and begging for positive ratings to off set false ones you have allowed Mike: give me a call if you would like for my ideas and suggestions you requested Bill 949-374-2750
Richard Winch
Not sure how this post ended up being about DS. Back to the dealers - When it comes to the review landscape the most prominent sites are Google, Yelp, DealerRater and Cars.com (in that order of presence as determined by a study we recently conducted examining search results for commonly searched dealer centric phrases. Note that Yelp is the second most prominent result next to Google. To say that Yelp should be ignored seems counter-intuitive to its share of the review landscape. Now to be clear I'm no fan of Yelp or Yelp's business model and to be sure Yelp lends itself to be more of a negative forum. That said, it is possible to achieve a reasonable rating on Yelp but probably not as high as you might achieve with the other sites, but a 4.3 star rating on Yelp is definitely better than a 2.5 star rating. How long it takes to improve your Yelp score is simply a matter of how long before you put an effective solution in place to address it. The longer you wait the more negative star ratings you will have to overcome (mathematically speaking). As for review management (procurement) solutions go, these are perfectly viable options - surveying your customers so that you can either address shortcomings or provide better service is the pinnacle of good customer service practices. Done right, this type of solution can really help dealers not only improve consumer perception of their business but also allow the dealership to improve in areas that are lacking. Finally, the dealership customer is going to go to the internet and search - period; therefore, whether we like it or not, the dealer cannot ignore these properties and these properties influence consumers perceptions in essence acting like a third party endorsement. I think that the consumer is going to put more stock on a third party review than non-third party reviews on the dealer website. To be sure never link away from the dealer site, but open a new tab or window. In closing, there are many things I either dis-agree with or don't like about any number of these sites and to be sure Yelp, but reality is, embraced the right way, we can turn that to our benefit, it might not happen over-night but it can and does happen.
William Phillips
This turned to DS because its the same subject matter of ratings being of no value when they are negative oriented and in DS case false, as I am sure many of Yelp are. If your going to preach to dealers via your Blog, you might want to self examine your own principles of engaging in the like conduct as a company. I don't believe you are suggesting that Dealers focus on pushing clients to increase their yelp ratings rather than fix the core issues of whats causing the rating. So I think addressing Yelps inaccurate rating system is what the title of this blog suggests which is why it related to DS vendor ratings being similar. I will exit this Blog, which is what I think you want, with the belief that Both Yelp and DS desire to help the consumer, and their clients, and that both need some reality check and adjustments to make that happen.
Harrison Gray
Any luxury or high-end dealer, such as we are, is thwarted by the yelp algorithm . The problem is that yelp publishes the reviews of its "frequent yelpers" and marginalizes the Reviews of those who are not frequent contributor's or reviewers as "filtered" reviews. That leaves slackers, college kids, and generation X unemployeds to be the "frequent contributors." The typical CEO or successful entrepreneur who is our customer, does not have countless hours to spend posting reviews on yelp. Hence, almost every "relevant" review of a real customer, (assuming we can convince them to do an honest posting), is "filtered" and marginalized on the lower right of the page in a "containment area" for infrequent yelpers. There is 5% weight given to the reviews of our "real" clients, and 95% weight given to the reviews of college kids walking into our Porsche dealership with $110,000 cash given to them by their Asian friends or parents. They then trash us on yelp because we won't sell them a Cayenne, as we suspect it will be promptly Exported- which we get in trouble for. Hence, we have horrible yelp reviews, and wonderful dealer Rater reviews. Why don't we all gang up on Yelp and force them to give 100% weight to every review, since they are currently abrogating the right to free speech- by picking and choosing which reviews, posted in the same fashion- all for free, can be seen- and which cannot?

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