When it comes to Web sites offering local listings and customer reviews of home improvement companies, the playing field just got a little more level.
In a previous post (Online Reviews Can’t Hurt Me…Can They?), I considered the challenges of Web sites offering local listings and reviews.
One example is Yelp, a Web site that publishes reviews of local companies. Those companies’ customers write the reviews and post them on the Yelp Web site. Companies, of course, hope for positive reviews, but we all know that, well, consumers have minds of their own. Some bad reviews are inevitably part of each company’s listing mix.
Yelp makes money by selling advertising to companies targeting specific local markets, such as home improvement contractors. But what they sell and how they sell it have become major issues for both advertisers (like you) and publishers (like Yelp).
The issue centers on an “upsell” option. Purchasing that option enables a Yelp advertiser to choose to list one of its positive reviews in bold print at the top of their Yelp listing:
For enthusiastic Yelp advertisers, this is a great option. Advertisers win because they can eliminate the possibility that the first review their prospective customers see is negative. Yelp wins by earning some extra revenue.
But what if you’re an advertiser who doesn’t want to fork over the extra bucks?
Just imagine what your Yelp salesperson might say to you: “Hey, if you don’t pay up for one of our guaranteed positive reviews, well, you know, like, anything can happen. Your first review could be positive, or it could be, well, negative…you just never know…I just wouldn’t want anything bad to happen to your company’s online reputation.” Sounds sort of like a line from a cheap Mafia movie, doesn’t it?
Fact is, many advertisers indeed felt that this was their reality. A number of them filed lawsuits against Yelp, claiming that their sales reps had offered to “remove negative reviews” in exchange for advertising. While it doesn’t exactly conjure up the image of one of Al Capone’s enforcers putting his hand on your shoulder, the implication is obvious.
But that’s not all. Also peeved by this practice were many reviewers who conscientiously wrote and submitted their reviews of the service they received from local businesses. Why should one reviewer’s good review be listed above another’s bad review simply because that advertiser paid Yelp extra money?
Indeed, many Yelp advertisers, reviewers and users alike believed that Yelp had sinned by blurring the imaginary, but important, line separating advertising from content. If Yelp doesn’t display its reviews in an open and fair way, what’s the point of offering reviews in the first place?
And so Yelp announced this week that the Company was eliminating this option. Whether it was the advertiser lawsuits, the backlash from Yelp reviewers and users, or both, Yelp backed off of its wiseguy ways.
For home improvement companies, this change eliminates any question as to “Why does my competitor’s listing always show a glowing review right at the top?”
So, if you’ve got a trail of unhappy homeowners following you, Yelp’s move means you can no longer buy your way out of your bad spot. But if you’re a conscientious home improvement company that keeps its customers satisfied, the playing field just got a little more level.