What You Need to Know About the Changes to Yelp’s Algorithm

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Yelp Changes The “Rules”, Makes Keeping Positive Reviews Harder

Yelp connects people with local businesses of all kinds, with users contributing more than 100 million reviews since its founding in 2004. It’s the go-to review site for businesses in the service industry, ranging from restaurants and salons to mechanics and plumbers.

Yelp says that it was built to foster connections between the consumers who read and write reviews, and the local businesses that they write about. Many local businesses rely heavily on Yelp reviews to bring in both repeat and new customers and to facilitate their reputation management strategies.   In November 2018, Yelp changed its algorithm, also referred to as its “recommendation software,” which unfortunately led to millions of Yelp reviews being lost.

Yelp filters reviews. That’s nothing new. However, the way in which it filters reviews displayed as “recommended reviews” faced big changes two months ago, affecting nearly everyone in all niches. The conclusion? Yelp may now be filtering reviews when there are too many positive ones. This has been suspected since many businesses have lost lots of reviews, in some cases up to 75% of their reviews. The backlash on social media showcases surprised, frustrated and downright upset unhappy business owners who have no idea what’s going on. After all, reviews are hard to get! No one wants to waste them, especially the really good ones.

This change makes Yelp more difficult from the standpoint of online reputation management. It came at a pretty bad time since Yelp is becoming more and more important because it’s the local search engine that Alexa uses for Echo device queries, such as “what is the best home care company near me?”. With the news that more than 100 million Alexa devices have been sold, it is becoming imperative that home care companies and other SMBs (small and medium-sized businesses) do everything they can to optimize their presence on Yelp.

The new Yelp algorithm breaks down in this way:

  • Yelp activity: if Yelp sees that individuals are spending little to no time browsing Yelp on their phones or computers, these will be deemed “dead accounts” and reviews will be removed.
  • Too many positive reviews: If a business’ reviews are too positive, the algorithm can demote some of those positive reviews so it can show a combination of positive and negative reviews in an effort to be more helpful and reliable.

The Ghost

Yelp’s latest update has been called “Ghost” — referring to its largely invisible presence that took many by surprise. Many businesses lost a high percentage of total reviews to the “not recommended” portion of Yelp. Some lost more than 1,000 reviews. It became apparent that something big had happened where the recommendation software was concerned, as it was now recommending fewer reviews for public viewing. Yelp refused to comment on or even acknowledge that a major update had occurred.

However, anonymous sources say Yelp made a major update to its system in late October. Here’s what we know about Ghost and why it was aptly named:

  • The update happened right around Halloween.
  • Several user reviews disappeared into the “not recommended” section.
  • The update seems invisible, with hardly anyone noticing except those who were affected.

Search Engine Journal examined a data set of nearly 700 monitored Yelp business profiles, focusing on the review counts on the profiles before and after the update happened.

Of the nearly 700 Yelp-monitored accounts, nearly 190 lost reviews between late October and early December.

Of those businesses that lost reviews:

  • 46 companies lost 20 percent or more reviews.
  • 61 lost 10 to 20 percent.
  • 80 lost five to 10 percent.

There were about 500 businesses that did not lose any reviews. Overall, the update affected one in four businesses.

Key Take-Aways

So, what should you know about the change? There are several things:

  • This was a cross-platform-wide update.
  • The reviews put into the “Not Recommended” weren’t all comprised of five stars. Of the nearly 190 businesses that lost reviews, two businesses lost one entire rating point and 45 lost .5 rating point; however, 140 lost no rating points whatsoever.
  • It didn’t matter if the business was an advertiser with Yelp or even a Yelp Elite.
  • Even reviews that had been on the platform for multiple years were filtered.

What to do if Affected

No one really knows what specific factors Yelp updated in its recommendation software. But it can only be speculated that Yelp learned about certain trends in reviewer activity. There are many signals that Yelp looks for in its recommendation software when thinking about filtering reviews, as evidenced on its own website. According to Yelp’s own words, its software looks at many different signals to measure reliability, activity, and quality. What it mostly concentrates on, however, is for those who are motivated to share a wide spectrum of detailed, rich experiences they encounter with businesses on a daily basis.

In a nutshell, Yelp is looking to display current, active reviews. If you were an affected business of Ghost, try not to get upset with Yelp. Just like Google and other online giants, changes happen every day that may not seem to make sense to us but due to that particular company. Instead, improve your Yelp presence by:

  • Including a “Check-In” offer.
  • Sharing positive Yelp reviews on your social media pages.
  • Installing the Yelp review-widget on your website.
  • Responding to reviews promptly.
  • Monitoring all reviews you get on Yelp.

Do not:

  • Directly reach out to customers for reviews.
  • Send out direct links to your business profile, as Yelp tracks referring URLs.
  • Use review solicitation software for Yelp reviews.

Contact A Servant’s Heart Web Design and Marketing

If you were affected by Ghost or have any questions regarding Yelp’s latest algorithm, contact us at (760) 227-2720. For more information or to request a website review and SEO consultation, fill out our online form.

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