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Yelp’s Small Business Advisory Council: One Year Later.

Last year, while looking at my Yelp Owner’s Account, I read that Yelp was putting together a Small Business Advisory Council. The stated purpose of the council was to provide direct feedback to Yelp executives and product teams as they continued to build out different parts of their website.  If I remember accurately, my application read something like this:  “I can either bitch and moan about aspects of Yelp that frustrate me and never know if anyone is listening – or I can try and join this council and make sure that my concerns are heard.  Oh, and by the way, I’ve never advertised on Yelp and don’t know if I ever will.”  Much to my surprise Yelp invited me to be a part of the council.

I relate this story because it was my first introduction to the fact that the Council Yelp was assembling was not going to be made up of “Yes Men/Women”.  Yelp was actually putting together a diverse group of people with varying levels of enthusiasm for the Yelp Universe and – for me – this showed that they were making a real commitment to listen.  There were Council members that advertised, and council members that did not.  There were business owners who were driven crazy by aspects of Yelp and others who credited it with the very success of their company.  The conversations that we had, throughout the year, were not always filled with cinnamon and spice, but the conversations happened and change happened that proved to all of us that we were being listened to and that our needs were an important part of the Yelp universe.

The “big event” of the year happened last September when Yelp hosted nine of us to meet with members of their executive, legal, sales, communication, and product teams. The meetings allowed us to share (and vent) our ideas about how Yelp could improve its offering to the business community. Thirty-six proposals emerged from the summit. These ideas were then categorized in one of three ways: immediately actionable, actionable in the near future, or not currently actionable.

Over two thirds of the ideas that emerged were met with positive response from Yelp’s team.  We had involved discussions of why certain things could not happen and, from my perspective, it makes sense.  Yelp is a business, just like our businesses, and there are certain things that it has to provide its customers and that it can’t compromise on.

The business advisory council provided a great channel for business owners to engage with Yelp’s team directly, and it will be exciting to see what next year’s group brings to the table.

Here’s a list of the ideas that were brought to the table and reviewed:

Category I –
 

“We like it and have already begun to implement it.”

Build more advertising options for business owners.

Improve the coupon tool.

Offer better tools for “closing the loop”: How do I know how much of the traffic to my business listing is converting into actual real-world customers?

All ideas from the Summit should be documented, reviewed, and responded to or acted upon.

Make Yelp guidelines clearer.

Yelp’s educational material to business owners should be simpler.

Yelp should make a bigger media splash when large announcements (like the unveiling of Public Comment) are made.

The education portals for business owners and users should include plain English, empathetic information about how the law around user generated content works. This would reduce baseless legal complaints directed toward Yelp or their reviewers. It would also caution reviewers that their reviews could have legal consequences.

Provide a human point of contact for CPC advertisers.

Consider diversifying sales outreach methods such as direct mail to business community; the sales calls can become excessive.   

Point-of-Sale redemption for Yelp Deals should be simpler.

Yelp should use high definition video for interviews and instructional content.

Video should be available to CPC advertisers.

Video should be more conspicuous, as the first slide in the slideshow is easy to miss.

Category II –

“Good idea. We’ll add to our To Do List.”

Geography should be weighted more heavily within organic rank.

Yelp Deals should incentivize viral sharing via social media websites among purchasers of the deal.

More resources should be allocated to address duplicate listing problems (e.g. “MyEyeDr vs My Eye Dr vs My Eye Doctor”)

Create better multi-location management including aggregate traffic monitoring and bulk upload tools.

Within Review Guidelines, replace the words “Try to” and “should” with more absolute language.

Yelp should offer better print educational material specifically geared toward franchises.

If someone does a specific search for a business who is also a Yelp advertiser, a sponsored link for a competitor should not appear above first organic link.

Allow flaggers to track progress of a pending flag.

Community Managers should become more involved and take a more hands-on approach with their local business communities.  More should be invested in face-to-face interactions between Yelp employees and business owners.

Yelp should hold offline events for business owners similar to Yelp Elite events, or in the form of a conference.

Yelp should assist business owners in implementing web-based and printed branding of the Yelp logo so customers are reminded to review.

More preparation material should be offered to members of the Small Business Advisory Council in advance of the Summit.

Reviews should be retired after a several years.

Category III –

“At this time, we don’t believe this should be a priority for Yelp.”

Yelp should expand its current platform to incorporate multi-dimensional rating and reviewing (e.g. “Service – 5 stars, Cleanliness – 3 stars,” etc.)

Yelp should implement a “Scarlet letter” system, like TripAdvisor.

Establish a “cool down” period for negative reviews, which would allow business owners to respond within a defined period of time before the negative review goes live.  

Put mechanisms in place to reduce the likelihood a user writes a negative review by displaying review guidelines before someone writes a review.

Create a feature that allows business owners to transmit redeemable gift certificates as a way to thank customers for their feedback.

Create a platform similar to Yelp’s Talk Threads, but only for business owners. This would allow businesses to network and help each other.

Create a large, conspicuous and separate tab for “Filtered reviews” so users can more easily navigate to reviews suppressed by the algorithm.

Yelp should display “Best review” and “Worst review” like Amazon.

Eliminate “People who view this also viewed…” for advertisers.

Invest in increased consumer awareness of Yelp’s brand.