How Dealers Can Effectively Claim and Engage Yelp Reviews

Is Yelp the scourge of auto dealers?


With a high volume of customers visiting each day for sales and service, many auto dealers struggle with consistent customer experiences, and they often get punished for it on review sites like Yelp.

Yelp, scourge of auto dealers?

The overall concept behind Yelp is straightforward: Create a directory of businesses and offer a platform for customers to directly review those businesses.  Yelp has developed an algorithm that, among other things, attempts to sniff out fake reviews, as well as any it believes may not have been generated organically.

Yet in a move that could be called either brilliant or dastardly depending on your perspective, Yelp has relieved some of the pressure of making what seems like a black or white decision by enabling its algorithm to place questionable reviews in a gray zone.

Although reviews that blatantly violate its rules may never get published, those in the gray zone are published to the site, but not recommended by Yelp.

Only recommended reviews count toward a business’s overall star rating.  In some cases, a business might have a dozen positive reviews in the not-recommended category, but only one review that is recommended.

If that single recommended review happens to be a one-star rating, then the entire business rating is listed as one star.  I have seen this on several occasions, and it drives many business owners batty.

Claim and engage

Although most dealers have “claimed” their pages on Yelp, I still see spotty patterns of engagement among many dealerships.

Executives from review sites universally advocate for responding to both positive and negative reviews. Although responding to a negative review may not change the opinion of the reviewer, the response may positively impact the next consumer.

Engagement also represents the only true opportunity to “turn around” a negative review. The site enables reviewers to update their reviews, and some users post on Yelp because they want to get a response from the business.

While the truly unhappy customers may not be swayed to update a review, others who want better service might be convinced. Engage with clients on Yelp, and use it as a customer service tool.

Can software help?

You may ask, “Isn’t there software to help me get positive reviews on Yelp?” Yes and no.

Review management software exists, but Yelp sometimes trips it up. Here’s how it works:

First, the software will send a short email survey to your customers, asking them to rate their customer experience. For example, a dealer may ask customers to rate their car-buying experience on a scale of 1-10. The results of the short survey dictate what happens next.

If the customer gives a 9 or above, for example, then the software can be configured to immediately send a follow-up message, asking the customer to visit a review site of your choosing (Google, Yelp, etc.) and leave a review of your dealership.

For lower scores, the software will notify the dealer that a customer was not completely satisfied, giving the business an opportunity to reach out to that customer to find out if he or she needs additional attention.

Sounds great, right? It seems to be a systemized approach to secure positive reviews that helps intercept potential negative reviews.

Not so fast. Yelp’s algorithm has figured this tactic out.

Funneling happy customers to Yelp typically doesn’t work because the algorithm tends to push them into the non-recommended category. Also, some of the review management platforms popular with dealers have given up at trying to influence Yelp.

Be vigilant about terms and conditions

Although Yelp will not remove reviews that it believes are legitimate and factual, the site will take down reviews that violate its terms and conditions.

Any registered user on Yelp can flag a review and report that it violates the site’s rules. I have analyzed hundreds of negative reviews on Yelp, and flagged many that I believed violated the site’s rules.

First, if your argument is that you believe the review contains false information, or you disagree with the description of the transaction, you are out of luck. Yelp believes there are two sides to every story, and will not even entertain the idea of removing a review because the business owner says the complaint is false. (Yes, this truly sucks.)

Yelp will consider taking down a review if it was posted by a competitor, ex-employee, or someone affiliated with the business. It also will consider removing reviews that include threats, lewdness, or hate speech. It will also address reviews that violate the site’s privacy standards or contain promotional material.

One area where I have had a lot of success is dealing with reviews that don’t describe an actual customer experience.

For example, one reviewer wrote negatively about a dealership, but spent most of the review discussing how you can get a better deal by shopping around, and she mentioned a competing dealership in the review. I flagged the review because it didn’t appear that she actually shopped at the dealership, and Yelp removed it.


Many of the best practices on Yelp can be implemented by a dealership’s marketing or management team. Some marketing firms also specialize in removing or trying to manipulate Yelp reviews.

My recommendation is to always work with firms that guarantee their results and offer very specific deliverables.

John P. David is president of David PR Group and specializes in strategic communications for automotive dealers and other professionals. He frequently speaks about reputation management and is the author of How to Protect (Or Destroy) Your Reputation Online. He can be reached at (305) 255-0035, john@davidpr.com, or DavidPR.com.

John P. David

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