Yelp Lets Users Fact-Check Local Business Covid Safety

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Despite the vaccine rollout and improving economic sentiment, a majority of consumers remain concerned about engaging with local businesses in many places across the US. Yelp is now allowing businesses to provide more information about health and safety practices to customers in hopes of fueling a quicker recovery.

Business owners will have the ability to provide more information about their Covid adaptations. Consumers will have the ability to give and see feedback on whether businesses are compliant with social distancing and mask regulations. Yelp said it hopes the updates will “instill confidence in consumers to continue supporting local businesses.”

Early in 2020, Yelp introduced a set of Covid tools to enable business owners to communicate health and safety measures to customers. Among other things, the company introduced a Covid-19 section on business profiles in June, which expanded upon an earlier Covid-19 banner rolled out in March.

This morning in a blog post, Yelp said that local businesses adding Covid-19 updates to their profiles “saw consumer interest increase 41%.” When the pandemic finally subsides, at some point this year, venue safety is likely to remain a consideration for the foreseeable future.

The updates

In June, Yelp began capturing feedback on whether businesses were fulfilling their health and safety promises. It’s now starting to expose that data on local business profiles. Based on customer feedback, compliant businesses will display a green check; non-compliant businesses will receive an orange question mark on their profiles. 

The company says that these indicators extend only to masks and social distancing today “because these are the health and safety precautions that can be most easily observed by customers.” It’s unclear how these indicators will impact business, though the earlier Yelp data suggest compliant businesses will see potentially greater engagement and revenue. 

Yelp explains that a number of criteria must be met before either the green check or orange question mark will appear. There must be enough responses to show a consensus. Only logged-in Yelp users can participate, and only responses received within the past 28 days will be considered. In franchise cases, each location will be treated separately based on feedback for that location. 

To prevent mischief or illegitimate feedback, Yelp is using “advanced technology to determine whether to count each user response we receive,” said Akhil Kuduvalli Ramesh, Head of Consumer Product. Yelp declined to elaborate, saying its methodology is proprietary. However, it probably involves mobile-location data and determining whether a user has visited the business in question within the 28-day window. 

In its blog post, Yelp clarified that the orange question mark “is only displayed on a couple hundred businesses out of the millions of businesses on Yelp – making it relatively uncommon as of today.” The company also said that it had removed more than 4,000 improper reviews that violated special Covid-19 review content guidelines through November 30, 2020.

There are two ways for users to provide Covid feedback: through in-app survey questions or through an “edit” button in the Covid-19 updates section of the business profile.

Yelp is sending push notifications to users when a business they’ve reviewed, shared, or bookmarked updates its Covid-19 information. 

Yelp has also expanded the attributes and other Covid-related information that registered business owners can communicate on their profiles. These include things like “staff checked for symptoms,” “disposable or contactless menu,” “covered outdoor seating,” “1:1 sessions,” and a number of other operating protocols and updates. 

During 2020, Google and Tripadvisor also rolled out COVID tools, attributes, and messaging capabilities for business owners. Yelp has gone farther, however, betting that users will be drawn to its more extensive information, including the new Covid-safety fact-checking feature.

Greg Sterling is VP of market insights at Uberall.