Yelp: Consumers Want Reviews, Not Just Ratings. OK, Google?

Consumers are very invested in business reviews, with 75% saying they read reviews more now than ever before, according to a survey of 1,500 people commissioned by Yelp. The survey also found that 97% of consumers believe written reviews, along with a numerical rating, are the most useful.

For Yelp, consumers’ stated preference for written reviews is good news to share, as the company forces reviewers to leave written text, whereas Big Tech rival Google, which has gained sway in the local reputation space in recent years, allows reviewers to leave a rating out of five stars without further commentary.

Business review companies, including Yelp and Google, have faced much criticism over the years for allegedly inconsistent policy enforcement and fake reviews. But in focusing on reviews with no text, Yelp highlights a particular issue Google’s no-text option fosters: If a consumer leaves a one-star review with no context, the business owner cannot respond to address that customer’s concern.

In a release, Yelp also highlighted its policy banning businesses from soliciting reviews, calling that policy a differentiating factor. The company’s survey found that 21% of consumers say they’d be more likely to leave a positive review if a company specifically asked them for one.

The big picture on local reviews and the Google-Yelp war

In May, local search thought leader Mike Blumenthal published an article called “How Google Came to Dominate Local Reviews.” The article notes that the very features Yelp is touting — its ban of review solicitation and its demand for text, not just a rating out of five stars — hampered its efforts to keep pace with Google’s reviews.

In this context, Yelp’s research represents an effort to build its brand as the quality local review service, even if it cannot match Google’s quantity (or its ability to reach customers via search and maps, channels that, as you may have heard, Google happens to own).

It makes sense that review readers, when asked in a survey, express a preference for written text, not just a rating. The question is whether, when searching for restaurants or bars on the go, they will take the time to check out longer-form reviews or content themselves with a star rating and a few short-form chunks of text.

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Joe Zappa is the Managing Editor of Street Fight. He has spearheaded the newsroom's editorial operations since 2018 and compiled the daily newsletter since 2016. Joe is a journalist who has written widely about technology, business, and politics. You can contact him at jzappa@streetfightmag.com.