First off, let me tell you that I love Yelp. It’s a great tool for everyone and it simplifies a lot of complex variables into a consumer-friendly star-rating. We are using Yelp for Soothing Dental and have a huge amount of positive reviews. However, there are some challenges in using Yelp for dentistry. Read about our experience.

Yelp is great

I use Yelp everyday to the extent that my friends are telling me that I am not adventurous enough to not check the Yelp rating of a place before walking into a business (restaurant, etc) for the first time. There is some truth to that. I remember when Yelp started, many restaurant owners hated it. They saw it bad for business because the reviews on Yelp didn’t paint the whole picture and, in some cases, were unfair. At the same time, many restaurant owners saw it as an opportunity. They used Yelp to get the word out and compete with bigger places with low ratings. Small businesses with good ratings on Yelp have done great since. There are still restaurant owners that are not happy with Yelp, but that is changing in many cities (specially bigger cities). A restaurant in San Francisco, will almost certainly do poorly if it has low ratings.

When it comes to using Yelp for dentistry, the situation is worse. Dentists, in particular, and dental staff in general are rarely Yelp-friendly. They think it’s bad for business. There are rumors, mostly baseless, that Yelp favors advertisers. The list goes on. The complaints are similar to those in the restaurant business from 10 years ago or so when Yelp just started.

We are big on Yelp. Soothing Dental patients love us on Yelp. Our service is great and we go that extra mile to make our patients happy. Our patients, in return, go on social media (and Yelp) and talk about their experience in our office. The reviews make everyone in our office super excited and is good for business. What more can we ask for?

A semi-expert opinion about issues with using Yelp for dentistry

Having said all of the above, there are issues with Yelp! The platform has bugs and/or problematic ‘features’ that make it difficult to work with it. Some issues are bad enough that people who are not familiar with how software and algorithms work may correspond it to favoring advertisers, etc. Here are a list of issues that we’ve been experiencing. I am writing them down so that, hopefully, somebody from the Yelp team takes a look at it and decides to do something about it:

bug in yelp raking algorithmYelp’s raking algorithm is weird at best

It’s probably a bug but here is what happens with Yelping our San Francisco office. If you search San Francisco for dentists (and even select the category to be dentists) and sort the results based on the number of reviews, you’d expect that practices that are showing up are sorted based on the most number of reviews. But that’s not the case. This seems like a bug and should be fixed by Yelp. I can understand if the “secret sauce ranking algorithm” was choosing the criteria based on some internal factors and/or magical parameters but if I’m sorting based on the number of reviews, we should see just that.

Poor bundling of different services

For example, you can either have a video on your page OR you can control your ads online. If you want to have a video and you want to have Yelp ads, the only way is to have their support team manage it for you. They don’t really do much management but they make it difficult to turn off/on the ads on-demand. You have to make a phone call and do some paperwork just to enable/disable ads. However, if you don’t want a video, you can do all of that online! It baffles me how these two are related.

Insufficient tracking

Yelp doesn’t allow you to distinguish between the traffic that you get from Yelp organically and the traffic that you get from Yelp ads. That prevents a business from tracking their ROI on ads. A growing business lives on its data. Don’t take it away Yelp!

Low quality support

If, for whatever reason, you need to call Yelp, you’ll have to set aside an hour for the simplest task. You have to repeat the same thing multiple times to different people while they try to be the bridge between you and the higher tier but finally give up and transfer the call. It’d be good if you could pay more and get direct access to their senior tier.

I love Yelp and I hope somebody from Yelp finds this article and fixes these issues. Surely many business owners will appreciate it; I know we will!

Update:

Sep/27: Yelp reached out to us and got a description of the issues that we are having. Hoping to get in direct contact with their engineering team to resolve these issues. I’ll update this post after any new development.

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