Why Reviews are Hard – A look at the numbers

Reviews are hard. Particularly at Yelp.

Most Americans have no desire to leave a review. When you combine that fact with fragmented market share and review site policies it becomes even more difficult.

Here are some numbers to put the difficulties with Yelp in perspective. Let’s start with emailing 100 of your customers to calculate how many folks are left to possibly leave reviews in the end:


# of People left that might have a review published at Yelp



Typical Email Open Rate



% of US American Adults Unlikely to leave a review1



% of those that like you enough to leave a review2



% of Adults that prefer Yelp3



% that Yelp will nuke4



1 Based on my research 58.2% of all Americans have never left a review and another 19.6% almost never leave reviews. Only 6.6% of American adults report leaving 5 or more reviews a year. Convincing them to leave a review is unlikely.

2 Having looked at over a quarter of a million emails at GetFiveStars.com*, 88% of all consumer feedback rated businesses a 9 or 10 on the Net Promoter Score scale of 0-10 and are considered promoters of those businesses.

3 Yelp is in a virtual tie for second place as a preferred spot to leave reviews. The research indicates 17.5% of consumers prefer Yelp although there is a margin of error of 3% so it could be as low as 14.% or has high as 20%. But remember that is an average and in many places it is less.

4 By Yelp’s own admission the number removed is 25%. In cases I have looked at it is actually much higher. And if you are in a market where Yelp is less popular it is more likely higher.

Remember that this .975 is the person NOT the review, you still need them to want to write a review and take the time to write one.

* I am a partner in GetFiveStars.com

Please consider leaving a comment as your input will help me (& everyone else) better understand and learn about local.
Why Reviews are Hard - A look at the numbers by

23 thoughts on “Why Reviews are Hard – A look at the numbers”

  1. Wow, damning figures! Gaining great reviews is definitely a numbers game, but I’ve found GetFiveStars very effective in boosting at least the quality of the reviews that are coming through for local business clients. Thanks for sharing the stats!

  2. It needs to be said… however we must keep seeking effective methods to find those who will provide reviews – Mike, you’re becoming an expert on reviews now too – this is good for all of us – thanks 🙂

  3. Thanks, Mike. I am fascinated by your research. I enjoyed your presentation at Moz LocalUp and am planning to use GetFiveStars for my local search clients.

    In your research, it looks like you’ve found a lot of information about WHERE people leave reviews, how many people leave reviews, etc.

    Do you have any data (or ideas) as to WHY people leave reviews? What motivates them? Perhaps by understanding what motivates reviewers better, we can help our clients more effectively collect reviews.

    1. Hi Jack

      Obviously motivation is hard to track. I have observed several things that anecdotally seem to correlate with more reviews which might give some insights into motivations.

      -Great service – you saw the case study I did of two almost identical businesses that sold insurance. (Boooring) One seemed to have great service marks and the other was mediocre. The one with great service was doing considerably better getting reviews.
      -B to B – it appears that those doing b to b rather than b to c might have an easier job of it. I need more data on this to be sure
      -The Bauble Theory – some products or services are sexier than others and more likely to be bragged about. IE a consumer would rather leave a review about jewelry as opposed to insurance. “I just got this GREAT Homeowner’s policy!”. 🙂

      Of those the only one directly under control of every business is their service level.

  4. I think we need to start a Review YELP , Review Face Book, Google+ and Review Amazon Site.. These companies make us strive to meet there demographics and metrics yet they are not accountable to anyone.. I will start a Site to review the UNREVIEWABLE.. Any suggestions? 🙂

  5. Gerald
    Yelp, amongst others, has an intrinsic conflict of interest in having customers review businesses and then turning around and asking the business for advertising revenue.

    And they are very one sided in their approach. I think most small businesses do not like them.

    That being said, I do think consumers like them and there in lies the quandary for most small businesses.

  6. Scott

    I don’t really know the break down of yelp elite vs non elite.

    In a previous survey about reviews in general I asked 2671 respondents the following with a choice of 5 possible answers:

    After purchasing from a local business, I will take the time to leave an online review for that business (% response in parenthesis):

    -Never (58.2%)
    -Almost never – less than 1 review per year (19.6%)
    -Occasionally – 1 to 5 reviews per year (15.7%)
    -Somewhat frequently – 6 to 11 reviews per year (4.2%)
    -Very frequently – 12 reviews or more a year (2.4%)

    I would imagine that Yelp numbers breakdown in a similar fashion.

    2.4% being elites. 4.2% being folks that can leave a review easily. A few of the next block up probably can as well.

  7. When it comes to figure high in the Google maps listing, some good reviews at yelp count a lot. But extracting these reviews from your clients could be a tough nut to crack, they must be overwhelmed by your services to do that. Trying to push a fake review is, more than often, caught by the yelp and rejected.

  8. @ Gerald, @Mike:

    I would present a somewhat different perspective.
    Allow me to qualify first: I’m quite sure that at least one of our smb’s has taken a “deliberate hit” from yelp in a context similar to that of the complaints of so many smb’s about yelp.

    Yet, I view them little differently than google. They are both web entities that have protections via the courts, that I frankly believe need to be revisited and adjusted.

    Web entities such as google and yelp have too much power over smb’s. Who granted them these powers….and how do they get away with it?

    As to the intrinsic conflict: Well clearly “early on many businesses reported they strong armed smb’s into advertising vis a vis the reviews. I haven’t seen those reports or complaints for some time.

    Yelp is a popular website with a lot of traffic and it has to be 99.9% locally focused. That means if its trying to advertise its a lot like news sites, local yp’s (who also carry reviews) and any other site.

    All of them have relatively miniscule traffic relative to a search engine. So on yelp’s network, or a local news stations website, or a yp alternative or any of them total traffic will be dramatically smaller than that of an SE, google, bing, or yahoo.

    Also traffic is less in general than potential visits from FB…an entirely different entity.

    Here is where there is value in the yelp traffic though.

    Visitors to the site are closer to buying. Far more potential buyers than just lookers or researchers.

    There is huge value in that. From the perspective of a business I am infinitely more interested in getting potential buyers to review my site than lookers or researchers.

    I don’t know about web traffic. I don’t know which are lookers or researchers or which are buyers. I do know this. I’m likelier to make a sale if I’m in front of the people who are considering buying.

    That is intrinsically valuable.

  9. @Mike,

    I agree about the # of Elites – I actually used the 1% rule that only 1% of participants on a message site will contribute, so you’re research shows that it’s more than double that amount. The key is how many reviews the Elites are doing – it seems like you need to have 1000+ reviews to be considered an Elite member.

    So, if 2.4% of Yelp users are Elite and they get 138M unique users/mo, then it’s ~3M users. If these folks are leaving 12 reviews each year, that is 36M reviews. Yelp has 61M+ reviews on their site total, so this would indicate that Yelp Elites make up over half of the overall reviews on the site.

    Is my math holding up? My only point here is that while Yelp is a juggernaut in terms of usage and SEO, in terms of overall value of the crowd, it’s actually pretty light. Most people don’t give reviews – on Yelp, or anyplace else!

  10. I think you are on the right track with one exception:

    So, if 2.4% of Yelp users are Elite and they get 138M unique users/mo, then it’s ~3M users.

    Uniques have a tendency to over count actual individuals because a given individual might for example access a given site from multiple computers or those that remove cookies.

    Estimates I have read note that uniques overmeasure individuals by a factor of 2 or more.

  11. Nice numbers Mike, and very cool of GetFiveStars to share some things you folks are learning! I bet your data is really interesting this far into the evolution of the company.

    If I were a local business owner, I’d see these numbers as a personal challenge to be the exception – the exceptional exception that motivates my customers to LOVE my business so much, they want to write about it. As you’ve said, though, easier to do if I run a jewelry shop vs. an insurance firm. Enjoyed this.

  12. @Miriam – *loving* my business is great, and I agree that’s a great thing to strive for. I also think small businesses should think about reasons why their audience would want to engage with them period – simply getting the conversation started online is a huge plus. I’m not suggesting business owners should seek only negative or constructive feedback, but extreme emotions are the ones that tend to get people involved. So, maybe I would say instead that it’s critical to get the PASSIONATE customers engaged – they will tend to drive additional engagement from others.

  13. @Mike – if a large % of your customers are passionately pissed off, I agree that’s likely a problem. But we know that some of your most loyal customers are people that you addressed a problem or issue of theirs. And more studies are coming out that having only 5 star (or perfect) reviews is not viewed as authentic. We suggest to business owners that they try to treat online the same as offline – if somebody walked into your store with a complaint, you would handle it in a professional and courteous manner, and hopefully address the situation. Anybody in the store at that time would see how you value your customers. Why not do that same thing online? If somebody complains online, go ahead and address it so the whole world can see how you treat your customers – and that “human” touch will likely resonate with most people.

    There’s always issues of trolls and people who can never be satisfied – but I always wonder why business owners (especially successful ones) worry so much about that when the likely outcome is they have LOTS of happy customers saying great things, and a small handful who give feedback (or are pissed off) which may be good information for the business owner to know in any case.

  14. @Scott
    Reviews are hard for most SMBs and are laden with all sorts of emotions for them.

    I agree that they should embrace the bad with the good but that i often easier said than done.

    I encourage folks to have a formal negative response plan that includes a process to engage the negative reviews positively. That might include a copywriter to get the tone and a person different than the owner to avoid the drama.

  15. Very good stats Mike! Even the comments in this discussion all have valid points. Every SMB is different, just like every person leaving reviews is different. The truth is you can’t please anyone. But you can strive on having consistency. I agree with the two way street with reviews. Whether its good or bad, you always should respond. Having a formal response plan is a good idea. That falls in being consistency. Yelp is a powerhouse and I only see them growing. So I always try to avoid and clashes with them. That’s why firms like Yext continue to swoop up new clients, by offering their API access. I have much more to chime in on this, but this is my two cents on this particular discussion.

    1. @Yutana

      Yelp is interesting. They are important in some markets and some industries. But in others they have absolutely no influence what so ever. So I say that an SMB needs to be aware of them but not focus on them unless it generates business.

      I agree that businesses should respond to every review but I think many times the response should be private.

  16. @Mike – agreed. We offer to help our customers formulate a response to negative feedback, and really good Marketing companies do a great job of this. We’ve also noticed that when customers use their own platform for feedback, the “noise” is much less and the conversations more personal. This is where Yelp fails miserably. Even Google+ (because nobody really uses it) is more intimate. That’s the idea, find a platform where you know you’re dealing primarily with your own customers and the trolls don’t hang out.

  17. I agree Mike. We see it all the time with Small Business SEO on Google Plus and Yelp. We’ve printed post cards with their names and instructions on them which has helped raise the numbers a little . Including a free drink, slice of pizza etc can help a little as well. Thanks for the post!

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