Whether you’re in the solar business or any consumer-facing business, you can’t ignore Yelp today or in the foreseeable future. First of all, it won’t ever go away, and it’s only getting stronger. In fact, it’s even more important now in the age of “Siri,” Apple’s voice-activated concierge for the iPhone. If someone asks Siri, “Who are the best solar installers in Shrewsbury, NJ,” Siri doesn’t guess. She has a direct data line into Yelp to obtain that information, so it’s important for your company to be high on that results list.

The second reason Yelp is so important is that it has huge SEO search mojo. If someone searches Google for solar installers in your city, Yelp’s listings will almost always be one of the top results.

The third reason is that if a solar prospect gets a quote from you, chances are they’re going to look you up on Yelp and compare your reviews to other installation companies. If you have no reviews, you might think that’s a good thing, but instead of a neutral result, your prospect may check out your competition and click on the “Highest Rated” filter. Suddenly, the prospect is looking to get one more solar quote instead of feeling secure that you’re a good installer.

What to Do About Yelp’s Notorious Review Filters

The problem—or good thing about Yelp, depending on your perspective—is that Yelp has software that that filters out fake reviews, whether positive or negative. It also doesn’t like one-time reviewers. So, that makes it difficult to get disparaged by your competition, but it also makes it difficult to be praised by just your friends and any paid review writers.

That being said, the system isn’t perfect, and genuine reviews from real customers can often be caught by the filter and set aside into a hard-to-find area. In fact, it may appear that the only thing the filter is leaving are the bad reviews. What the filter’s algorithm is looking for is the reviewer’s “authority,” regardless of whether the review is positive or negative. Basically, it means the reviewer must be a “Yelper,” a frequent reviewer, not a one-time reviewer.

So, why do bad reviews seem to get more staying power and evade the filter? Because critical people often have a lot of Yelp “authority;” you’re not the first business they’ve reviewed, and you won’t be the last. That’s why it’s important to keep them as satisfied customers. Their praise will go a long way inside Yelp, and outside.

With the above in mind, here are five Solar Fred tactics for residential solar installers to survive on Yelp:

1) Have amazing customer service. The number one tactic for getting great Yelp reviews is quite simple: Have the best solar customer service in the solar business. That’s even more important than being a great and experienced installer. Why? Because all businesses make mistakes, but consumers can be very forgiving about mistakes if the installer addresses the problem quickly and courteously. Your mistakes may be public information on Yelp, but readers will follow the comment thread and be happy to see how you addressed those issues. More importantly, they’ll be impressed by how the reviewer is publicly pleased by your making it right.

2) Claim your Yelp page. Business owners need to go through a verification process to be able to respond to reviews and enhance pages with photos and other information. Many installers ignore this and hope to stay under the radar, but if you do nothing, that’s not going to stop people from posting bad or good reviews. This happens regardless of whether or not you claim your listing. So, stop putting your head in the sand. Claim your Yelp page here.

Once claimed, fill out your profile, especially if you don’t have any reviews or mostly positive reviews. Add photos, descriptions, etc. Google just loves it when a Yelp page is fully filled out with photos and key SEO words, like your city and “solar.” Having a web link from Yelp back to your site also helps your own search engine optimization.

3) Be responsive. If your solar business is verified, you’re going to start getting notifications when anyone rates you or writes a review. VERY quickly respond to good or bad reviews on Yelp. Thank people for the good reviews, and respond courteously, patiently, and with a “how can I fix this issue for you” attitude for the negative ones. Make it right, even if it means extra costs or your belief that they’re wrong or being unfair. When the customer is satisfied, ask people to submit an update.

Most people don’t want to kill your business, as much as they want to be heard and to have their problems resolved. If you can solve those problems with courtesy and efficiency, you will be surprised how many recommendations come out of that fix, turning lemons into lemonade.

In extreme cases, nothing can be done, but extremists are usually seen as anomalies when Yelp has many other good reviews. However, if the same complaint happens on your page over and over again, it ain’t an anomaly. Fix it.

4) Should you ask customers to submit an honest Yelp review? Debatable. You might think that glowing 5 star reviews wouldn’t be targeted by Yelp for removal, but once again, it’s all about the reviewer’s “authority” and Yelp’s algorithm for culling (perhaps) false reviews. Yelp advises businesses not to ask for reviews or to pay anyone to submit reviews. Glowing paid (false) reviews or company-generated reviews are often general and flagged by the software. Instead, Yelp suggests posting the Yelp icon on your website with a link to your listing. This will attract more genuine Yelpers to review your installation service, as well as encourage new Yelp users.

The above being said… I don’t think it’s ever a bad thing to ask a happy customer to submit a review. The reviews aren’t ever deleted, but just buried under “See all reviews.” Even if a good review is put into the “filtered” bin by the algorithm, you can always feature it as a testimonial on your website. One way to give genuine new Yelp customers more authority is for some other local person with Yelper authority to “like” the customer’s review, and to “follow” their reviews. But there are many flags for doing this. For example, having the same Yelper do this twice for your business could raise a flag. Or if the Yelper is from New York, and your solar business is in California, Yelp might filter those reviews too. A new customer reviewer has a better chance of not being filtered if the customer completely fills out their profile with a photo and all info… and then becomes an active reviewer for other services too. Don’t forget that the filter tends to sideline negative reviews written by new Yelp users, too, so, theoretically, the filter works both ways.

5) Advertise on Yelp if you have good reviews, but don’t think this will help you if you have bad reviews. Yelp is very strict about its filtering policies. Thinking you can help influence the culling software by advertising with one of Yelp’s ad programs is futile. All you’ll do is call more attention to your bad reviews, not increase the chances of good reviews sticking to your listing. Yelp plays no favorites, even from paying ad customers.

What advertising does do is put your name towards the top of Yelp search listings. Offering a Yelp “deal” may also help drive traffic to your website and give you more exposure, but I’ve anecdotally heard poor results for this tactic. Who knows why, but my guess is that people love a deal for restaurants and yoga classes, but for large purchases like solar, people are far less likely to push that “buy-now” button without more due diligence.

There’s a lot of internet chatter about Yelp extorting businesses to advertise on Yelp, or else their good reviews will be filtered and only bad reviews will be left. To my knowledge, no lawsuit has found that to be true. However, I often hear about aggressive Yelp sales people who imply that all will be well if you advertise. They’re just pressuring you. They have no power to boost good reviews or filter bad reviews..unless they’re a local Yelper with authority. Only real Yelpers with a lot of reviews and check-ins have that power. Can you game the system by becoming a Yelper or hiring a firm of Yelpers? I wouldn’t. It won’t last. Eventually, the algorithm will catch it, and I wouldn’t be surprised if your business were penalized somehow for violating terms of service. Google does this all of the time, pushing down “black hat” SEO companies that try to game the rankings.

Remember: None of the above advice is going to hide any consistently bad issues with your solar business. If you’re a poor installer, have poor customer service, or have sketchy marketing tactics or pushy sales people, nothing is going to help your rating until you eliminate those negative issues. And even when you do, you’ll have to be patient while your new best practices reach more veteran Yelpers.

Effective Yelp management can not only build and save solar leads, but it’s also a way… to UnThink Solar.