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6 Secrets of Yelp: How to Make Sense of Yelp Reviews

November 9, 2020

Public review sites like Yelp are great tools for finding more about companies in your area. We take for granted that the best companies will show up on the top of the page, and all reviews will help us understand the level of service we can expect, but there’s more to the story.

Read our tips & tricks for navigating and getting the most out of your Yelp searches.

Secret 1. Quantity and Quality Matter for the Star Rating

This might seem a little obvious to most viewers, but be careful to close attention to this when it comes to Yelp reviews.

One of the best ways to understand the average star rating is to click into the “Details” section of the rating once on the business profile:

Here you can find yearly and monthly trends for the reviews written, as well as a breakdown of reviews by their star rating. A company who has been in business for three years may have averaged 5 stars the first year, 3 stars the next, and average 1 star this year but still show a 3 star average. For companies that provide services, the more recent the review the better when it comes to gaging the quality of the service you’ll receive. 

For quality- bear in mind that quality reviews are ones that are related to the particular service that you want. Generalist companies/contractors, etc. will have more reviews because they often have a wider variety of services. Specialists may have fewer reviews. Make sure you’re looking at reviews for the actual service you want.  

Secret 2. Yelp Sort vs. ‘Newest First’: Not an Apples to Apples Comparison!

The default method that Yelp uses to sort the reviews can be misleading (or at least not tell the full story.) 

Yelp Sort can have reviews several months or even years old as the featured review. When it comes to service-based businesses especially, a review that is older will likely not give an accurate picture of how the company is operating now. Changes in personnel, management, etc. can all greatly impact the service you receive. 

To get the best sense of the current quality of the company’s service, sort by ‘newest first’ instead.



Secret 3. Check the ‘Verified License’ Badge

If you’re hiring for a service that requires licensure, it’s imperative that you confirm the person or company you hire is licensed. In many cases, hiring a handyman or person offering services who is unlicensed means that all liability falls on your shoulders should something go wrong. It also means that you likely have no legally binding warranty for your purchase. 

You can read more about the importance of hiring a licensed contractor here. 

Be sure to look for the blue check mark, and click on it to see the license number (which you can search and verify on your state license board website.


Secret 4. Determine if the Reviewer is a Customer or Not 

Anyone can leave a review on Yelp. That means people can post reviews about companies whose services they have yet to (and may never) receive. Take reviews that cite hearsay (ex: “I heard that this company does a horrible job on concrete!”) with a grain of salt. The most valuable resource is the word of people who have actually utilized the company. 

Similarly, be sure to read the reviews carefully and use your best judgement on reviews made for only part of the services offered. For example, a person who writes a review after only reviewing their quote can provide meaningful insight about the quoting process for a company- but not necessarily the other elements of the project. 

Secret 5. Sponsored vs. Organic Rank- Note the Difference

On Yelp, you’ll sometimes see companies who have paid to promote their business at the top of the page. Yelp will note these as ‘sponsored.’ Being at the top of the Yelp page because of a paid ad is different than being at the top due to organic ranks. To see those results, you can sort by ‘Recommended’, ‘Highest Rank’ or ‘Most Reviews.’


Secret 6. Check the Response Time

A common frustration with service-based companies is a lack of responsiveness or a delay in communication. Yelp actually provides the average response times that will take a business to get back to you. Another indicator of a company’s general attention to customers is whether or not their representatives take the time to respond to reviews (both positive or negative) or questions posed on their Yelp pages.


Searching through public review sites can be overwhelming- and it can be a lot of information to take in. We hope this has been helpful and that readers can put their knowledge of these 6 secrets to use the next time they’re looking for a company to hire.

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