As a general rule, Yelp has advised business owners not to offer incentives for reviews. For starters, paying people to write reviews about your business is another form of shilling and that's just wrong. Second, very often you'll offend a customer and the offer will be quickly outed in your reviews, resulting in unintended negative reviews and/or negative publicity. Finally, it's typically a fruitless exercise.
Why? In an effort to minimize spam and maximize trustworthiness of the site's content, Yelp actively weeds out suspicious reviews through a combination of community self-policing and automated filtering; aggressively solicited reviews can ring hollow at times and end up flagged by users or the website for removal. The system is designed to ensure the reviews consumers rely on are as authentic and useful as possible.
If you own a business, you might be wondering "Okay, how am I supposed to get reviews?" Lisa Barone of Outspoken Media just ran a great piece on how businesses should get involved on Yelp here and Robert Scoble of building43 interviewed a business owner about his experiences with Yelp in the video below. In the meantime, here are a few suggestions to help you get started:
1) Unlock your free business page via http://www.yelp.com/business. Why? Not only can you upload photos and edit listing information, but you can add information about who you are, your history, as well as track overall traffic to your page. This also ensures that Yelp will include your business page in search results we provide consumers.
2) Post Sales and Special Offers. Yelp gives business owners a free way to promote themselves via the site and our wildly popular iPhone application. With more than 14,000 offers on Yelp worldwide, this is a great resource to help consumers discover and try new businesses on the go while simultaneously saving money. Business owners, this is also a great mobile means for you to attract Yelpers in the door without outright asking for a review.
3) Respond to reviews. Feeling irked by that stray negative review? It eventually happens to everyone, and you shouldn't take it personally. Unlocking your free tools allows you to respond privately and publicly to your reviews. We recommend being diplomatic in your response. There's some great tips from other business owners at yelp.com/business
4) Focus on great customer service. If you build it, they will come. By investing a few minutes in your listing and using biz.yelp.com as a reputation-management tool and word-of-mouth barometer, you will attract new customers through Yelp. Those who discover you through Yelp, in turn, are much more likely to share their experience with your business via a review on Yelp.
So, while we definitely encourage business owners to engage with their customers and, of course, get creative, what has made Yelp stand apart is that we cultivate real experiences -- and the best ones aren't solicited.