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How Online Customer Reviews Are Making Or Breaking You

What matters most to your car shoppers? Is it price? Depth of inventory? Maybe – but the Internet has nearly commoditized the auto business. Savvy customers will be able to find the car they want at the lowest price within a few seconds of searching. So where is the competitive edge that draws a buyer to one dealership but not another?


To find the answer, let’s try and think of how a shopper might search for a place to buy their next vehicle. Consumer psychology and common sense tells us that we are more likely to trust the reviews of other customers over a dealership’s Google ads, search result ranking, or any other marketing metric that we tend to emphasize. If I were looking for a great price on a Camry in Dallas, I might search “best toyota dealership texas.” And any search query containing “best” or similar comparative adjectives in it is almost invariably going to display a user rating site like Yelp or DealerRater.


Our evaluation of others’ experiences makes intuitive sense with any high-value purchase or costly service. For example, I recently needed to choose a new dentist. I initially considered using the one closest to my home, for convenience’s sake. However, a high volume of negative consumer reviews changed my mind, and I drove a little farther for a dentist that was highly recommended.


When faced with a choice between two roofing companies to repair a faulty chimney, I didn’t select the one with the most experience, or the one that appeared first in Google results, or even the one with the lowest price. I chose the one that other people with the same problem recommended. I cared about results, about what I knew would get the job done.


And why not trust user reviews? Unlike corporate marketing messages, these previous buyers have nothing to gain by leaving their opinion. They are unbiased, impartial, and – as far as I know – honest. Your shoppers are making the same judgments about your dealership. The simple sentence (and actual review), “AVOID dealership x AT ALL COSTS, THEY ARE LIARS” will do more to your online marketing than any email campaign or advertising effort.


How can you avoid this pitfall? The trick is to get your happy and satisfied customers talking. And Google and Yelp are making it harder for people to leave anonymous reviews. They’ll need accounts with those sites, and their submissions are valuated based on the amount and quality of reviews they’ve left before. But a positive review from a trusted Yelp user is a jackpot for your dealership.


Ask your customers to leave their feedback online. Perhaps you have a computer terminal in your store that customers can leave their opinions on. Consider hosting a service promotion for your buyers that leave reviews. This kind of crowd-marketing is becoming the predominant force behind major purchases – so building up your reviewer rating now will pay big dividends in the long run.


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Tags: DealerRater, customer, dealer reputation, dealer reviews, online, reputation management, reviews


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Comment by Stephen Jackson on December 13, 2012 at 8:52am

Speak of the devil. I wonder if Google has been enjoying the discussion on this thread as much as I have. Good catch, Ryan.

Comment by Ryan Leslie on December 13, 2012 at 7:40am

Breaking News from Blumenthal: A definitive response to review stations!

Google has just updated the review content guidelines to explicitly prohibit review stations AND employee reviews.

The changes to the policy are noted in italics:

For instance, as a business owner or employee you should not review your own business or current place of work. Don’t offer money or product to others to write reviews for your business or write negative reviews about a competitor. We also discourage specialized review stations or kiosks set up at your place of business for the sole purpose of soliciting reviews.

Comment by Ralph Paglia on December 12, 2012 at 9:01pm

OK, so I am going to share a video I found online that was recorded by one of my clients... However, I had nothing to do with this video being made. Regardless of anything else, Rick Case Honda is indisputably one of the ten most successful Honda dealers in North America. The entire management team at Rick Case Honda has told me that they not only believe they have the process in place to properly MANAGE (not manipulate) the dealership's reputation, but that they also have more customers coming in and saying that the reviews were a large factor in deciding to visit Rick Case Honda.  Here is the video:

Comment by Ralph Paglia on December 12, 2012 at 8:54pm

Why does Yelp have a review filter?

Yelp realized early on that some reviews were going to be better -- and more reliable -- than others. The Yelp review filter establishes an objective standard against which every review can be measured. Even though it inevitably affects legitimate reviews from time to time and misses some fake ones, too, it helps protect the integrity of the site both for consumers (who will be less likely to be led astray by bogus reviews) and business owners (who will spend less time worrying about whether their competitors are writing negative reviews about them). Yelp would rather people think of the reviews posted on Yelp as a source for reliable information from passionate and opinionated consumers than a platform for every single rant and rave. If you like pictures more than words, Yelp invites you to watch this great video explanation (also embedded in one of my comments below).

It's important to note that car dealers cannot pay for favorable treatment from the Yelp review filter. You'll find plenty of Yelp advertisers with negative reviews, and any number of non-advertisers with five-star ratings across the board. The filter doesn't punish non-advertisers, either. Feel free to check out the many highly rated businesses on Yelp that choose not to advertise on Yelp.

Comment by Ralph Paglia on December 12, 2012 at 4:28pm

Regarding comments by Ryan Leslie and Aj Maida - What i really love about AJ is that he and I understand how each other thinks, and processes data to assess events, their causes and the net effects. So, thank you AJ for explaining what I meant by "Major Malfunction" in response to Ryan's comment. Yes, I meant the major malfunction was on the part of Findlay Chevrolet, which is an excellent dealership, but more on that later...

Ryan, when you wrote;

"Last thought: Yelp is for Yelpers! The concentration needs to be on finding Yelpers, not manufacturing them."

I thought to myself "Truer words about managing a dealer's reputation on Yelp have not been written"... This statement also indicated to me that Ryan was taking a page right out of my Dealership Reputation Management Training manual! Obviously, I know Ryan did no such thing, but it goes to show that anyone who knows Yelp, knows this to be true...


I have immersed myself into the Yelp user community, friend me at I have been to Yelp's offices enough to have held the Foursquare "Mayor" title of Yelp's large operations center in Scottsdale, AZ. When I ran the ADP Social Media Reputation Management Operations Center at ASU's SkySong campus, the Yelp team was within walking distance, so we had many joint work sessions, meetings and collaborations together... I understand yelp, am comfortable with Yelp and use it every day from multiple devices.  


I have personally written well over a hundred detailed Yelp reviews on a variety of businesses I have purchased products and services from, and have over 400 hard core Yelpers in my Yelp Friend network... I like Yelp! I use Yelp to help my dealer clients do more and better business. Part of this is to advocate for the Yelp "Enhanced Profile" upgrade as a minimum investment for each car dealer... This advocacy for investing in Yelp on my part includes building in the cost of a Yelp Enhanced Profile for each dealer client who signed up for my social media reputation management packages at ADP, as well as for every Tier10 Marketing client, whether they wanted it or not! This is in much the same manner as I have advocated and built into the relevant managed services products for DealerRater Certification since 2008.


As much as I know in my heart that Findlay Chevrolet was attempting to do the "right thing" by asking customers to join Yelp and post reviews about their experience at the dealership, the team at Findlay wasted far too many resources into a flawed approach based on a lack of knowledge and understanding of how the Yelp Community operates, the filtering algorithm and the awareness that certain actions they implemented set them up for failure.  You can check out Findlay's Yelp "Enhanced Profile" at


That is why reading and paying attention to online professional networks like the ADM Professional Community can mean many additional thousands of dollars flowing into a dealership's net income row on their financial statements (shameless plug!).



Comment by Aj Maida on December 12, 2012 at 12:31pm

Ryan, I believe that Ralph meant it was a major malfunction by his client in that, as you point out it was obvious that they would get filtered. In the new world of reputation management it takes more managing. I would hope we are all collecting emails. Well while the customer is in the box with F&I go to your personal Yelp page (you are a Yelper right?) and enter the email in member search. You will find out that Yago P. from Wash. is a tremendous Yelper with over 40 reviews. You will see that Cathy N. from FT. Smith is a good candidate with a complete profile and many reviews. Do they have a Gmail ext on the email. Then ask them to give you Feedback on your G+ page (note: ask and call it feedback not reviews). It takes a little work and buy in from the staf but it's called Reputation Management people, manage it.

Comment by Cathy Nesbit on December 12, 2012 at 7:13am


Last thought: Yelp is for Yelpers! The concentration needs to be on finding Yelpers, not manufacturing them.

So True!

Comment by Dave Erickson on December 12, 2012 at 7:07am

Excellent point Ryan! 

"Last thought: Yelp is for Yelpers! The concentration needs to be on finding Yelpers, not manufacturing them."

Comment by Ryan Leslie on December 12, 2012 at 5:54am

This is a great thread...

Ralph, can you explain what you mean by this:

all 4 were posted on the same day from the same IP address, with new Yelp user profiles. (major malfunction!)

If you read through Yelp's TOS it is pretty easy to see why this was removed for TOS violation:

You may not impersonate someone else (e.g., adopt the identity of a celebrity or your next-door neighbor), create or use an account for anyone other than yourself, provide an email address other than your own, or create multiple accounts...

Yelp sees 4 new accounts from the same IP in a single day and assumes their TOS has been violated. I'm NOT saying that the dealer was intentionally violating TOS, rather that reading the TOS of a target site to verify that your collection strategy isn't going to cause a red flag is a necessity.

Last thought: Yelp is for Yelpers! The concentration needs to be on finding Yelpers, not manufacturing them.

Comment by Ralph Paglia on December 12, 2012 at 3:23am

With all that said, I was looking at a client's Yelp Reviews earlier and besides the almost depressing ratio of 58 customer reviews "Filtered" to 9 customer reviews showing on their profile, they also somehow got hit with 4 reviews removed for violating terms of service... BTW, check out the way they post a thanks to each customer whose review ended up getting filtered anyways... so much for THAT theory!  However, you should note that all the filtered reviews, as well as the banned reviews were posted by users without any Yelp profile photo... Coincidence? I think not... It is just one of a hundred factors that contribute to the Yelp filtering system sniffing out BS reviews.

Each of the 4 TOS violating reviews that were removed was a legitimate review as posted at the actual hands of each customer... However, all 4 were posted on the same day from the same IP address, with new Yelp user profiles. (major malfunction!) check it out:

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