We already know that restaurant operators hate negative online reviews posted anonymously on Yelp and don’t like taking calls from Yelp salespeople much, either. But results of an independent survey from respected pollster Nielsen (albeit sponsored by Yelp) show that restaurant operators will probably have to endure their love/hate relationship with Yelp because it has so many heavy users. Unless, that is, those operators sign on with an online reputation management site like the new TruReview.

The Nielsen study began by looking at where consumers in general go to find information about local businesses such as restaurants. Eighty-five percent of respondents find their information online.

Then Nielsen delved deeper into the information-seeking habits of Yelp users in particular, noting that Yelp attracts tens of millions of visitors each month, 11 million of them users of Yelp’s smartphone app. The results show that 51 percent of Yelpers make purchasing decisions after first visiting Yelp. As for mobile users, “while Yelp visitations don’t always result in action, users report that 93 percent of the time, Yelp usage results in occasionally, frequently or always making a purchase from a local business.”

What about reviews? Here’s what Nielsen found:

“Not only have Yelp users—who tend to be younger, female, affluent and educated—grown accustomed to searching online for local businesses, but they readily offer their own opinions about the service providers listed on the site as well. These user reviews have helped drive foot traffic into everything from dentists to day spas, and the study found that over 96 percent of Yelp users across devices like computers, tablets and smartphones visit the site specifically for the ratings and reviews.”

Given that Yelp averaged 102 million unique visitors per month in the first quarter of 2013 and given that 78 percent of Nielsen survey respondents said “restaurants” was the top category they searched on Yelp, that’s a lot of review-viewing. If someone posts a negative review of your restaurant on its Yelp front page, a ton of people are going to see it.  

What to do? There are plenty of online reputation management firms that specialize in making poisonous reviews and posts go away, or at least get buried way down in any search results. TruReview, tailored to fit the needs of small businesses such as restaurants, takes a different approach.

Here’s how TruReview frames the issue:

“There is a growing perception regarding the proliferation of fake positive reviews that tout the benefits of one business over others as well as fake negative reviews posted simply to bring a business down. Some online review sites set filtering parameters to exclude large percentages of reviews from their star-rating systems, changing in some instances a potential positive 5-star rating to a lukewarm 3- or 3.5-star rating. Small businesses in particular are hurt by all these practices as good service and positive word of mouth are their primary marketing tools.”

Indeed. To combat these problems, TruReview is designed to let businesses solicit reviews from actual customers only after a transaction has taken place. Non-customers are excluded. A restaurant operator can then post resulting customer reviews on the restaurant’s website, gaining some measure of control over the online review process.

We don’t know that TruReview would be the permanent answer for any restaurant’s online review problems. But some aspects of its service seem well-designed, and the company is offering a free 60-day trial (regular price: $50 per month) for those who would like to test it out. Let us know in our comments section below if it does or doesn’t work for you.