Businesses that rely on Yelp may find their SEO campaigns affected by factors outside of their control - courts rule they can charge for ratings.

Modern SEO is all about establishing brand identities and raising sentiment around a company, but this means developing an image across the web and especially on review sites. Businesses using Yelp to improve their public image might run into problems soon. According to the New York Times, the Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit recently ruled Yelp can change business’ ratings on the site. In fact, they can even go so far as to request ad spend from brands that want to raise their ratings, or shuffle around reviews to make them look better or worse.

The Court’s ruling was clear: Companies do not have a right to positive reviews, and Yelp can manage the flow of user sentiment however it sees fit. This is an important reminder to businesses they can’t expect one five-star rating, whether it’s on Yelp, Google Places or a niche industry site, to make search engines take notice and display them prominently.

Want to learn more about how sentiment affects brands on the semantic web?
Check out Brafton’s eBook – Speaking Google’s Language: Optimizing Content for the Semantic Web
Watch this in-depth video – Connected Content: How to optimize for semantic search

There are no shortcuts on the semantic web

Brands can’t rely on Yelp to shape their reputations, but can they discourage bad comments from dissatisfied customers? In California, not anymore. The LA Times reports a new law has made non-disparagement clauses illegal in the state, meaning companies can’t forbid negative feedback or criticisms in their contracts or terms of service.

These developments just go to show brands can’t intentionally influence the conversations about themselves – so what can they do?

The whole idea behind the semantic SEO is to establish positive user sentiment across the entire web. That means good service and a positive reputation needs to come through organically in online content, social media and other web channels. Brands can’t put their hands on the scale, but they can encourage people to take part in positive brand conversations with relevant and interesting content, a robust social campaign and constructive user feedback – not one one site, or under duress, but on platforms across the internet.

Alex Butzbach is a Marketing Writer at Brafton. He studied Communications at Boston College, and after a brief stint teaching English in Japan, he entered the world of content marketing. When he isn't writing and researching, he can be found on a bike somewhere in Metro Boston.