Yelp Has PR Problem Re: Reviews and Practices

Five-year-old Yelp has been something of a phenomenon, and is a preferred ratings and review directory for millions of people online and mobile in 24 cities. In December, ComScore pegged its traffic at seven million visitors, up from 2.8 million a year before. It also has gathered a library of five million reviews, which are widely syndicated across many sites.

But success sometimes breeds discontent, and there has been a steady stream of complaints about the service, and its alleged habit of deleting or boosting reviews of businesses based on whether they buy advertising with the service. This is something that Yelp absolutely denies.

What makes it difficult to tell is that the reviews aren’t vetted. Two California doctors recently sued Yelp reviewers, claiming they had written false reviews. Yelp’s formula for determining which reviews appear on the site is also less than transparent. In some cases, its spam filter appears to have been overly-vigilant. In other cases, it is unclear why reviews have been deleted.

A comprehensive article in today’s New York Times notes that Yelp feels it is not its job to “referee factual disputes between businesses and reviewers.” It also “won’t investigate reviews accused of being inaccurate or permit businesses to respond to reviews on the site.” Indeed, the company operates on the premise that greater accuracy will emerge from more reviews.

“Some of the confusion may come from the fact that advertisers, who pay $300 to $1,000 a month, are allowed to choose which review shows up at the top of their profile page and block ads from competitors,” notes the article. “For other businesses, the first two listings a reader sees could be an ad for a competitor and a one-star review.”

Yelp has, however, made some changes in the interest of helping businesses, including the addition of Yelp for Business Owners in April 2008. The feature allows business to edit their company profiles, post special offers and privately email reviewers.

The Times also notes that Yelp is stepping up its PR offensive. CEO Jeremy Stoppelman, “is blogging more often about how Yelp works. He has also started a Twitter account to communicate with business owners and reviewers. Yelp is also planning conversations at chambers of commerce and local restaurant associations.”

5 thoughts on “Yelp Has PR Problem Re: Reviews and Practices

  1. The truth is nothing is perfect and we have to start to accept that. Yelp is the best product in the market and in order to continue providing this product, the company has to generate revenue for obvious reasons. Whatever issues we have with Yelp, I rather have it the way it is than not have it.

  2. Yelp does not “produce” anything–it is user-generated content which they host. They are trying to make money out of neighbor-to-neighbor, “word-of-mouth”. That is a dubious ethical proposition, made worse by the fact that they upgrade (and even write) “good” reviews themselves, while downgrading or even removing your “bad” reviews if you pay them enough money.
    Angieslist has exactly the same problem. Google “angieslist” and you will quickly see a site called “AngiesList Sucks.” Hundreds of businesses have posted comments about Angieslist and their practises, too.
    There is nothing wrong with testimonials as part of a larger advertising campaign. But trying to extort businesses based on what people are (supposedly) saying–that’s bogus.

  3. Zippy — Thanks for writing in, but I don’t agree with your comments about Yelp or Angie’s List. It is true that Yelp has run a fine line by letting advertisers highlight reviews. Angie’s List doesn’t go near that; it only lets businesses advertise that get high ratings. But to me, they’re both legitimate companies. They also provide the best type of community service — the voice of the community. And do you really see a problem with jumpstarting reviews when there aren’t any? As long as they are clearly labelled as such — and they are –I think it helps.

  4. We have been frustrated by the deleted yelp reviews because it appears (in our case) to be the rule not the exception. We are new so when 80% or 90% of reviews get removed without an understanding of why it is devastating to our business. Having one or two reviews vs, the 9-10 that have been written is significant.
    We never write the reviews and it is always the customer that has praised us for our service that is eager to spread the word about our company that leads to reviews. But this one minute it is up, the next month it is down is upsetting.

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