I think Yelp is a fantastic service and a top resource, especially when I am travelling. But it was disturbing to read a column in The Los Angeles Times on Saturday by Sandy Banks, which suggests that Yelp is suppressing good reviews, and implies that there is a linkage between ad sales and allowing good reviews to be posted.
This isn’t the first time that Yelp has been accused of unsavory behavior. Yelp generally says it is all a series of misunderstandings about its business practices and technology. Some reviews get caught up in its algorithmic filters, which are designed to prevent businesses from hyping themselves via “fake” reviews from friends, family or paid agents. The system, unfortunately, favors frequent reviewers, who have essentially been validated.
Yelp also implies that if it has rogue salespeople lying about what they can and cannot do for advertisers, they’d be fired. “There’s no amount of money anyone can pay Yelp to manipulate reviews,” spokeswoman Kristen Whisenand told Banks.
But Banks notes a sign in the window of Bai Thong Thai, a San Francisco eatery, which asks customers to “Stop the Bully. Boycott Yelp.” The sign says that “Our customers repeatedly tell us they have submitted very good reviews. We asked Yelp. We were told ‘perhaps if you paid to do Yelp ads, we could help with this.’ We earn our good reviews. We will not pay bribes to Yelp to post them.”
Banks says the restaurants experience mirrors her own. She has posted positive reviews for her favorite hairdresser — presumably, a non-advertiser — but these reviews have been excluded, along with other acquaintances that she knows have written good reviews. Meanwhile, what is posted is a string of negative reviews.
She also notes that a number of a knitting store’s customers discovered Yelp at the same time, and sent in positive reviews. But “just about all of them were banished to Yelp’s untrusted file – while the negative reviews are all on page one. “ (Personally, I had a limo driver last year tell me that the same thing happened to him.)
I have a hard time believing that Yelp is purposely corrupting its system. The majority of Yelp’s reviews are positive. And the majority of the reviewed businesses on Yelp are not paid advertisers. But it needs to get out front on these issues.