Posted March 19, 2010 12:31 pm by with 8 comments

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Yelp is certainly an interesting phenomenon. Depending on where you live and who you talk to it can be either “all the rage” or it can elicit the “What’s a yelp?” response. Of course, in Internet marketing circles it’s all the rage especially in tech centers like NoCal etc. What is happening quite a bit as of late though, is not that yelp is “all the rage” but instead it is all about rage and, in particular, the rage of the small businesses being reviewed on the site.

The Wall Street Journal reports

As reported by the Journal, the reviews Web site Yelp is under fire. It is facing three lawsuits from businesses that claim it improperly skews reviews in favor of companies that advertise with it and against those that do not.

Yelp denies the allegations, blaming misunderstandings about the way it filters reviews to prevent businesses from inflating their ratings.

So what yelp has done is to create a video that is the equivalent of a yelp filter apologetics course. For those unfamiliar with the term apologetics, it is something that is done in defense of a particular position, activity or worldview. It is most often applied to religions but the way that some people treat the online world that may not be such a far-fetched connection. Take a look at the video that yelp has produced to defend explain its review filtering process.

If you took the time to watch the video it does little if anything to actually explain what happens behind the scenes regarding this mysterious review vetting process. Other than a cute rendering of the machine that reviews are dumped into (should have used a black box maybe?) there is precious little truly explained. The reason for this is told by Jeremy Stoppleman, yelp’s CEO.

Yelp chooses not to explain much about how it decides which reviews to show and which to hide. Yelp CEO Jeremy Stoppelman says that exposing too much of the site’s secret technology sauce would make it easier for shills to fill the site with puffed up reviews.

“It is similar to the challenge that Google faces in ranking Web sites,” he said. “The more that they share with the world about how they specifically evaluate links on the Web, the more they make it easy for somebody that wants to rank number one to do so.”

Yelp is in a very unique position. We sit on the edge of what may be a mobile explosion that could greatly benefit yelp in the future. It’s past, however, may make some folks suspect of just how reliable the reviews are and if there was any back room dealings to get someone on the top of the review heap.

What is your experience with yelp? Do you trust the reviews on the site? We have no filters here at Marketing Pilgrim so let’s hear it.

  • From our experience, Yelp has guided us to some great restaurants. Despite the allegations, I still use and recommend it to my readers.
    .-= Sheila´s last blog ..Aloha Friday Photo: South Maui Sunset =-.

  • I actually thought Yelp did a nice job, both with the video and reaching out to bloggers to help get the word out. Yelp can’t reveal its algorithm or how things work, just the way that Google can’t. However, they confronted the rumors head on, were as honest as they could, and used humor when appropriate to diffuse the situation. I thought it was well done.
    .-= Lisa Barone´s last blog ..LisaBarone: @netmeg its okay. girls are totally tech dumb. =-.

    • Lisa,

      When yelp “gets the word out” to bloggers who is that really serving?

      If I put on my SMB hat from the other side of the table I still have to wonder what it really takes to build up a nice portfolio of reviews. I guess what I am saying is that most SMB’s in general are not reading industry blogs or even the WSJ where I saw the story so who are they informing with these efforts?

      Moving forward don’t you think there will need to be some transparency (maybe just to the degree that Google feeds the SEO community?) so new businesses on yelp would feel comfortable?

      Thanks for your insight as always.
      .-= Frank Reed´s last blog ..SMB Social Media Adoption Rate Doubles =-.

    • The Hopper

      I think Lisa must work for Yelp. 🙂

      My experience with Yelp is that it really does not offer more value than any of the many other online business directories or review sites, especially depending upon where you are. No matter how they “filter” reviews, I don’t trust reviews in isolation, and I don’t have the time to read over a Yelper’s review history to understand whether or not we might have the same likes and dislikes in hopes of making a determination as to whether or not a specific review is trustworthy from MY standpoint.

      From a business standpoint, I’m still waiting for Yelp to contact me regarding my attempt at setting up a business account. If your phone line is actually different from what’s listed from their data provider, I guess you’re out of luck. It’s been about 4 weeks now. Not holding my breath and not worried about it. Guess waiting would always be better than the alleged extortion reported by others. Who knows what the truth is. From my experience, I just don’t think the product is as special as everyone wants it to be.

      • Hey Hopper,

        I’m happy to look into this phone # correction issue for you. Feel free to email me directly — luther at yelp dot com

        – Luther (Business Outreach Manager)

  • It would be nice if they provided some sort of advice on how to do well on Yelp, though… we have a third party that contacts our customers to conduct reviews, and our satisfaction rate is always over 90%, but our rating on Yelp is abysmal. We have tried asking about reviews, and we have tried putting up things about Yelp, but all of the reviews that get posted vanish.

    I understand that they are TRYING to keep businesses from skewing their results, but it seems completely unreasonable that over 90% of our customers are happy with their experience here, but our rating on Yelp basically has that inverted.

    It’s not like a car dealer is the ideal business to do well on review sites, but there has to be something that can be done.

  • I can’t speak as a storefront business owner (since I’m not one), but as a user, I like Yelp. Their reviews have yet to steer me wrong. Same goes for my fiancee. We both rely on their reviews whenever we’re in an unfamiliar area or want to try something new.

    I should add that I personally like to see some negative reviews. If they are all positive, I tend to wonder if the reviews are gamed. Then I’ll look for trustworthiness factors – such as number of reviews, date of reviews, quality of reviews, who is writing the reviews, etc. I also realize that most people are motivated to write a review if they had an exceptionally good or bad experience, so I try not to base my opinions on overly positive or negative reviews.

    Many of my friends disagree, however. At times, I feel like my fiancee is the only other person in my everyday social circle that uses Yelp. My friends tell me it’s not so much the negative press as it is the quality of reviews. I guess their experiences don’t always match up to what the reviewers on Yelp are writing. (Ironically, many of those same friends write Yelp reviews, so go figure.)