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Yelp Increases Transparency, and also Eliminates Favorite Review Feature

Yelp LogoYelp has been getting a lot of attention recently and none of it is for being funny, useful or cool. With multiple lawsuits in the works, and claims of extortion and review manipulation being bantered around daily, the integrity of Yelp’s has been up for debate. In an attempt to quell those complaints and add more transparency to the process of how reviews are filtered, Yelp announced today on their official blog two major changes to the way they do business.

The first change, and one that has been requested by reviewers and business owners alike, is the ability to see the reviews that get caught in the oh so secretive review algorithm. That’s right, all of those reviews deemed to be from disgruntled ex employees, revenge seeking former lovers, unethical competitors, robots, the business owner’s family and the solicited 5 star customer are now available for all to see.

Want to discover reviews for your favorite restaurant or even your own business that didn’t make the cut to prime time? Here’s how you do it:

Go to the business profile page for the business in question, scroll down to the bottom and you will see the following:

Filtered Reviews

Filtered Reviews

Click on the “Filtered” link (the number of filtered reviews will vary by business) at which time you will be prompted to enter a captcha…

Filtered Review Captcha

Filtered Review Captcha

Enter the code and voila, you are taken to a filtered review page, which not only displays the filtered reviews (45 in the case of Portland’s very popular and somewhat dividing Voodoo Doughnuts) but also provides a video explaining how the review filter works as well as links to additional information regarding the review algorithm.

Upon looking at these filtered reviews, one of the first things you will notice is that most of the reviews that didn’t make the cut come from Yelpers that don’t have a profile picture, have 10 or less reviews and have very few friends on Yelp. This reaffirms the notion that frequent reviewers and Elite members gain a trusted status by being active on the site and in the community, hence their reviews are almost never found in the filtered section.

Voodoo Doughnuts Filtered Review Page

Voodoo Doughnuts Filtered Review Page

Also, after reading many of these filtered reviews, it is apparent that some of them are definitely legit. In fact, on the Voodoo Doughnuts page I would guess that at least half of them were legitimate reviews from reviewers that are not active on the site. However, it is also apparent that several of these reviews are indeed fraudulent. As noted by Luther Lowe Yelp’s Business Outreach Manager in a recent interview with our company, “it definitely isn’t executed without creating controversy, the filtering of reviews that, yes, are sometimes legitimate.” In order to protect a business from the fake reviews, it comes with the understanding that some of the good ones will be removed as well. We can only hope that Yelp continues to work on improving their algorithm to prevent more legitimate reviews from getting filtered and not showing up on the business profile page.

In addition to the filtered reviews, Yelp also displays the reviews that were removed for violating their review guidelines or terms of service. However, the content from these reviews is not displayed as many times these reviews take personal attacks on the business owner and employees.

The other change announced today is the removal of the “Favorite Review” feature which was previously available to advertisers. This feature allowed paying businesses to select one review to be featured at the top of their other reviews on their business profile page. While this favorite review feature was clearly marked it did lead to some confusion regarding the ability to manipulate reviews by advertising with Yelp. While advertisers could not remove negative reviews from their page, they could change the order by having that 5 star review prominently placed at the top. Removing this feature should go a long way towards dispelling the notion that you can pay to manipulate reviews.

I would be curious, however, to know how many advertisers may elect to discontinue advertising with Yelp due to the elimination of this feature and if Yelp plans to offer refunds to these customers. Yelp did announce that advertisers will now have the ability to post video at the top of their page, but I’m not sure this new feature will be as utilized as the “favorite review” option was, nor am I convinced that many small businesses will take advantage of it.

Overall, Yelp took a big step today in providing business owners and users alike with the ability to see behind the curtain and the mysterious review filter. In the past few months we have definitely seen a refocusing by Yelp on providing business owners with more tools, transparency and features to promote their businesses on the site. Whether or not this action was spurred by the recent lawsuits is up for debate: however the fact remains that Yelp appears to be listening to the business community and have taken steps to quell the recent uprising of dissatisfaction.

Yelp walks a fine line between keeping the sense of “Real People. Real Reviews” at the forefront of what they do (because face it, if it was not for the user created content, Yelp would be nothing) but also keeping in mind that it is the businesses that advertise with them that bring in the revenue. It will be interesting to see how Yelp moves forward from here on out and if these new changes mute the cries of extortion and prove that advertising and content are not linked.

I for one believe that they are indeed on the right path.

Postscript – As a follow up to today’s press conference announcing these major changes, I submitted some additional questions to Yelp. Chantelle Karl, Yelp’s Public Relations Manager was kind enough to reply…

CHRIS: With the removal of the Favorite review feature, do you expect to lose advertisers who signed up knowing that this was one of the benefits of advertising? Will you offer these advertisers refunds? Other then the ability to upload videos to their slide show, are there any other new features that will become available to the advertiser?

Chantelle: No, in fact the opposite: we continue to see strong growth in advertising on Yelp, mainly because so many consumers trust and use the site each month. Local search advertising is a very effective marketing tool, since consumers are coming to Yelp when they are seeking a business to patronize, and our advertisers understand that.

I terms of other updates; we are constantly listening to the feedback of our community both on the user and business front. Most immediately, business owners have shared that the educational materials we’ve produced have been useful and we will continue to develop on this front including creating a more robust landing page for our weekly webinars, as well as the ability to suggest topics and speakers.

I should also note that the new video feature for advertisers was a result of our many conversations with business owners: they asked for that feature directly.

CHRIS: Looking through some of the filtered reviews, it is obvious that some of these reviews are legitimate, while others are obviously fake. While the system is designed to protect business owners from these fraudulent reviews, it seems as if a good number of the good reviews get eliminated in the process. What can we expect in the future for the review algorithm? Will there ever be a day when Yelp can say that the vast majority of these legitimate reviews are posted on the business profile page?

Chantelle: You’re right, and we’re the first to admit that legitimate content sometimes gets impacted by the review filter. It’s a risk we take in maintaining the overall integrity and usefulness of Yelp.

As always, if someone believes a review to go against our TOS, they can flag it or email our customer support team at [email protected]. However, as a reminder, the review filter is entirely automated, so we cannot manually restore filtered reviews or manually filter a review. We agree this can be frustrating, but keep in mind that this same filter protects against fake reviews from malicious competitors and disgruntled former employees.

Saying that, our engineering team remains committed to constantly innovating on the review filter to make it even more effective.

Share your thoughts on Yelp Increases Transparency and Eliminates Favorite Review FeatureWhat do you think of Yelp’s Increased Review Transparency and the Elimination of the Favorite Review Feature? Feel free to share your thoughts.

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Reader Comments

  • barb chapman | June 23, 2011

    yelp allows businesses public retaliations to post five star reviews and keeps those at the top of the list, there is a review of the store topshop,ny writtenn by brittany who works in topshops pr department which is the first review posted, not the most recent. it is a five star review. i know brittany personally and that she works for topshop. a similar review is posted by cherise, a topshop manager. i called to try and discuss with yelp. they hung up on me.

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