1. Money

How Yelp's Unfair Review Filtering Practices Hurt Business Owners

My Formal Complaint To Yelp: Filtering Positive Reviews As "Fake" For No Reason

By

Yelp promotes itself as a consumer review site.

Yelp promotes itself as a consumer review site but how they promote their "real" reviews often comes at the expense of business owners.

Yelp

In summer 2011, I sent my eleven-year-old daughter with type 1 diabetes off to summer horse camp. This was a scary thing for me as a mother because I had to trust strangers to handle my daughter's medical care, and, because horses present their own form of danger and this was her first real experience with them. My fears turned out to be unfounded and that summer was a magical experience for my daughter. The staff handled her diabetes beautifully, she made new friends, and two years later she still has horse fever and continues to ride at the same barn. In fact, horse fever spread through our family -- another daughter and I now also ride, and we have gone from hourly lessons to owning three horses -- and we keep them all at the same barn that so warmly welcomed my daughter at their horse camp.

You might think, given our support of our barn that offering a positive Yelp review would be a nice thing to do for a small business owner. Yes, we are biased (something Yelp apparently penalizes reviewers for), because we genuinely love our barn. But isn't that what Yelp is about? Sharing your like or dislike for a business? No one asked me to post a review -- it was my little way of showing some appreciation.

Yelp Assumes Too Many Positive Reviews Are Fake

Unfortunately, Yelp decided I was a fake, perhaps because it was my first review. I wrote a nice review, published it, and it was immediately filtered. There was only one public review showing for our barn -- a negative review that was not filtered. I have since learned that Yelp consistently gives more credence to bad reviews than they do to positive reviews under the false assumption that people being nasty are people being honest, but people being positive are fake reviewers.

I reviewed other businesses -- one I gave a deserved bad review (bad meaning 2 stars). It posted immediately. A month later I gave a bad review to a popular chain auto and repair store -- it went "live" immediately for all to see. A week later I posted a positive review about another business. It was filtered. So my theory of having my first positive review filtered because I was first-time poster went out the window -- my negative reviews were being published; all my positive reviews were not.

Some two years later Yelp is still filtering out new positive reviews for this business, but the one bad review (noew three years old) remains. Eventually, my own review did get "unfiltered" (mysteriously, not long after I wrote to Yelp stating I was doing an article on their unfair practices.) Despite a ratio of five positive reviews to one negative review, Yelp is still promoting the three-year-old negative review and filtering out new positive reviews posted within the last few months. Personally, I am more interested in what people think about a business today than they did three years ago. Management changes, staff changes, businesses evolve. Yelp seems unconcerned with date stamps, and obsessed with the idea that a positive review should be suspect.

Yelp Does Not Automatically Suspect Malicious Posters Of Being Fake

I also found flagging malicious reviews results in nothing being done about them.

I looked at other reviews posted by the one negative poster that was dominating the barn's profile and instantly discovered that she was a serial negative poster. In her Yelp reviews she has accused both a hospital and a doctor of killing her father, made some pretty nasty accusations against a nursing home that cared for her mother, outright accuses an independent psychologist of taking kickbacks from her local school district when she would not visit the school to evaluate her daughter in a classroom setting (the same daughter she later writes about being in danger of committing suicide in an emergency room department because she was being ignored), and complains openly when another doctor refused to continue being her physician when she refused to bring her account current with the billing department. She also accused a dentist of insurance fraud, and a male attorney of gender discrimination (he only hires men and treats women clients as second rate -- only interested in women's money and not their best legal interests.) She posted multiple 5-star ratings for one female hair stylist who does her hair extensions, but complained with a negative review about a competing stylist -- accusing him of being sexually inappropriate and objectifying women.

I Complained To Yelp

Wondering why the reviews of a poster who has a long history of openly slandering businesses and people (by name) on Yelp were valued more than my own reviews, I wrote to Yelp including cut-and-paste examples of the seemingly disturbed Yelp poster (who remains actively posting on Yelp), asking for clarification about their process. Yelp's response was to essentially say "it is beyond our control" (algorithms used to filter are untouchable by employees -- or so they claim) and seemed to indicate the reason my 5-star rating was filtered was because it was suspect, fictitious, and fell under the "appears to have been solicited by business owners" category.

For the record, in my query to Yelp, I disclosed I was writing an article for Women in Business and offered them a chance to use their own words to explain their practices and address my particular set of concerns. Rather than do what Yelp does, which is decide what people should and should not get to see, I decided to post the entire response -- unfiltered.

Here is "Kristen" from Yelp's customer service e-mail reply (unedited) dated April 14, 2012

©2014 About.com. All rights reserved.