Changes Come to Yelp

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The online review site Yelp has come under fire of late for practices that have been described by some small business owners as heavy handed in an effort to use the ratings and reviews process as a tool to sell advertising. Yelp responded recently by formalizing a host of changes aimed at clarifying practices that are much more business friendly.

I spoke with Luther Lowe, Business Outreach Manager at Yelp, for this episode of the Duct Tape Marketing podcast and he explains the roots of reviews, and just how hard Yelp is working to make the site valuable to both businesses and consumers.

I think it’s worth noting that Yelp does not aggregate its reviews to Google as sites such as CitySearch does. Yelp has carved out an important and independent voice and, despite recent legal woes, is a tool that small business marketers need to embrace.

At the center of Yelp’s controversy is something called filtered reviews. Yelp uses an algorithm to help fight review spam. The goal is that all reviews be true reviews from true customers. They’ve developed some ways to spot phony and stimulated reviews and they’ve always filtered these out. As with any automated process, some real reviews certainly get removed. Businesses that saw their positive reviews removed while negative ones remained cried foul. One of the biggest changes Yelp made to address this issue was adding the ability to see reviews filtered by the review filter.

The second change made at Yelp was intended to address the notion that businesses that advertised on Yelp were somehow treated better in the review process and the flip side, those that did not advertise were punished. At the center of this was something called the Favorite review. Advertisers on Yelp were offered the ability to pick an existing review of their business and move it to the top as a favorite. This practice fueled the perception that advertisers could manipulate the review process. Yelp has discontinued the Favorite Review feature as part of their advertising package.

In the words of Yelp CEO Jeremy Stoppelman – “Lifting the veil on our review filter and doing away with “Favorite Review” will make it even clearer that displayed reviews on Yelp are completely independent of advertising — or any sort of manipulation.” Full post here

Yelp has also initiated an series of educational workshops aimed at teaching small business owners how to get more out of Yelp. The Yelp Business Owners Guide is another great place to find more info as well.

Additionally, in an effort to more formally integrate feedback from the business community, Yelp created a Small Business Advisory Council whose members will provide Yelp management with guidance and perspective regarding the concerns of small business owners.

Some of the changes at Yelp may have come as reaction to the recent allegations by small business owners, but I’ve followed this company for some time now and truly believe they are committed to creating a service that is fair and valuable to both business owner and consumer alike.



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