Yelp has been in the headlines as business owners have been complaining. You're shocked, right? This seems to be a narrative that the company just can't shake.
One of the big topics this week has been about a deal Yelp made with Yahoo, which saw the search engine replace its own local reviews with Yelp's. This has not gone over very well with some businesses.
Is Yahoo better with Yelp's reviews than with its own? Let us know what you think.
The Wall Street Journal recently ran an article called "Yelp's Deal With Yahoo Has Small Businesses Crying Foul". As it says, businesses owners are complaining that Yahoo has trashed "years of positive feedback from customers" in favor of Yelp's reviews, which many businesses have already been critical of. Angus Loten reports:
Colonial Hardwood Flooring of Lexington, Mass., amassed six years of mostly positive feedback on its Yahoo Local listing, says owner Dan Tringale. But several weeks ago, after Yahoo began posting reviews from Yelp, nearly 50 Yahoo reviews disappeared, he says.
Potential customers searching Yahoo won't see a 2012 recommendation that Carla Fortmann confirms she and her husband wrote: "This floor is beautiful and it was very carefully done." Nor will Yahoo searchers find a June 2012 review from Regina Sasso, of Wilmington, Mass., who says Colonial "provided a competitive quote and delivered meticulous service and work."
Such praise has been replaced by a single, punctuation-challenged Yelp review, from the "Paul M" screen name, "Respected budget got difficult stain taken care of very attentive and house got an offer opening weekend."
This is anecdotal, but it's certainly not the only complaint. I imagine we'll be hearing more and more as time goes on.
Bloomberg TV ran a segment this week including a discussion with both a disgruntled business owner, and a Yelp exec.
Beverly Ulbrich, is the owner of The Pooch Coach, and says she had about 20 reviews up on Yahoo, and then they just disappeared. All the reviews from Yahoo went away, she said. "We can't even find or locate them anymore," she added. They were replaced by reviews from Yelp.
As Beverly explains, the Yahoo reviews weren't filtered, and many of them, she says, had 5.5 out of 6 stars. On Yelp, she said, they filter and get rid of good reviews some times "or in my case most of the time".
"If you just look at my Yelp reputation it really looks bad," she says.
Yelp's Vincent Sollitto, VP of corporate communications says: "Yelp has to recommend reviews that they find reliable. The reason that there are a number of positive reviews for Beverly's business that are not being recommended is because in fact ten of them came from the very IP address that was used to claim her business owner's account, and one of them actually was for a one-star review of a competing business to hers. And so the problem is business owners try to game the system, and websites that don't try to filter out or verify reliable reviews can get gamed. That's probably why Yahoo decided to go ahead and use Yelp as the de facto standard for local search."
Beverly responds, "First of all, in some cases, clients are at your house, and can be using your IP address to write something. That is possible. IP address isn't the best judgment. people can be at a cafe and use IP address, you know. I don't think the location of a person writing the review is relevant. I had one guy, for instance, that is in my five-star-deleted - i've had like 34 deleted five-star reviews now - I mean not recommended - and another fourteen that have been deleted. And meanwhile I only have seven five-star reviews up. So that's a big ratio. We're talking a fifty to seven ratio here. I had one guy that had to go to the library and open an account in order to be able to write a review for me because he didn't have a computer service, and he wanted to be able to review me because I did good work with him, and he was very pleased, and Yelp removed his review because it seemed suspicious or whatever, but he's a real person."
She also says nobody would help her get things straightened out, which brings up a good point, and one echoed by the interviewer. He asks if there is a process Yelp has that could help businesses clear things like this up.
He kind of dances around the question, and is then again asked, "Is there a process by which Beverly can take, and see if some of this can be corrected or modified?"
"I'm not sure what's to correct or modify," he says. "I'm trying to explain that Yelp serves as a recommendation service. We help consumers know what the Yelp community thinks about local businesses. Consumers like that approach, and use it, and that's what helps them find local businesses. There are certainly other businesses that take other approaches, but we have to make sure that the information on our site is reliable."
I guess that's a no.
He also doesn't bother to acknowledge the points Beverly made about cases where people could legitimately be using the same IP addresses, unless Bloomberg cut that part out. That's where the segment ends.
Could Yelp improve its communication channel with businesses? Do its reviews make Yahoo local search more reliable? Share your thoughts in the comments.