What the hell happened to our Yelp reviews!?

Posted by Michael DiMella on Tue, Apr 28, 2009

I was really a fan of Yelp, and becoming a bigger fan by the day - until yesterday that is.  I had just logged into my business owner account to check on traffic to my company profile and see if their were any new reviews, etc.  To my horror, half of my company reviews were gone!  When and why it happened, I don't know.  It was apparently a stealth operation under cover of darkness - one minute the reviews were there, then they were gone.  No notice.  No explanation.  All I know is that we had eight reviews (six 5 star, and two 4 stars if I remember correctly - I no longer even have an "archive" access to them), and now we have four 5 star reviews.

So why am I complaining if they left only 5 star reviews?  Because it is not right to remove reviews that our customers spent their time to write, especially without notice (read more below in my "review").  And because I'm not the only one.  I found these fascinating articles:

Yelp extortion allegations stack up

Yelp and the business of extortion 2.0

Yelp's CEO: No we're not the mafia

Wow....simply wow.  I don't know if any of that is definitively true, but it's bad.

What else can I do besides post here?  Since Yelp's blog doesn't allow comments (odd), and they do not take questions on "missing" reviews per their hostile sounding help page, I was left only with reviewing Yelp on Yelp.  Here is a copy my review of Yelp:

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3 Stars

I was a HUGE fan of Yelp until recently.  The information/reviews created by the users on Yelp is a huge help to find a great spot to eat, shop, whatever - there are some truly great people taking time out of their day to write reviews others can use.

However, I am also a business owner, and I recently have seen the mysterious dark side of Yelp.  I created a business owner account recently for my company in Boston because I am a firm believer in getting feedback from customers (positive and negative) and I thought what better place to do that than Yelp.  So I recently asked employees (over the past 2-3 months or so) to mention Yelp to customers and ask customers to review us honestly there.  I have also added Yelp links and badges to my website directing customers to Yelp to write reviews. 

Because of our efforts in directing people TO Yelp, we received a number of reviews (mostly very positive I am happy to say).  However, what has happened recently is ridiculous.  Yelp pulled several of our reviews (probably half of what we had on there) without explanation.  Strangely, they pulled a couple of 4 star reviews and left only 5 star reviews (I now have 4 five star reviews left, when before there was 8 total with 6 five star and 2 four star I believe) - maybe so I wouldn't complain?  But instead, I think this is a complete disrespect to me, my business, and my employees, not to mention my customers who WASTED their time writing their thoughtful reviews.  We're promoting Yelp to our customers because Yelp provides us a tool to allow customers to comment freely (without our control) and gives us an opportunity to earn new business from the reviews (which I anticipate being mostly positive - hopefully!).  And if we happen to get a bad review - even better - it will give us an opportunity to correct things!

But because of this, I have really had my faith in Yelp shaken.  I am not sure if I should discontinue linking to Yelp, and mentioning Yelp to customers or not.  What's the point?  I don't want to waste my time or my customers' time.  I understand quality control, and trying to prevent the system from being "gamed", but this seems to be the total wrong way to do business.  Yet - I am going to still rate Yelp three stars (it would have been 5 stars a few months ago) but with serious concerns moving forward - especially after reading a couple of other articles about Yelp's business practices, which I take with a grain of salt, but are still disconcerting.  I will be watching and updating my review in the future.

By the way - I am a real person, and this is a real review.  I am not trying to promote my business here so I won't give my business name, but here is my real contact info otherwise.  Please do not waste my time by removing this review.

Michael DiMella

867 Boylston St., 3rd Floor

Boston, MA 02116

857-383-3113

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I wonder if I'll get a response?  We'll see, but I certainly would like to get those reviews returned.  In the meantime, I am really not sure whether or not to remove links to Yelp on pages of our site like this testimonial page or this criticism page plus some other pages we have the links on.  What I can say is that since we linked to Yelp in late February (and asked for customers to review us by word of mouth), we helped THEM get traffic and new user accounts.  Here's a look at how page views of Charlesgate Realty Group page on Yelp jumped dramatically:

charlesgate realty yelp page views

Ok - so that may be just a drop in the bucket to them, but we spent our time and our customers spent their time, which has helped Yelp to some degree.  To disrespect that by removing reviews with no justification is just asinine.

That's all.

For another take, Adam Gaffin over at Universal Hub (a great news resource for just about anything happening in Boston) picked up on my story in Yelp now removing Boston reviews? and there's some interesting comments in their too.

UPDATE (May 1, 2009): I was contacted by a Yelp staffer through Twitter, who explained Yelp's policy in more detail in an email sent to me.  She said reviews can be removed by their automated system, but they can't release too much info on the system to prevent it from being "gamed".  While I appreciate the reach out, I don't think that is a satisfactory answer, and clearly there are way to many false positives and real reviews are being removed.  Maybe some human oversight would be better than just automatically removing any suspiscious entries?

What are your thoughts?  Comment below!

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