If you’re interested in finding a place to eat, a hotel to stay at, or even a retail store to buy Christmas gifts, there’s a high chance that you’ve checked the merchant’s number of stars on a review site beforehand. One of the most most popular review sites is Yelp.
There has been issues with business owners paying for fake reviews, but Yelp says they have ways to screen out reviews that their algorithm detects as potentially not genuine. However, some merchants believe that Yelp is using this as a way to extort them to buy advertising.
Online reviews matter in today’s world. A business which has a poor rating on a site like Yelp is likely to see their number of customers drop. They will also have a low chance of striking a deal with other sites, such as Groupon and Living Social, who promote local businesses, will want to have any type of partnership with them.
Although it is true that Yelp doesn’t delete reviews or allow business owners to pay in order to have negative reviews removed from their service, many businesses believe that the site engages in highly unethical practices. Some claim that they’ve originally had good reviews on the site, then started getting regular phone calls, sometimes daily, from Yelp asking them to purchase advertising on the site. If they’ve turned down these repeated offers, merchants noticed that many of the positive reviews they initially got were filtered and only visible once the user clicked a tiny link at the bottom of the page and typed verification words that appear in a popup. The reviews left were mostly the neutral and negative ones.
Yelp says that this is simply not true. The company says that it uses a proprietary system which uses a variety of data points to analyze reviews and makes the ones coming from users deemed “trustworthy” most prominent on business pages. They went on to state that their staff aren’t able to manually change which reviews are filtered and which ones aren’t.
However, some business owners claim otherwise. A few merchants who prefer to stay anonymous said that the salespeople calling them have promised that they would “unfilter” their positive reviews if the business started paying for ads. According to the business owners, this is exactly what happened once they became advertisers on the site.