When bad Yelp ratings happen to good people

Ink and colored pencils - June 2013



I’ve lived in New York City since 2006, but my dentist is still in Philadelphia; I couldn’t find a better dentist in New York. He is an excellent doctor: he fixes my problems, doesn’t push unnecessary procedures, has reasonable prices, always answers my questions, and has a great sense of humor. I love my dentist.

Last time I saw him I happened to mention Yelp, and he told me that Yelp is hurting his business. His practice has a 3-star rating on Yelp, with two 5-star reviews and three 1/2-star reviews. He also has 25 filtered Yelp reviews, all of which with 5-star. All his attempts to work with Yelp to fix the situation have been unsuccessful.

I heard before about small businesses being hurt by Yelp’s reviews and their unsuccessful attempts to improve their ratings, but this time it was somebody I knew well and found exceptionally good. It made me sad.

Yelp claims that they are just trying to eliminate false reviews. Businesses complain about the low accuracy of the filtering algorithm, but also about Yelp’s decision to hide the filtered reviews and completely remove them from the overall rating. Some businesses also claim that Yelp offered to free filtered reviews in exchange for ads purchase, but the practice has not been proven in court. Yelp was sued twice on the matter of filtered reviews in the last 3 years. It won both times.

As a consumer, I find Yelp useful but a bit “boring” because Yelp searches tend to show the same limited list of businesses over and over, and fail to mention many other options, even when they are close by and have good ratings (you can only find them if you specifically search for the business name). But now I’m keenly aware that these omissions can badly hurt worthy businesses and I don’t want to be part of that problem.

I hope that Yelp will learn how to use its great power with great responsibility. In the meanwhile, I’ve decided to write more Yelp reviews, to improve the chances that my reviews won’t be filtered out when it matters. And also to use Yelp less to select places. Let’s give businesses that are not loved by Yelp a chance.

UPDATE 7/5/2013: I wrote a review for my doctor.The review was initially displayed on his page, but when I went back a few days ago I found it missing. It had been filtered out by Yelp’s algorithm. He now has 5 reviews showing and 27 filtered, 25 of which are 5 stars.

I have 26 reviews and 6 friends on Yelp, and I have been on Yelp since 2007. I’m not Elite, but clearly a Yelp user. I do not write fake reviews. Yelp seems to agree. None of my other reviews have been filtered, regardless of the ratings. But I find Yelp deceptive in hiding that my review has been filtered out: if I navigate to my one filtered review from my profile, Yelp shows it up on the business page, under “Your Review” with no mention that it has been discounted.

So, it’s about him. How would you feel about a company that hurts people you know and have no reason to be hurt? And that decides that the opinion of 27 people including yours doesn’t count in that particular case? Feels a bit like persecution, doesn’t i?

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4 thoughts on “When bad Yelp ratings happen to good people

  1. I’ve noticed the same thing, Antonella.

    I got my car from a family business that sells and fixes car. My car was a good deal, it’s run great for years, and they treat me like family every time I go there. I noticed on Yelp they had just one star. I couldn’t believe it. especially since most of the reviewers seemed not to have done much business with them – had shopped for a car, but not bought one, etc.

    So I wrote a 5-star review. My review got filtered, along with all the other positive reviews! When I emailed Yelp to point out that all the good reviews were hidden, I just got a canned response about how Yelp picks the most useful reviews.

    It makes me sad too. I’m sure the bad overall rating and missing reviews are hurting them.

  2. “Most useful reviews”? There are so many crappy reviews that are unfiltered….
    Thank you for sharing your experience, Laura.

  3. Yelp is a for profit company this has nothing to do with free speech, it is free speech manipulation, businesses should be given the freedom to take themselves off some one else’s for profit listing, why do we as business owners need to sacrifice our good will so another business can make money off our good name? they should be paying us royalties just like the record industry if we give them permission to use our businesses to help their business make money, why do we need to be the sheep that are sacrificed so another can profit from harming our good will and our hard work? Do Not ever give up the fight on this issue! NEVER!! The laws must change!!

  4. I have the same issue with Yelp, I find they block my reviews because I do not share my friends list with them, I suppose this tags me as illegitimate. I think more and more people are taking the site with a grain of salt. They have lost my respect.

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