Yelp Answers Extortion Claims With Major Site Changes

The big news you need to know today is this: In the face of February’s class action lawsuit and claims of extortion, Yelp is rolling out a number of major site changes to increase transparency and remove any question of impropriety once and for all.

What’s changed and what does it mean for small business owners and advertisers? Here’s a rundown.

Users will now be able to see ALL reviews left for a business

The first change to Yelp will allow users to see every review that has been on a business profile, including reviews that had been previously filtered out. Yelp’s review filter has come under attack lately as users began to wonder why certain reviews would “disappear” over time. A few weeks ago Yelp released a video on its review filter, explaining that sometimes legitimate reviews that were either overly negative or overly positive were filtered out to create a median effect. This meant that a user was never able to see every legitimate review that was left for a business. With this morning’s change, now they can.

Yelp hopes the increased transparency will help users to see that the review site is not filtering out reviews to favor advertisers and that all businesses are being treated fairly. According to Mashable, the additional reviews will be made available through a new link on all business pages and will show every review left for a business. Of course, be careful what you wish for. With Yelp now showing ALL reviews, it means everything that is left about your business, whether Yelp feels it’s legitimate or not, will be available for public consumption. For example, the nasty review your competitor left you? It’s now viewable. On the upside, all positive reviews that Yelp had previously filtered for being “too positive”  will also be seen.

Yelp will discontinue Favorite Reviews

Much of the controversy around Yelp came from the Favorite Reviews feature which allowed advertisers to select the first review that showed up on the page. There had long been some confusion (and rumor) that advertisers were given preferential treatment and could also have negative reviews removed for the right price or control what appeared on their page.  Yelp has strongly denied these allegations and has now removed the feature to put an end to any further speculation.

From the NYT article:

“Despite our best efforts, there’s still obviously confusion out there about what you can buy on Yelp, so we’re making a change to simply drop this feature,” [Yelp’s co-founder and chief executive, Jeremy Stoppleman]said.

According to reports, the Favorite Reviews feature will soon be replaced by one that allows business owners to post videos to their Yelp page, which seems pretty cool.

Overall, this is a big move for Yelp. As I mentioned, it wasn’t more than a few weeks ago that Yelp released a video explaining the workings of its review filter. Now, users are getting an even larger peak behind the curtain. While I applaud the increased transparency of Yelp here, I wonder if they’re not about to shoot themselves in the foot. By allowing users to figure out which reviews have been filtered out, you start to show your cards a bit in terms of how your algorithm works, thereby making it easier for those with bad intentions to game it. Obviously, the entire Yelp site is based on the integrity of reviews, which is why Yelp is making these changes to begin with.  The more public your filter becomes, the more of your ‘secret sauce’ you’re letting out.

From a user standpoint, however, the changes will hopefully shed a bit of light on how Yelp works and show Yelp to be an unbiased source of reviews. As search becomes more local and with services like FourSquare nipping at Yelp’s heels, the review site needs to re-emphasis its commitment to the small business community. And these changes focus on doing exactly that.

What do you think of Yelp’s changes? Do they address the concerns you had with the site?  As a small business owner, are you fearful of what type of ‘unfiltered’ reviews will now be publicly available?  I’d love to hear your thoughts.


Lisa Barone Lisa Barone is Vice President of Strategy at Overit, an Albany Web design and development firm where she serves on the senior staff overseeing the company’s marketing consulting, social media, and content divisions.

7 Reactions
  1. Yelp (or any other review-based service) can never run a 100% doubt-free platform. But increased transparency will be beneficial to businesses interested in learning from constructive criticism. And the rest of us will keep doing what we always do: looking for destinations with primarily positive reviews and no glaringly repeated deficiencies.

    No restaurant is perfect, and no restaurant reviewing service will be perfect either. But there’s safety in numbers.

  2. “It’s toooooo late tooooo apologizeeeeeee” .. “It’s toooooooo late…..”

  3. Took them way too long to do this. They should’ve jumped on the opportunity a lot sooner (i.e. as soon as the first publication printed “extortion”) if they wanted to create good will with businesses.