In a blog post today, aimed squarely at reports in both the Washington Post and the LA Times, Yelp’s Vice President of Communications Vince Sollitto refutes any claim of wrongdoing or pressure to advertise in exchange for hiding poor user reviews.
Sollitto points to a third-party, ongoing study by Harvard and Yale professors that hasn’t shown a connection between advertising and Yelps proprietary filtering algorithms. He also notes that the few cases taken to court by business owners have been thrown out due to a lack of fact-based evidence. In addition, Sollitto writes, a simple Google search for sponsors of Yelp that also have poor rating keywords, like “rude staff” in them will show plenty of advertisers with bad Yelp ratings.
His point is solid, though still pretty circumstantial. Showing that there are some restaurants out there with poor Yelp ratings who also advertise doesn’t prove anything about whether Yelp ad sales representatives have offered to bury poor reviews in the Yelp interface in mobile apps, for example.
Still, Yelp does use automated software to float the “most helpful” reviews to the top of its interface on the web and mobile devices, with less helpful ones posed on a page of filtered reviews (about 20 percent of all reviews, according to Sollitto). Without full transparency about how the automated software works, we really don’t know what it does. Sollitto says that filtering reviews is a way to help keep restaurant owners from gaming the system. “So, in trying to prevent unethical wrongdoing on Yelp,” he writes, “Yelp gets accused of the same.”
Unfortunately, even the appearance of impropriety can adversely affect a service like Yelp, and this blog post is an attempt to stem the tide of accusations from business owners toward the restaurant rating service. Sollitto says it best in his blog post, writing, “If consumers can’t trust Yelp’s content to give them an accurate prediction of their offline experience with a business, the site won’t be useful to anyone — consumers looking for great local businesses and great local businesses looking to be discovered by new customers.”
Source: Yelp Blog