If you’re researching a business using Yelp, here’s something I strongly suggest you do : take a look at the bottom of the business’ Yelp page. Look for “Reviews that are currently not recommended,” then click on the link that lets you view those reviews.
I’m writing this because I recently looked at my own business’ Yelp page and saw that 6 reviews of my business were “not recommended.” That means they were hidden to viewers who didn’t bother to scroll down and click on the tiny link – that is, most viewers. None of the hidden “not recommended” reviews were false – I figured out who the customers were, and they accurately described the services I provided (and I’m flattered by the nice things they said about me)… I checked other people’s businesses, and the same thing seemed to happen – reviews were randomly emphasized or de-emphasized without any apparent pattern or logic.
The other day, a Yelp ad salesperson emailed me for the second time, asking me to buy ad space on Yelp, after being unable to reach me by phone. Now, I’ve been contacted by at least three (and I think four or five) Yelp ad salespeople. . After listening patiently to a sales presentation by the second Yelp salesperson, I realized that, to me, Yelp advertising isn’t worth the cost. Ironically, one of the salesperson’s first questions – “How much additional business would you have to get to make the advertising worth your while?” - led me to the conclusion that it wasn’t worth it. The main incentive offered to me was that other services’ ads wouldn’t appear on my Yelp page if I bought advertising. I don’t care about that – there’s no reason for me to try to keep people from “shopping around” for other tutors’ services. I don’t need to try to hide your choices from you to convince you that hiring me is the right choice.
It seems to me that Yelp can’t “have it both ways” – if it wants to act like a paid advertising service, it can, but then it should stop pretending it’s just an unbiased source of third-party reviews. I rate things on Yelp. I encourage my customers to rate my services on Yelp. I use Yelp to find places to eat, get my clothes cleaned, get my car serviced, and so on. But I’m not going to advertise on Yelp until the “not recommended” reviews make sense, and until advertising on Yelp makes sense to me. And you should make sure you check out the “not recommended” reviews so you get the whole story about a service provider, not just what some weird algorithm or person at Yelp decides you should see.
The Ninth Circuit, an important federal appeals court that interprets laws for most of the western United States, including California, has ruled that it is perfectly legal for Yelp to manipulate reviews to favor people who buy advertising on Yelp. While the ruling is probably correct*, since Yelp has the First Amendment right to publish anything it wants and can do business with anyone it wants. It’s very similar to news organizations’ legal right to publish news they know is false. No, seriously, it’s basically legal to publish “fake news” under the First Amendment. I said “basically legal” since you can be sued in civil court and end up having to pay a judgment if you publish something you know is false that damages someone’s reputation. There are exceptions to that rule, as in the case of public figures, but I digress.
To use an old Latin phrase, Caveat emptor – let the buyer beware. Or perhaps Caveat lector - let the reader beware. Make sure you read all the reviews and analyze them before deciding to use a product or service rated on ANY review site, not just Yelp. This makes it easier to see what reviews are “outliers.” What I mean by an “outlier” is the one bad review when all the rest are really good; or an AMAZING review among mostly mediocre ones.
An outlier can arise from unusually good or bad customer experiences. The business owner should respond to unusually bad reviews. As I’ve noted in previous blog entries (see December 2015’s How To Have Your Review Taken Seriously ), an unusually bad review can be from someone seeking revenge, and an unusually good one can be from the business owner’s friends and family, if not the business owner himself/herself**.
*Note: This is not legal advice. I am not your lawyer. If you need legal advice, seek advice from a licensed attorney in your jurisdiction.
** Note: as far as I can tell, Facebook lets business owners rate their own businesses – Thumbtack and Yelp don’t. So you might want to check to see who OWNS a business you see rated on Facebook before believing any particular review.
Author: John Linneball Who did you think? ;-)
I'm the proprietor and only tutor for this business; that's why I named it after me.