Ah! What an excellent meal! You write a Yelp review while waiting for dessert. First, you note everything from the taste and texture of the food, and then you move on to the attitude and abilities of the server, and the atmosphere of the dining room. Your Yelp review should win a Pulitzer because it is the Shakespeare of restaurant reviews!
But you can’t find your review on Yelp when you check back later. Where is it? Where did it go?
Finally, you find a line in micro-font along the bottom of the Yelp page of your favorite local business that reads “Not recommended reviews.” This is where your brilliant review ended up…along with many others. Why? No one knows. The algorithmic mystery of Yelp’s automated review filter has claimed another victim..
Attack Of The Yelp Bots
Customers review local businesses on Yelp, and, the site has grown into one of the world’s most influential. In an effort to ensure all of its reviews remain helpful and unbiased, Yelp introduced an automated content filter to eliminate fake reviews and feature content written by seasoned reviewers.
Yelp reviews continue to appear at the top of a reviewer’s account, even if it doesn’t show on the Yelp page of the businesses you reviewed. Because of this, many users may not notice their reviews are filtered. Yelp doesn’t want you to think it’s disregarding your reviews…even if it is.
The filter itself appears flawed, however. Many small businesses claim legitimate customer reviews are filtered, hidden away in Yelp’s “not recommended reviews” section. Meanwhile, customers are upset that reviews they took time to write never appear on the site.
“The Yelp algorithm is inconsistent and non-transparent,” Sam Dirnfield, CEO of Toner Buzz explains. “Nobody is sure how it works because Yelp keeps details of the algorithm secret. But it doesn’t seem to follow any logical order. Legitimate customer reviews get filtered out and removed. This is not happening on platforms like Facebook and Google.”
The Purge: Yelp Edition
For example, California portrait photographer Maxine Evans found her “not recommended reviews” double from 50 to 100 literally overnight.
“It took years of work to get these reviews,” Evans said. “This is my livelihood.”
Yelp’s automated review filter crushed the business of New Jersey real estate agent Steven Houghtaling.
“They removed every one of my reviews,” Houghtaling reports. “After being the #1 rated business in my industry for two consecutive years, I am now ranked #45 with zero recommended reviews. I feel there should be a class action lawsuit against Yelp!”
Furthermore, Search engines often incorporate Yelp reviews and ratings into their results.
“Your Yelp rating gets broadcast all over the world, regardless of which search engine you use,” Dirnfeld said. “They all use Yelp ratings.”
Did You See A Ghost?
A fundamental update to Yelp’s automated review filter took place in late October 2018, according to this article from Search Engine Land. The update, dubbed “Ghost” by SEL, appeared to “ghost” many existing reviews, making them invisible by moving them into Yelp’s not recommended reviews section. Search Engine Land monitored 700 Yelp business profiles and found roughly 1-in-4 businesses lost reviews. However, the lost reviews didn’t affect their overall Yelp rating for the most part.
Or Frankenstein’s Monster?
Yelp grew into a monster, like Dr. Frankenstein’s creation. Its influence is massive, and many Mom-and-Pop businesses live-and-die by Yelp ratings. But how exactly are those ratings determined? Why does Yelp’s algorithm favor some reviews over others? What is the monster thinking? Yelp’s biggest public relations issue may be the secretive nature of its inner workings.
Social Media Marketer Adryenn Ashley founded the blog Yelp-sucks.com. Ashley says she’s seen improvement in Yelp’s overall community business relations, but still believes the site’s automated review filter needs help.
“I have been told by Yelp corporate the algorithm is tweaked frequently and that’s why some days you see the positive reviews and some you don’t,” Ashley adds. “It is behaving erratically and it is affecting business owners. While I have seen it work as intended, I have also seen it not work more frequently than I feel comfortable attributing to randomness.”
Cry For Yelp
Yelp claims ¾ of submitted reviews are recommended. Each review is automatically evaluated by Yelp’s recommendation software based on quality, reliability, and user activity.
Yelp may filter your review if it:
- It doesn’t have a complete profile
- It doesn’t have social integration
- Was submitted from an IP located somewhere else
- The reviewer only submits positive reviews
- The reviewer doesn’t have other Yelp friends
“Yelp’s recommendation software is engineered to highlight the most useful and relevant content to consumers,” explains Michael Targash, Yelp Community Manager in Reno, NV. Trasgash points to industry studies to support his claim.
“The algorithm looks at a number of data points to determine whether or not a review should be recommended. The algorithm is constantly learning as it ingests more reviews,” Tragash says. “As it learns, its decision to recommend a review or not evolves. The software is continuously improving, so it’s possible for reviews to move from ‘not recommended’ to ‘recommended’ and vice versa at any given point. Given the complexity of the software, we can’t say for certain why any specific review is or is not recommended.”
Advice To Business Owners
Is your small business hurt by Yelp’s automated review filter? If so, you are not alone. Many small business owners feel helpless before Yelp’s automated review filter. Tragash suggests the best way to combat Yelp’s review filter is to keep customers happy.
“At the end of the day, when I speak with business owners about the recommendation software and these reviews, my advice is always the same,” Targash explains. “Focus on providing a great product and consumer experience. Let your customers know how much you appreciate the love they’ve shared with you on Yelp and the value you glean from it. Encourage them to do the same for other local businesses they love too.”