Yelp reputation management: Why does Yelp filter my reviews?

October 5, 2017 Online reviews of businesses goods and services took the powerful concept of word of mouth advertising and skyrocketed it into the twenty first century. The most commonly used consumer driven online review site, Yelp, allows consumers to share their thoughts and opinions on their experiences with the businesses they encounter in a publicly shared forum.

Many small and niche business owners all over the nation are asking themselves very similar questions in relation to their online reviews, specifically when addressing Yelp. One of the most common questions is: “Why does Yelp filter my reviews?”

Firstly, it is important to remember that there have been over 135 million reviews to date, so there is no person or people who are deciding what reviews will be filtered. Instead, Yelp uses a sophisticated software system with an algorithm to automatedly determine which reviews are filtered.

Yelp’s stance is that their filtering system and algorithm are in place to keep the review site organic with naturally occurring reviews from real people. However, a research collaboration from Harvard Business School and Boston School of Business, shows that “nearly one out of five reviews is marked as fake, by Yelp’s algorithm”. So, whether by design or happenstance, there are a large number of reviews being classified as not recommended.

There are three main factors that will determine whether or not a review will get filtered. These variables are: user frequency, user identity, and phony review content.

1. User frequency simply means how often an online entity engages electronically with Yelp. In a 2014 lecture he gave at Stanford University, former longtime Yelp COO, Geoff Donaker, compared Yelp to other review sites whose filtering system is not as stringent, effectively stating that you won’t see too many one-time users on Yelp because the system is designed to filter out those users who are not electronically involved. Additionally, he stated that the people whose reviews are being used to help determine a businesses’ rating are pretty much those who are “using yelp as a kind of lifestyle blog”.

This review was filtered out as not recommended because this particular Yelp user had zero friends, few reviews, and very short review content. Had there been more electronic presence (longer review, more friends, etc) this review may have counted towards the business’ rating.

2. User identity refers to the information that authenticates the identity of an individual online. A study done by the University of California, Berkeley, found that variables such as location, timestamp, and writer’s style are all used to validate a user and their online input.

Although the words of this review are positive in nature, this reviewer only assigned a rating of two stars to his experience. If his normal trend, or “writer’s style” is to have positive review content and the rating match, then Yelp’s filter correctly filters a review that would otherwise possibly negatively affect a business rating.

3. Phony review content has been a challenge that Yelp has been trying to combat since Yelp’s inception. Initially, it was individuals and businesses falsifying reviews and their content to skew results to their favor and evolved into businesses creating false reviews en masse. As Yelp has continued to grow, the industry of the manufactured review companies has also continued to grow symbiotically right along with Yelp. PBS News Hour partially attributes the rise of filtered reviews due to phony content to the rise of manufactured reviews that has flooded the review pool.

This review was written by an unknown user with vague content using multiple spaces to satisfy the review length requirements. Yelp’s review filter sees this review as containing phony content review.

Unfortunately, there is not too much an individual can do about these built in safeguards designed to maintain the purity of the Yelp reviews. A business owner cannot ask a well-meaning consumer to boost their online presence so that their reviews are guaranteed to be seen, nor can they do anything about how and when a customer is choosing to leave a review, and finally, as consumer driven review sites continue to drive the market, phony reviews will continue to clog and sully the review pool.

As businesses have continued to be affected by ratings and reviews, some have sought out alternate ways of handling the revenue affecting consequences felt from reviews. For some business owners, it has been a tiresome, tedious process of educating themselves on Yelp and then spending valuable time trying to manage their online presence. Others have enlisted the help of reputation management services, companies whose goal is to help maximize an entity’s social exposure with minimal negative outcomes. Depending on the industry and region, this option can be not only costly but ineffective. Another option for Yelp reputation management that has gained popularity in recent years is the application of reputation management software. With so much of the world we live in becoming completely automated, the last option seems to be the resolution that will last.