Data Doctors: What everyone should know about Yelp reviews

Q: Why do negative Yelp reviews from people I don’t know show up, but the good reviews from people I know are customers get filtered out?

A: Yelp’s entire methodology is by design a great mystery for even the most tech-savvy, but there are a few known reasons why you may be seeing these results.

The most likely reason for the filtered reviews is that Yelp’s algorithm does not consider these folks to be “trusted Yelpers,” and therefore tags their reviews as “not recommended.”

Yelp is steadfast in proclaiming that their system is designed to filter out fake reviews, even if that means some legitimate reviews get filtered in the process.

Yelp’s website says, “There are a number of reasons why a review might not be recommended. For example, the review may have been posted by a less established user, or it may seem like an unhelpful rant or rave. Some of these reviews are fakes (like the ones we see originating from the same computer) and some suggest a bias (like the ones written by a friend of the business owner), but many are real reviews from real customers who we just don’t know much about and therefore can’t recommend.”

So basically, if your customers have posted a review for your company, but not used Yelp for anything else, their review will remain filtered.

Other potential factors include the lack of the user’s profile pic or other profile info, the user coming from a location other than where your business is located, or anything in the review that might suggest that it was solicited by the business.

That last one is really important, because Yelp doesn’t just frown on businesses creating incentives or soliciting reviews for their Yelp page; they will flag your business with a “consumer alert” if they believe you are doing it.

A consumer alert essentially says that they caught someone at your business offering cash, discounts, gift certificates or other incentives in exchange for reviews, so the reviews shouldn’t be trusted.

Yelp also tracks the IP address of each review, so soliciting reviews while a customer is at your business is another big no-no.

If you’re a business that primarily caters to an older demographic, Yelp’s filtering isn’t likely to properly reflect your actual customer base, as recognized Yelpers tends to be the younger, more tech-savvy crowd.

The age breakdown from Yelp’s audience shows that 25-34 is the largest age group, and likely the most active.

Yelp is controversial because they cater to their users, but ask businesses to pay for everything (see this story for the latest controversies).

The oddity of this scenario becomes evident when one of their sales reps tries to convince you to become a paying member of the community. They will tell you straight out that paying to manage your online profile will not give you the ability to move your positive reviews into the recommended section, but they will make inferences that other things you can do “might” help.

Yelp’s recent agreements with Apple, Yahoo and Bing will increase the visibility of their reviews, especially for those with an iPhone or an iPad, so educating yourself on how the network works is a good idea.

Whatever you do, don’t fall for any “reputation management experts” who claim they can quickly fix all your Yelp issues, because they can’t.

Ken Colburn is the founder and CEO of Data Doctors Computer Services. Ask any tech question on his Facebook page or on Twitter.

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