Yelp: Our Site Isn't Biased, and We'll Prove It


Yelp is feeling the pain.

Amid a firestorm of criticism and lawsuits, the popular online review company that allows anyone to chime in and tout, dish, or otherwise comment about local businesses is instituting several changes to its site.

Yelp is halting the use of its "Favorite Review" feature, which was part of its advertising package, and giving users a peek at its review filter, which will now allow folks to read the reviews that have been filtered out, said Yelp CEO Jeremy Stoppelman in a blog post on the site Monday.

"Despite our best efforts to educate consumers and the small business community, myths about Yelp have persisted," Stoppelman said. "We've said all along we believe these incorrect notions stem from the combination of the filter and this advertising feature -- and we're practicing what we preach. Lifting the veil on our review filter and doing away with 'Favorite Review' will make it even clearer that displayed reviews on Yelp are completely independent of advertising -- or any sort of manipulation."

Yelp's filter, for example, is designed to remove reviews it believes come from a company's own employees touting their business, competitors slamming their rivals, or businesses swapping favorable reviews about each other. In other words, the system is designed to weed out ratings manipulation. But businesses have long complained that Yelp's filter unfairly docks them, and alleged that the "Favorite Review" feature in the advertising package amounts to extortion.

Pulling Back the Curtain

"While the 'Favorite Review' feature as part of our ad product was clearly labeled as such, it led some people to the wrong conclusions about whether businesses could control the review content on their page. (They can't.) So, to eliminate the opportunity for that misconception, we've eliminated the feature," Stoppelman said in his post.

He noted that Yelp is allowing users to check out the filtered-out reviews in an effort to demonstrate that the filter is unbiased.

"You can see that Yelp's review filter works just the same for advertisers and non-advertisers alike. There is not -- nor ever has been -- a bias. So will Yelp be easier to game now? No, our engineers remain hard at work to make sure that Yelp is the most useful and helpful online resource for everyone," Stoppelman said.

Yelp also created a Small Business Advisory Council to advise the company's management on issues and concerns surrounding its site from the viewpoint of business operators.

Perhaps Yelp should form a Yelp account for this advisory council. The council participants could be drawn from among the millions of Yelp users on the Internet ... but, then again, some of their comments might get filtered out.