Monday, January 12, 2009

My Problem with Yelp

My problem with Yelp is that it's a one way form of communication. Customers write amateur reviews of businesses under the premise that the web justly empowers the consumer at the expense of the business owner. It fosters a confrontational relationship, one in which reviewer comments are sacrosanct, regardless of accuracy or intent. Business owners are not permitted to respond. In fact, the only way to get erroneous content off Yelp appears to be by court order. Otherwise you must wait for various arcane mechanisms within Yelp to remove derisive content. So how does Yelp survive?

It's certainly not the amateur reviewers who pay nothing for the service, it's the reviewed businesses in a form of blackmail. As a business owner, your competitors are featured on your Yelp search page. Want to remove your competitors ad? Advertise with Yelp. In fact, if you advertise, they'll put your ad on you competitors search results, unless they're paid up with Yelp, of course. Yelp not only pits customers against business owners, they pit businesses against each other.

As you can imagine, I find the whole process wretched. One of my business partners is an avid Yelp reviewer, and he thinks I'm too hard on the service. His service business tends to focus on a small number of focused clients, unlike my business that focuses on many customers with varied interests. I find the idiosyncrasies of small business to be a little too complex for most people to understand. My favorite example are used book stores. Yelpers who buy from used book stores give that store a stellar review. What a great bargain! I found great books at great prices! Those who sell books to used book stores give poor reviews. What a rip off! They paid me nearly nothing for my book collection! Their business model might be to sell low and buy high, but reviewers are more concerned with their emotional experience at the store.

I feel especially bad for restaurants, which may be fine establishments that don't cater to local tastes. As for my own business, I tend to be hyper sensitive and wish nothing more than to hear about problems from my customers. Unfortunately, Yelp is more akin to a bathroom wall for learning about these things, even when they're well intentioned. A criticism on Yelp is cool and highly encouraged, while actually asking the business owner to look into a problem is rare. I say all this this with a five star Yelp rating and also having been warned not to cross the Yelp community. As a prospective advertiser, I see the service as a ticking time bomb. Why would I want to point people to my reviews at enormous cost, if at any time, someone can write something negative about it?


  1. With the current lawsuit involving a Yelp post, I spent some time looking at the ToS and posting rules and couldn't actually find anything preventing business owners from commenting on their own business. Did I just miss it?

  2. They have a do's and don't's for business owners, with the first don't being NOT to post a review of your own business.

  3. Ah, I see the problem now. You can't post without leaving a rating, therefore any post is a review... sneaky.

    To me, the solution would be to simply allow comments on reviews. This would allow stores to rebut criticisms or correct factual errors if they choose to do so without affecting the overall rating.

    You still have the problem of someone trashing you with an undeserved 1 star, but at least you have the opportunity to point out that everything he says in the review is a lie without having to wait for some poorly defined process at Yelp to remove the review.

  4. I have seen several really negative reviews on Yelp that - if you read the review - were actually about a different business than the one they are reviewing.
    So some moron goes into Burger King and has a bad experience, then writes a terrible review on Yelp for Nation's (because they aren't bright enough to remember which burger place they ate at), and nobody can do anything about it?

  5. The other classic Yelp negative review is the one based on the reviewer's misunderstanding of the business.
    A hypothetical example would be someone Yelping about how terrible a Kelly-Moore Paint Store is because they don't have a selection of paintball guns and gear.

  6. The staff of Yelp - the publishers and editorial gatekeepers, have a responsibility to ensure that the material on their site is accurate.
    Sure someone is entitled to say that they think something is overpriced, or that they didn't enjoy some part of a business interaction, but they should know which business they are talking about, and shouldn't violate the law while doing so.