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What You Need to Know About Yelp Reviews

Darnell Holloway, Yelp's manager of local business outreach, says while you can't erase your business's bad review, you can help boost your business' reputation.

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In the second quarter of this year, Yelp says it had more than 78 million unique visitors and more than 30 million user-generated business reviews. For some small business owners, that's the scary part.

Designed to help businesses garner feedback from existing customers and attract prospective ones, Yelp opens up a business to potentially harmful negative reviews. Critics say Yelp's anonymous posting system allows competitors to post a malicious review on a business's page, and lets businesses post misleading positive reviews about themselves.

But damaging reviews can also come from customers. In May, a patron attempted to blackmail a Sacramento restaurant into giving him a $100 gift certificate by threatening to write a scathing Yelp review about the business.

Darnell Holloway, Yelp's manager of local business outreach, explains how the process works--and how to survive the review-driven world.

What's your strategy for preventing fake reviews?
Our review filter. There are people who come onto review sites with the goal of misleading consumers, whether it be via fake profiles or paying people to write reviews. That’s where the review filter comes in. It’s an automated software system that looks at data about every person that’s writing reviews on Yelp, and uses that to determine whether or not a user’s review is going to show on a business’s page.

So, it’s an algorithm that identifies bad actors within the system?
You say bad actors, and I think it’s important to touch on that. The review filter is applying the same set of rules for everyone.

It’s impossible for any person or computer to figure out whether a review is malicious. But we analyze certain signals and it’s proven to be pretty effective. However, it may also pick up legitimate reviews from time to time. For us, it’s the fairest way to address this issue.

We also have a set of review guidelines on the site that are enforced by our user support team. Reviews have to be [from] firsthand experience. In situations where there’s a conflict of interest--let’s say competing auto mechanics blast each other in Yelp reviews--we can remove those from the site.

What's the best way for a business owner to combat the anonymity factor of reviewers?
If anyone is going to leave a review on Yelp, they have to make a profile. But in cases where a business owner says, “I don’t know who this person is that left this review,” we’re usually going to err on the side of letting that stand on the site and leave it to the business owner to message the reviewer.

We’ve found that the best strategy for business owners is to provide great customer service and let reviews accumulate organically. Once they do start to get reviews, we suggest they join the conversation.

There’s been litigation alleging you’ve extorted companies into advertising on your site. What happened there?
The lawsuits were dismissed with prejudice because the claims lacked merit. Reviews and advertising are completely separate on the site. The irony of the situation is that we have a review filter, and we take this strong stance on review quality.

What is the best way to get a good Yelp rating?
Customer experience is really important. How people feel once they interact with your business is going to play a large role in what they are then going to say you about on Yelp. Obviously, you don’t want to have an inferior product, but in some situations customer service may outweigh what is being offered.

IMAGE: Austin Photographer
Last updated: Aug 29, 2012

JOHN MCDERMOTT is a business and culture reporter whose work has appeared in the Chicago Tribune and Playboy and on AOL.com. He recently moved from Chicago to Brooklyn, New York, to work for Inc.com.
@J_M_McDermott




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