(The following is a continuation of my blog post from last Friday.)
I have said that false allegations that Yelp manipulates reviews for money ignore empirical evidence to the contrary and instead rely on conspiracy theories.
In this post -- aimed at folks who want to take a deep dive into how
Yelp works and why there might be confusion -- I want to directly
address two major myths at the heart of these allegations and explain
how a conspiracy theory is born.
Myth #1: Yelp offers to remove or reorder reviews in exchange for money.
Truth: Yelp Sales Representatives sell sponsored search results, enhanced listings and targeted advertisements. Period.
and content on Yelp is like the separation of Church and State: with
the exception of a single review at the top of their review list
(clearly marked as such), advertisers gain no control over how reviews
appear on their business page. So what do Yelp advertisers get? Two things:
1. Page enhancements --
(b) 1 animated photo slideshow. To see what this looks like, check out our own Yelp page in the top right corner.
2. Targeted ads. It's simply an SEM
product. In this way, our local business advertising model is very
similar to that of major search engines. A single ad for the advertiser
business -- again, clearly marked as such -- appears above organic
search results and/or in the center of similar business's Yelp
listings. For an interactive demo of this SEM ad product, go here.
The two-piece product described above is the only thing our local ad sales team sells.
#2: Yelp's sales department has the ability to suppress and/or add
reviews (and this ability is somehow used to coerce would-be
advertisers or punish businesses that decline to advertise)
Our entire sales department is prohibited from creating any review content on the site. No member of the sales department
has the administrative capability to remove reviews.
take the church/state separation thing seriously. Sales representatives
(also known as Account Executives or "AEs") cannot write reviews on
Yelp. This is clearly communicated internally, and employees within the
sales department are trained and re-trained that any deviation from
these high standards would result in their termination. (Don't take our
word for it. Here's a link
to a discussion with one of our former employees, Jon Bishop,
mentioning his inability to modify content during his time as an AE.)
hundreds of AEs making thousands of points of contact via email and
over the phone with potential advertisers every single day, no evidence
in the form of an email or phone recording has ever emerged to suggest
any member of our sales team has misrepresented the product described
above. (And, of course, if anyone ever did bring such an email or phone
call to our attention, you'd better believe we'd do something about
it.) In addition, we layer extensive safeguards in place to ensure our
advertising product is communicated clearly to would-be advertisers.
employ Account Managers and require them to complete a verbal
check-list with new advertisers within 48 hours of agreeing to
advertise with Yelp. Just in case they missed it in the contract itself, advertisers are reminded reviews and advertising are unrelated. Following the call, advertisers are directed to this survey.
In the rare instance an advertiser answers "No" to any of the questions
within #4, the advertiser is called, and this aspect of the program is
re-explained. If the business owner still believes a connection exists
between their ads and reviews, we provide a refund to the advertiser
and the sales representative receives no commission. This ensures no
incentive exists for an Account Executive to "go rogue".
So why do these myths continue to live?
We'll be the first to admit that, by conventional standards, Yelp can seem weird. We're different than other review sites and that can throw people off. The main basis for confusion: Yelp
has an automated system in place that helps to maintain the legitimate
quality of content. This automated system often removes reviews from
business pages that people don't want removed.
What does that even mean?
It means through an automated software algorithm, we filter reviews that might be shills or malicious spam. Because this is a difficult task, sometimes that results in legitimate reviews being suppressed from business pages.
It's worth repeating: Legitimate content, i.e. real reviews, will sometimes not appear on a business page.
counter-intuitive, right? You'd think we would want as much content on
Yelp as possible, so why wouldn't we show all of it?
written in depth as much as we can about our review filter and why we
believe it to be inherent to Yelp's value proposition, including in
this blog post. We accept the high cost of this approach to avoid the fate of predecessors' failed models:
When people trust our content, everyone wins -- businesses (get traffic
to their business pages) and users (discover great local businesses). We purposely stop short of describing the review filter's mechanics as it's a Catch 22:
the more descriptive we are about what makes an established user or a
valued review, the less effective our filter is at fighting shills and
malicious content. Spammers become super-spammers; consumers stop
trusting the site; businesses stop receiving traffic to their listings.
Why might some business owners think Yelp is shady? Here's the anatomy of a typical Yelp conspiracy theory:
1. Business owner gets a sales call from Yelp that explains an
advertising product which seems nuanced; hears stuff like "Favorite
review at top" and "Enhance your presence". Business owner eventually
decides, "Thanks, but no thanks on the ads, Yelp."
2. Business owner newly-exposed to Yelp decides it’s interesting and
aggressively solicits all their family and friends to write reviews.
Step 3. We've already cautioned against this practice and this is why: a few days later, our automated filter suppresses the suspicious-looking reviews.
4. Business assumes algorithmic process in Step 3 is actually a Yelp
employee manually punishing the business for declining to advertise in
Optional Step 5. Now-angry business finds the Orly Taitz of internet lawyers who may or may not have read about our recent funding round.
I've said, many might say we're weird, but we have nothing to hide.
We're doing things differently, but we have never and will never extort
businesses; the accusation is beyond ludicrous. In fact, it's deeply
ironic that the very mechanisms and processes we've created to preserve
Yelp's integrity generate these accusations that we have no integrity.
of people rely on Yelp each week to figure out where to spend their
hard-earned money and thousands of business owners benefit from the
word-of-mouth Yelpers provide. We know this case is without merit, and we will continue to fight these false claims aggressively, as well as fight the guys who are actually being shady with reviews.