Yelp: When reviewers and review websites go bad

These days, anyone can be a secret shopper. Enjoy a positive experience, give a good review at a site like Yelp. But if something goes wrong it is the business, not the buyer, who has to beware.

Many Southwest Riverside County residents use Yelp to weigh in with their two cents on businesses, rating everything from décor of a restaurant, quality of service and of course, the food. Murrieta resident Junnelle Vargas mainly uses Yelp.com when it comes to looking for businesses to visit or restaurants.

“You can bookmark places you want to go or see pictures of what it’s like inside,” she said. “Some businesses offer discounts just by checking in too.”

Recently, she received a free appetizer and 10 percent off at a local eatery.

Yelp’s open forum caters to reviewers who review often, according to Yelp’s description of their review algorithm. The more users review, the more weight they carry. This begs the question, does frequency make for a trusted reviewer?

One frequent Yelper and local foodie weighed in with his thoughts on how to handle a bad dining experience.

“It’s always best to talk to the manager or restaurant owner when your order is late to the table or flat out wrong,” Dan Malloy said. “I would never run right to giving a restaurant a bad review in a case like that.”

Malloy travels the country for his work and is a self-proclaimed foodie. “When I go somewhere new, I will open up Yelp and filter my search for the most reviewed restaurants in the area. That’s how I find where to go out to eat more times than not.”

In Temecula, (as of press time) Gourmet Italia, has received the highest number of Yelp reviews, with over 1,000 on file and PUBlic House is a short distance behind at just over 900. Each restaurant has all levels of reviews, with four and five stars outnumbering the rest.

Taking it one step further, the most frequent used words in reviews are highlighted. For Gourmet Italia, those include “Live Music,” “Lobster Ravioli,” and “Lasagna.” PUBlic House’s word frequency cycles around “Kobe Burger,” “Goat Toast,” and “Live Music.”

According to Yelp’s description of their dynamic software, reviews are recommended from users who are most active on the Yelp community, based upon quality of the review, and quantity.

“Currently, our reviews are approximately 75 percent positive,” stated the Yelp website through informational video.

yelp-negativeHowever, negative reviews from active members can slip through the cracks, just as “too good to be true” reviews can be removed from threads by Yelp’s algorithm. When Yelp users information-gather from reviews, they have the opportunity to weigh in as to whether a reviewer was “helpful,” “funny,” or “cool.”

Temecula business owner Craig Puma took a moment to discuss his experience with Yelp and how it relates to restaurant ownership.

“My wife (Christy) used to try and write people who would post a negative review about our restaurant on Yelp,” Craig said. “Now, we just keep doing what we’re doing. People who know us, like us and come back. That’s what matters.”

Yelp offers ideas for business owners who are unhappy with the reviews they receive. Ideas from Yelp include registering as a verified business and responding to customer complaints as the Pumas attempted.

“Customers didn’t want to hear it, or they never responded back,” Craig said.

Temecula business owner John Llado, of Simply Dents car repair, uses Yelp personally but agrees that the number of reviews for a business can be misleading.

“Yelp hounded me to pay to be at the top (of reviewers),” Llado said. According to Llado, if a business pays extra, more reviews will be shown and not “filtered out” with the Yelp algorithm.

“I’ve never paid extra,” Llado said, and as of press time, his business has just over 30 reviews. “Who knows how many reviews I’ve actually had on Yelp and how many were hidden (because they were too positive or negative).”

Though reputation management companies claim to be able to “fix” bad Yelp reviews, the Yelp website claims this is not the case. Recently, a carpet cleaning business in Virginia attempted to clean its reputation through litigation in a court battle.

According to reports from www.TheHill.com, Hadeed Carpet Cleaning sued Yelp to learn their anonymous critics’ identities. The Virginia Supreme court ruled on jurisdictional grounds, stating that Hadeed need file a subpoena in California where Yelp’s databases are stored. Though not a win for either side, Yelp posted a blog statement that there is no substitute for good customer service.

“…litigation isn’t a good substitute for customer service and businesses considering using the courts as a weapon against their customers should consider responding to them with Yelp’s free tools and providing improved service instead,” according to Aaron Schur, senior director of Litigation for Yelp.

For business owners, Facebook Reviews now offer similar methods of grooming and maintaining good customer relations, without the deletion of reviews by those who do not review often enough, or removal or reviews seen as “too good” or “too bad,” as Yelp does.

In Temecula and Murrieta, almost 19,000 Facebook fans gather weekly to bounce ideas off each other on Facebook groups such as Temecula Talk, to determine the best Mexican, Italian or Old Town restaurant to visit for date night and who to hire for various household services. Other review sources, Google Reviews, Trip Advisor, and AngiesList.com also offer different insights into reviewers and the businesses they praise or pan.

“Just remember to do your research, and make your own decisions,” Malloy said. “Or, you can get offline and ask someone you really trust.”

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