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Let’s Discuss: Is Yelp Deleting Customer Comments to Sell Ads?

I know very little about Yelp. I see it when I am searching for restaurants but I have never stop to read the reviews. Anywhoo, several people  emailed me this week with complaints and concerns about Yelp. One loyal Disher sends this post found on Cavilli Pizza’s Facebook page. (Cavilli, that will be $15 for the link.)

Fans, just wanted to let you know that YELP has been removing our 5 star reviews for our McKinney location, we have talked to them and they have told us we can’t do anything about it. YELP has been unfair and removed 24 reviews all of which were 4 and 5 stars. But they keep calling us to advertise, and told us it would get better if we advertised. It’s all about making money, what a shame they used to be a great site.

Ouch! Maybe their cyber technicians can detect comments left by the same person. I don’t know. However, this morning comes a note from another just-as-loyal Disher.

I think you’d better take a seat and get ready for this rumble. Oh, and if you know Jack Perkins of Maple & Motor, you might want to text him a link. Okay? Let’s go.

Loyal Disher writes:

I’m sure you have seen this article about Yelp’s impact on restaurants [Ed. Note: I have now!] I use Yelp mainly when I’m going out of town but I use similar sites – Urbanspoon and Trip Advisor more often. I think the sites are relevant and have credibility. It’s interesting that so many restaurant owners seem to despise Yelp and think the reviewers who give them negative feedback are unknowledgeable.  One doesn’t have to look any further than Jack Perkins (M&M). He seems to be on a personal crusade to dispute anything negative said about him or his restaurant. Anywhere he can, he posts brash, bombastic rebuttals to reviewers (except for Yelp — I heard he got booted off Yelp for his harassment of reviewers.) I’ve seen other snide comments about Yelp and its users from other restaurant owners on their Facebook page.

I wondered what you, and more importantly, your readers think of Yelp and a restaurant owner who argues incessantly with reviewers that he doesn’t like.  I like Maple and Motor just fine and have no problem with the restaurant’s policies (I actually like them) but I can’t get past the blatant “you can go to hell if you have a complaint or issue with my restaurant” attitude.  I’m sure many restaurant owners have wanted to tell a paying customer where to go — but have thought twice. Where is the respect for the customer?   Has Yelp and similar sites caused this animosity towards customers?

Yow. Zah. What a crazy world we live in. I don’t think of Yelp, so I’m no help.  So, here’s the deal. Do you use Yelp, Urbanspoon, or Trip Advisor? If so, which one do you find the most useful? Have you had comments deleted?

Restaurant owners: I think I could get pissed by anonymous people leaving remarks about experiences in my restaurant. I remember Hector Garcia telling us about the four-top who that walked in and announced “Table for four. We are Yelpers.” Everybody is a food critic without standards. Speak up Dishers, Yelpers, Spooners, and Advisors.

  • Kessler Porker

    I design web sites and one of my restaurant clients had their Google Places map listing changed to say they were closed down. In fact they are super successful and open. They thought a competitor had done it.

    Gotta be careful out there and check all possible places you could have reviews, feedback, info etc. I’m afraid that I have trouble trusting a lot of those sites, especially if a place only has under ten reviews and they are all glowing…

  • smeyers

    I use yelp and tripadvisor all the time. Especially tripadvisor for hotels. When I go somewhere I use priceline “name your own price” feature and then go to tripadvisor to find out what the hotel is like. I have actually rebooked if tripadvisor tells me its a hellhole.
    It would suck if yelp is erasing reviews.

  • JD

    I’ve heard the same thing from a couple of people – advertise on Yelp and negative reviews disappear; don’t advertise and positive ones disappear.

  • Loopy

    Yelp can identify bogus reviews. I knew a disgruntled employee who tried to post a negative review about the restaurant he got canned from and yelp pulled it. I use those sites often — not as the final word but definitely for opinions. The comments and ratings usually align with my thoughts as well.

  • Jay Jerrier

    24 filtered reviews seems really unusual and smells like something is rotten.

    Yelp is extremely frustrating for restaurant owners…and it would be great to be able to just dismiss it, but their reviews index very high on google (it’s the 3rd site listed when googling cane rosso). You hear horror stories about other restaurant employees posting negative reviews about competitor restaurants, sabotage, etc.

    I try to personally reach out to everyone that posts a bad yelp review (that mentions specific issues vs. “this place sucks”) and I NEVER hear back from anyone. I now try to avoid checking it because it just drives me insane. It may just be better to embrace the hate like Pizzeria Delfina did in SF…they put the best negative comments from Yelp on staff t-shirts.

  • Darren

    I only use Yelp to read the reviews… and then laugh! You can look up a restaurant and find the same number of 4-5 star reviews as compared to 1-2 star reviews. One person loves the signature dish, another thinks it is the worst thing on Earth. Those reviews have no bearing on my decision to patronize a restaurant. Everyone has different tastes and expectations. I rely more on true friends’ recommendations and critic reviews than I do anonymous Internet “critics”.

  • Craig

    Read enough online reviews (of restaurants, hotels, products, services) and you tend to notice that they trend towards the extreme — very few people take the time to post a review of something that was “just okay” or “good.” Rather, the reviews are the rabid “BEST PLACE EVER!!!” or “SUPER SUCKY” variety. They tend to cancel each other out (unless, of course, the website deliberately deletes one side of the reviews…).

  • HPmom

    I use Trip Advisor alot for hotels when we travel and occasionally for restaurants. I do find Chowhound to be the better source for restaurants when it is available.

  • eat my cohorts

    i have a friend who runs a normal, unpretentious neighborhood bar in Houston and one day he got a 1-star review on Yelp.

    it was awful. something along the lines of, “X bar makes me want to puke…i hate that place…they are rude to their customers…”.

    it was totally baseless and said nothing specific about the actual bar, service or their time spent there.

    he called Yelp b/c it was rather extreme and they said it could be taken down for $2000.00.

    Yelp itself is an ok measuring stick but you have to balance the good/bad reviews. way too many people rate based on THEIR expectations and wants which is asinine. as a diner you succumb to the restaurant or chef’s desires.

    @Jay…the last thing you should be worried about is Yelp reviews form cretins. CR is some of the finest pizza in the country.

  • Martin

    I personally use Yelp a lot. I also write reviews once in a while, but as Craig mentioned, I only bother really to write one when I really like a place, because I want others to experience the goodness.

    You always have to take the reviews with a grain of salt. Some reviewers have ridiculous complaints (e.g. food was great, service amazing, but I hated the decor, so 3 stars!?).

    Usually you can tell which reviews are a good guide and which are BS in either direction, so overall I think yelp is a good guide.

    The whole linking reviews to advertising revenue, if true, is NOT ok.

  • downtownist

    I use and like Yelp, but I take the reviews with a heap of salt. Someone who posts a vague 5-star review who doesn’t have any other reviews to their name–ignore. I’ve also seen clearly bogus reviews (the 5-star review for Tacos El Si Hay that raved about how it was a great date spot because it was quiet and intimate springs to mind). On the other hand, my experience generally lines up with that of other Yelpers, so it’s a useful metric in that regard.

    The NYT had an interesting piece in May about gaming Yelp.

    Finally, I think the idea of putting the best lines of the worst Yelp reviews on t-shirts is brilliant. I’d love to see Jack Perkins do that.

  • Jay Jerrier
  • Tricia

    I am pretty active on Yelp and know there are often sketchy reviews or sometimes it’s unclear why a certain review has been filtered vs. another. Over time, I’ve found reviewers/friends whose reviews I trust and those are the ones I rely on 90% of the time.

    Occasionally something else will catch my eye, or I’ll hear about a new place on a talk thread or whatever, but I definitely think it’s more useful for someone who uses the site regularly vs. someone using the site for the first time trying to sift through shady/extreme/vague/biased reviews.

    It’s definitely a turnoff when a restaurant owner posts a rude reply, and although it’s never happened to me, I tend to not patronize those places if it’s happened to a friend.

  • Chris

    The power of Yelp is in its numbers. For something as personal as food, it’s foolish to think that one reviewer of D Mag or DMN shares your tastes 100%. With Yelp, the strength is the sample size. It basically demolishes old media, which is the exact reason old media hates it.

    I’m calling BS that Nancy has never visited Yelp. And if she hasn’t, it shows her arrogance (or incompetence) as a writer who needs to evolve with our change culture. Nancy feigning ignorance to Yelp is akin to writers pretending they don’t visit blogs. You can’t fight it, and the successful ones embrace it.

  • Joe

    In defense of M&M – the deal is if you have a problem don’t wait until you get home and blast them on the internet – be an adult and alert any problems while you’re still there.

    It’s the same respect anyone should give any establishment whether it’s a restaurant, bar or other customer-oriented business.

    It’s also BS for someone to come in and say ‘I’m on Yelp’ and expect free food or special treatment. Saying ‘I’m on Yelp’ is like saying ‘I have a belly button.’

    But what about food critics who walk into a place pad and paper in hand? How’s that any different? What about food bloggers who walk in with their SLR cameras parked in a chair – could you be any more obvious?

  • John MD

    I find it a little ironic that feedback is requested from the same “anonymous” critics that the article seems to discredit.

    **FYI all I had to do was input a fake email address to comment here… hmm.

  • Daymond

    I think everything, whether it’s presented as fact or opinion, on the internet should be taken with a grain of highly-processed salt. If it indeed true that Yelp is blackmailing restaurants into advertising, then the whole model of user-based reviews has been almost unequivocally debauched. I should also note, coming from an internet marketing background, that many restaurants are not above shady practices like posting false entries on sites like Yelp to both boost their ratings and cripple their competitors.

  • Macpad

    Nancy– any way you could get yelp to respond? There is no way they are bribing people to advertise. That would have been exposed a long time ago. The same has been said about D magazine in the past — those who advertise get a lot more press than those that don’t.

    Cane Rosso and maple motor both have average 4 star reviews with yelp which is better than the 3 stars the DMN gave each of them. I just don’t see the issue.

  • Kristie

    This article is being discussed on the Yelp talk threads. The Dallas Yelp community manager posted a link to the myths about Yelp that addresses some of these comments.

  • Carpe Diem

    Can you do a Yelp review of Yelp?

  • Kristie

    Carpe Diem – actually you can… : )

  • Bud Kennedy

    My impression is that Yelp deletes both organized positive campaigns and isolated complaints.

    So if someone had “20 pro comments deleted” — how do they know, if it wasn’t a fake campaign?

    Love social media. Hate promoters who abuse it.

    Particularly hate PR people who violate federal law by not disclosing their role.

  • Nancy Nichols

    OH Chris–OUCH! You say: “I’m calling BS that Nancy has never visited Yelp. And if she hasn’t, it shows her arrogance (or incompetence) as a writer who needs to evolve with our change culture. Nancy feigning ignorance to Yelp is akin to writers pretending they don’t visit blogs. You can’t fight it, and the successful ones embrace it.”
    I am not being arrogant about YELP and I’m not fighting it. And I’m not lying. I have no use for it. Seriously. I don’t read too many “reviews” of places I review so that I can approach with a more open mind. I visit blogs but that is different.

  • Nancy Nichols

    Bud, very good point about PR abuse.

    Macpad, Yelp responded via Twitter:

    Yelp Yelp
    @DSideDish: There’s never been any amount of $ you can pay us to manipulate reviews. More here: Thanks!

  • TheStolenOlive

    The author of this article also needs a proof reeder.

    “I see it when I am searching for restaurants but I have never stop to read the reviews. ”

    Last I checked… are you sure you have never STOPPED to read the reviews?

  • Amy B

    I am also active on Yelp and understand that reviews are removed if they are “bogus.” Example below:

    So, yes, the disgruntled employee that signed up on yelp yesterday to give “XYZ restaurant” 1 star or the girl who signs up to review her best friend’s Hair Salon and gives it 5 stars & a glowing review- both will be removed when yelp staff look at the flagged review & see that the reviewer has 0 friends and 1 super negative/positive review and NO other activity.

  • Nancy Nichols

    Yes Olive, I need a proof reader. However I don’t have one online. Sorry.

  • Jerrod R

    I use Yelp often to help as one of the tools in making decisions about restaurants to visit. Very rarely, does a place I chose from Yelp steer me wrong.

    I have also written a several reviews myself. I typically only write positive reviews of restaurants, and I tend to give a place a second shot if I have a bad experience before I post a review.

    A few months ago, I was visiting a city I have been in previously where I posted a few Yelp reviews on places I ate. To my surprise, as I looked back to some of those reviews, several of them were deleted. All reviews were positive, and I was never notified that they were deleted because of violating some kind of terms of service.

    So, yes, they do delete reviews, but I’m not sure the reason behind it.

  • wylie

    Anyone who does not think that Yelp uses the power of their users to extort businesses should check out their Class Action Lawsuits and alleged RICO violations.

    As a frequent traveler, I find a lot of use for Yelp. Although I have never posted my own Yelp, I rarely visit a restaurant in another city without checking their Yelp reviews. Nine times out of ten, their Yelp star rating correlates with my experience.

    As a restaurant owner Yelp makes me miserable. I check it ten times a day. While one bad comment does not bother me, a string of subpar comments makes me reevaluate my operation. Yes they have hit me up for money. I have never paid. When I am talking to them about paying, bad reviews disappear.

    I know Yelp has an algorithm for deleting reviews from bogus reviewers. Sometimes it works and removes people (competitors or employees) who post either extremely positive or extremely negative reviews. Sometimes it doesn’t and removes valid positive/negative reviews

  • Dani

    Several years ago, I interviewed for the position of Yelp community manager. It was intriguing to learn about the process for retiring old reviews and filtering potentially bogus reviews. There is a complex algorithm in use because this is interactive media and would be extraordinarily time-consuming for a human reader to filter out for certain factors that only super web savvy (industry insiders) would be in tune with. The commenter talking about a bogus Yelp user’s review being filtered out because he had no friends and one very low-scored review is spot on. The Yelp algorithm digs deeper, however, and looks at IP addresses and other interactive (backdoor web) factors too.

  • Beda

    It’s not only Yelp reviews that I take with a grain of salt. Many reviews of restaurants on this website and others sound like they were posted by friends/family members of the chef/restaurant owners(or conversely, by their enemies). You have to trust your personal b.s. radar to filter out people with an axe to grind, or people who are trying to promote a restaurant/chef. Usually any review that says the food is “amazing” will trigger my b.s. meter.

  • Kessler Porker

    TripAdvisor steered me to a Bungalow in Sonoma once. Going by the glowing reviews I was expecting a utopian valley full of rainbows and unicorns but ended up with a pretentious dump lacking any charm or working amenities. I took it up with the management and got short shrift.

    So when I got home I took great pleasure in writing an accurate but damning review of the joint. The owners had the gaul to call me twice offering me free lodgings. They had their chance to fix it and they missed it.

    Looking back at all the glowing reviews a lot of them were the only reviews the people posted so I reckon they were shills. Won’t get fooled again. If most of the positive reviews are from people with just one review then odds are it’s crap.

  • Scott lackey

    I’m a big yelper, and it’s funny cause lately I noticed that 2 of my reviews were edited.
    In the first situation, I rebuttaled an angry pizza shop owner who didn’t like my friends review of his place. The pizza owner called my friends place of employment and asked to speak to his manager. My friend deleted the ad of his own accord but I posted in a new review what had happened and months later noticed that the review was severely edited: the whole section about the owner was removed.
    Btw it was Zini’s pizza.
    The other review I noticed was for a CD store. I remember writing that
    there were these nerdy white guys thinking about white guy things at the counter. Well I thought that’s what I wrote.
    Later I went back and the word “white” was gone. I could’ve SWORN it had been edited, but started to doubt myself.

    I love yelp but I noticed these minor edits, without even a message detailing that they had been edited.

    I once wrote a review for my place of employment and they removed it but sent me a message explaining why. I liked this strategy better.

    I like yelps democratic quality. But I do understand that the selling of ads may lead to unannounced editing, which isn’t very democratic, but it seemed too good to be true anyway.

    Ps the owner of Zini’s offered me a free large pizza and I turned it down.

  • Scott L

    Ps any review can be flagged by anyone to be reviewed by corporate yelp.

    Once a friends business had a review where the reviewer brought up some extremely personal history of the business owner, which had nothing to do with the actual business, but did have to do with criminal offenses.

    The review was edited quickly, and it seemed like the right thing to do.

    As far as yelp goes I do think the reviews normally give you a good impression of a place.
    I use it as a tool but don’t expect perfection.
    I often learn about new services which I’d never know about otherwise.

    Also the search nearby feature is good for trip planning. If I’m going to go to visit the Frank Wright Home in Oak Park, I can do a search on yelp of highly places nearby such as reataurants or bars and this lends some economy to my out of town visits.

    All this being said I think Yelp is a good website.

  • G. David

    “In defense of M&M – the deal is if you have a problem don’t wait until you get home and blast them on the internet – be an adult and alert any problems while you’re still there”

    I actually tried that at Maple and Motor, and the guy was such a complete, flaming a-hole that I had not choice but to blast them on the internet. So I did.

  • greg

    Using Yelp to get reviews is kind of foolish anyway. It’s a social game with the social currency set up to be “reviews”, so it’s already geared against quality and honesty and more for social currency between its members.