Yelp drops "Favorite Review" feature, increases review transparency in response to extortion claims

Business-review site Yelp has been in hot water recently with many business owners reporting extortion-like tactics from Yelp representatives. Yelp CEO Jeremy Stoppelman has long denied those claims, and today the site has implemented two major changes in an effort to regain any lost user trust: It’s enabling users to see reviews filtered out by the site’s review filter, and it’s ending the “Favorite Review” feature, which was part of its advertising package.

Many business owners have complained that positive reviews would disappear from their store’s Yelp pages if they refused to advertise on Yelp, and negative reviews would mysteriously pop up instead. The implication was that Yelp’s representatives were trying to coax businesses into advertising with the site by manipulating their reviews. Stoppelman has claimed for some time that that was impossible — he says that representatives don’t have the power to manipulate reviews, and that reviews are constantly shifted around due to Yelp’s review filter.

As explained in a helpful blog post and video, Yelp’s review filter is an algorithmic process that the site uses to determine how trustworthy reviews are. Yelp makes it clear that because the process is algorithmically-driven, sometimes good reviews are dropped from business pages, as well as negative reviews. The reviews are constantly in flux as their authors become more established on the site over time. The company also notes that reviews are never actually deleted from user profiles — reviews that are deemed not trustworthy simply don’t get syndicated to the business’s page.

By opening its review filter process, Yelp hopes to make it clear that there is no manipulation going on with reviews, and that there is no connection between the review filter and Yelp’s advertising model.

Similar, the company is trying to further emphasize the line between advertising and review content by ending the Favorite Review feature. The feature allowed businesses to pay to feature a positive review prominently on their Yelp page. Stoppelman writes that some visitors were confused and thought businesses were able to choose the specific positive review that would be featured — when in fact they had no choice in the matter. To squash that confusion, Yelp decided to kill the feature entirely.

The changes are massive steps towards transparency for Yelp, although I’m not certain it will be enough to convince the users who think that the company is out to extort business owners. Still, it’s a start, and it’s the first sign that Yelp is actually acknowledging the complaints lodged against it, instead of simply denying them outright.


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