THE BLOG

Yelp -- Is It Hurting Small Business?

12/16/2013 08:26 pm ET | Updated Feb 15, 2014

I am not a big "social networker." I have a Facebook page, but don't update it all that often, and a Twitter account. We have a website. But as a small business owner, running my business takes up most of my time. Between running our growing maintenance business and designing gardens, there really isn't a lot of time left. But last year I was forced to pay attention to Yelp reviews for my business. A customer that we had to terminate due to lack of payment wrote a bad review. I stumbled upon this when doing a search for my business. Another client, who was very happy, had written a good review.

Since then I have had several clients write very good reviews and three more bad reviews -- but in each of those cases they were clients that we had to terminate the relationship with for various reasons.

What really surprised me was that Yelp shows every bad review but filters the good reviews. So when a prospective client goes to look at the site, they may see six good reviews and three bad, but another three reviews that are good are all hidden -- filtered, as they call it. I wanted to see what their logic was behind what they filtered. But you can't find a number to speak with someone at Yelp. After searching on the web I found an explanation for how they decide to filter reviews. In a nutshell: They tend to believe bad reviews and not believe good reviews as they assume they are either false or solicited. I think you can see this presents a problem for the business owner that does good work but sometimes has to terminate a relationship with a client, either due to lack of payment or a client making demands that are not realistic for the business to meet. You try to terminate these delicately, but sometimes you may just have to tell a client no. There are also competitors that can post bad reviews if they like -- no one can stop them. Or the employee you had to terminate -- I think you get the drift.

I decided to do a search. What I found were similar stories from small business owners. A few websites that small businesses have specifically started because of these issues, say you have no control over what they filter and you can't reach anyone. You lose business because they filter out the good reviews and keep the bad ones. Another disturbing theme appeared -- that Yelp will make sure that your good reviews show if you advertise with them. I really hope this isn't the case.

Yelp also doesn't want a business to ask a client to post a review. They believe that if you do that the client is more likely to post a good review. But on the other hand, isn't a client that the business decided to not do business with any longer more likely to write a bad review? So how is that taken into account?

Many businesses just realize that this is all a game and have fake reviews posted. They think this is the only way to counteract this disadvantage that the small business has. Big businesses are less likely to have to rely on Yelp reviews as people know who they are -- but small businesses may live and die by Yelp reviews.

What is the solution? The first thing I would say is don't filter any review -- show everything because the filtering doesn't work. That would be a good start. I know that on TripAdvisor they make you check a box saying that you are who you say you are and aren't writing a review that isn't real. That may stop some folks.

Small businesses are the lifeblood of the economy and provide most of the jobs, so if they go under because of misleading Yelp reviews isn't the overall economy the one that ultimately suffers? I just wonder how many folks might be working today if those businesses were still around.

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