Alright, I know. This is a wine blog. You subscribe to this to read about wine. So, apologies in advance for using this slightly inappropriately. But that’s the beauty of free speech! Obviously wine is one of my primary loves in life. But I don’t have a one-track mind. Occasionally I get worked up about something random and I feel I need to get the issue off my chest in writing, like the casting out of a demon. And I just can’t let this one go.
Feel free to stop reading, but I DO encourage you to read this if you’re someone who has posted any number of reviews on Yelp, innocently thinking that your opinion was ever going to be heard. It won’t be.
Background: this all started right before the Holidays. A regular customer of ours at Cellar wrote a nice 5-star review of us, and chose to “share this review” via email, so we received a notification that he had done so. I read it, and it was so very thoughtful, detailed, and well-written that I sent him a personal email thanking him for his business, etc. His 5-star rating bumped our overall Yelp rating to 4 stars. We received a packet in the mail from Yelp, with a lovely sticker to put in our door that proclaimed “People Love us on Yelp!” We were just elated. How wonderful. The packet included some information about advertising.
Soon, we began to receive phone calls soliciting us to advertise with Yelp. We politely declined, as we choose to focus the majority of our advertising efforts locally. Shortly thereafter, sequentially, the following happened: I noticed that the user review that I had previously read and thanked said user for no longer appeared on our Yelp profile. And our overall star rating was degraded to 3.5 stars. I made a mental note that it seemed strange, but allowed several months to pass without investigating.
I sent an email to Yelp (which is a chore in and of itself- they don’t make it easy to locate a feedback email address or phone number), after reading the terms and conditions. This particular review violated none of them, I stated, and I was just wondering where it went. Several delayed responses later, I am informed that perhaps the review was filtered, and I should go view the informative video explaining the filter system. So I did.
I can tell you, with certainty, that this guise they call a filter system is nothing but a cover up for what they are actually doing, which is “filtering” reviews from businesses that choose not advertise with them. Here’s the deal, from where I sit: a total of 26 reviews were written about Cellar on Greene in the past three years. 15 of them- ALL five stars- are filtered out, banished to a separate page that you need eyeglasses and a captcha to view, and do not go towards the overall star rating. They state that their filter software is designed to catch reviews that are both overly positive AND overly negative, on the premise that it’s all too easy for a restaurant to offer free goods in exchange for good reviews, and/or too easy for someone to fly into a rant that is undeserved. That’s what they SAY. They SAY that this software detects users that either haven’t posted more than one or two reviews, have no profile picture, or in their world, are not proper Yelpers.
So this is why you should be pissed, average person that just wants to share a few of your experiences with others, and thinks that’s what you’re doing when you use Yelp: YOUR opinion is being censored if the business in question does not choose to spend $300 a month to advertise with Yelp. You can love a restaurant to pieces and want the world to know, and no one ever will. This is pure, simple deception! I’ve personally written three or four reviews, and it never occurred to me that my experience would just not be published. This is what they’re counting on- they’re counting on YOU not ever thinking about this. They continue to be perceived as a forum where you can find user feedback, perhaps on a place you’re thinking of visiting. But when you view a business’s page, this is NOT what you are getting. You’re seeing advertising dollars at work, or non-existant.
True, most people know not to trust every single thing they read on the internet, not just Yelp. The internet is a far too simple place for jerks to rant about dumb things. So, if you DO take Yelp or any other review site with a grain of salt, you’re doing the right thing. But let’s think about this; no one chooses to put their business on Yelp, it just shows up- and as of today, I’m not entirely sure you have the power to remove your business if you choose NOT to be a part of it at all. For a new business, a few damaging customer reviews COMBINED with the censoring of any GOOD ones can really do some damage. And WHY? Your business should be made to suffer if you don’t CHOOSE to advertise? And it is truly the initial lie that makes the angriest- that the users DON’T KNOW. Which is why Yelp still has all the power, and they can continue to ignore businesses that write to them in protest. They just don’t respond. Lawsuits against them have been dismissed. You can’t prove that they’re doing what they’re doing. They are Goliath, and we are David. It is a complete and total RACKET. Want to share your opinion? Choose a different site! Or don’t post reviews! Just go somewhere and see what happens! Have a disappointing experience? Have a chat with the manager before you leave. Don’t leave mad. If it happens again? Just don’t go there again. The restaurant Gods will sort it out. Truly, they will.
So I’m closing my personal Yelp profile today. They say they want to know why, and I will tell them. If enough people did this, would it stop? I doubt it. They’ve proven that they are an advertising company, not a user-based forum to review accurate information. So that’s what it will go on being. But hopefully you’ll remember that the next time you visit a businesses Yelp page.