I wrote a post in 2010 entitled "What a Website Can Do". The catalyst was an article in the New York Times. You can read the post here
A recently attended event brought that topic back into sharp focus. It was an information session sponsored by the NYSE which has initiated a small business advocacy, in partnership with Yelp (business review site) and ACCION, a micro-lending non profit organization, on marketing through Yelp and social media for small business.
The how to for social media portion of presentation was competently and entertainingly delivered by Yelp's business outreach professional, covering set up of a listing, handling negative reviews, responding to positive as well as negative reviews, the importance of pictures (supported by their studies), and so on.
(Hmmm...the importance of pictures...so even here, some degree of optimizing
user experience is -- in fact scientifically -- recognized.)
Soon it came time for questions. And awaaayyy we go...
About five of an estimated 50 people in the audience took advantage of the chance; the very next questioner after the first related a high level of dissatisfaction.
The review filter, touted as one of the most accurate, didn't seem to work for them; more recent positive reviews were not visible (i.e. relegated to the filtered reviews1). They stated customer service was hard to reach and unresponsive. (An opinion apparently easy to find around the net.)
They also felt there was a connection to declining an offer for upgrading/paying for enhanced advertising and a coincidental drop in rating from 4 stars to 2. Suffice it to say they were unhappy with the change.
The presenter responded that Yelp does not arbitrarily manipulate ratings and suggested alternative reasons for these perceptions such as a lapse in tracking/responding to user feedback.
I and another participant attempted to help the business owner by pointing out the need to have your own company website where control of the content gives more of balanced representation, and that including it in the Yelp listing could boost SEO. I also brought up the fact that relying solely on social networks and free media for an online presence exposes vulnerability to policy changes that might result in deletion.
I don't think the presenter appreciated that contribution but perhaps I misinterpreted the stern expression. After all, given the fusillade, there wasn't much to smile about.
The next business owner seeking answers said their listing was suddenly and inexplicably missing after two years. The presenter noted they were using a mobile device and commented that this might be due to GPS used in the app; similar complaints had been received, but the owner insisted that the same (non) result occurred on their desktop.
They also asked why some old and sparse reviews stay prominent while more frequent and current reviews are not. The answer was that every attempt is made to treat an equal and broad cross-section of reviews. This jibes with positions stated on Yelp's website FAQ's.
There are many points of view on the fairness and effectiveness of the star rating and review system, but it's undeniable that Yelp has national and international reach. They can post your business on the site simply by virtue of it being in the public record, as well as furnished by third party and "other sources". (yelp.com/faq)
Combine that with the unrestricted right to use your content (TOS/5b) and regardless of whether it's you or the other source that submitted it, the need for balance assumes a "whole 'nother level."
If the ability to list your website was not available in a review site, that would be the pinnacle of biased treatment. Yelp at least has this provision. Let's face it, the only effective counter to what's out there is to put it out there. And by having your own site, even if you personally don't use a review site you could still benefit from the SEO that results by mention. (User experience and scalability are other deep dive subjects which are and will continue to be treated elsewhere in this blog.)
Some yelp contributors on that site have a witty outlook on the star rating system.
One thread I found in particular: