The Yelp Review Filter is Broken

March 19th, 2012 by Thomas Ballantyne

A few months ago I came upon an EpicFail image that I found amusing. The image was of a supposed Google review. The review was actually a positive review, but it was the content that really grabs one’s attention:

“Wendy’s SoNnNnNnN This place is BAWLIN’ yo. Chicken nuggitz be crispy like you never SEEN. I tried one and I was like ‘WHAAAAT! Are you serious Wendy?’ Mean girls workin’ the frier tho. This one chick wouldn’t let me holla. I was like ‘please you ugly anyway.’”

I was intrigued. As the marketing guy for a pest control service, I love positive customer reviews. I love using them in marketing. Makes the job of marketing really easy. So I decided to hunt down this fantastic review and find out if Wendy’s was using it.

Lo and behold, the review was actually found on Yelp… odd, since the original image was of a Google review. It is possible the reviewer was so ecstatic about his crispy chicken nuggets that he left the review on both Yelp and Google. It happens on rare occasions. Well to my astonishment this Yelper was an ELITE! Yes sir, Mr. Joseph W. is an Elite Yelper. No wonder the review was so fantastic!

I decided to find where else in the Internet review world Joseph may have dropped this hyped up review. So I went back to the search engine and searched “Wendy’s SoNnNnNnN”. Most of the sites found were sites about this particular review, but were not the review. And then I stumbled upon a 2nd yelp page in the search. This 2nd page was not the same Yelp reviewer. Mr. Joseph? …Digging a little deeper, I found the following:

http://www.yelp.com/biz/wendys-old-fashioned-hamburgers-saint-paul-3
http://www.yelp.com/biz/wendys-sunnyvale
http://www.yelp.com/biz/wendys-old-fashioned-hamburgers-gainesville-5
http://www.yelp.com/biz/wendys-new-york-5
http://www.yelp.com/biz/wendys-waltham
http://www.yelp.com/biz/wendys-old-fashioned-hamburgers-lawrenceville-2
http://www.yelp.com/biz/wendys-old-fashion-hamburgers-oceanside
http://www.yelp.com/biz/wendys-restaurant-la-mirada
http://www.yelp.com/biz/wendys-portland-4
http://www.yelp.com/biz/wendys-sunnyvale
http://www.yelp.com/biz/wendys-old-fashioned-hambergers-restaurant-joliet (Note the spelling)

11 duplicate reviews on Yelp. Different users. Different Wendy’s locations. All of these are showing and not being filtered. I was shocked. I was appalled.

It’s a funny review. What’s the big deal?

Yelp prides itself on their review filter. “We try to showcase the most helpful and reliable reviews… Not all reviews make the cut, and those that don’t are posted to a separate “Filtered Review” page. Filtered reviews don’t factor into a business’s overall star rating…”

Why does this bug me? I understand that Yelp wants legit reviews. I do too. I think the world would be a better place if everyone were honest. But at times, this filter is dishonest. It cuts honest reviews. While some of these review filters are easy to spot and the rules easy to understand, there still seems to be this oddity about what reviews actually show up and what reviews don’t. I struggle with this because I’ve got some competing pest control companies with a higher Yelp review count and rating showing than Bulwark because of this review filter. If all reviews were to be counted I’d have both the highest rating and the highest number of reviews. And despite their statement of “Businesses cannot pay for favorable treatment,” the fact that a competing exterminator is a Yelp Advertiser leaves suspicion that the filter favors advertisers. But back to the matter at hand.

Yelp is publishing all 11 of these fake reviews! Their filter is broken! Further more, they have deemed Joseph an “Elite Reviewer.” In my opinion, Joseph can no longer be trusted. Nor can the rest of these reviewers. It seems to me that if Yelp truly took this higher standard for reviews serious that all of these reviewers would be removed. Is calling for a removal of the users a little extreme? For those of us that must sit back and simply have faith in the Yelp review filter, this is a huge slap in the face.

Thomas Ballantyne is the Director of Marketing for Bulwark Exterminating, although he prefers the title of “Pest Control Guy.” He frequents Online Marketing Conferences and on occasions speaks at events about small business marketing. His career at Bulwark has put him in the trenches of Local SEO, Reputation Management, Paid Search, Conversion Optimization, and Online Review Strategies. Outside of bug life, he enjoys family time with his lovely wife and five children. And he’s an avid “Board Gamer” ready for a game of Settlers anytime, anywhere. Find him on Twitter: @Thos003