I’ve had this story about Yelp allegedly removing bad reviews for advertisers on my mind a lot lately and after Twittering about it today I got to talk to Yelp HQ on the phone. They promise they do no such thing. Do I believe them? I have no idea; I’m going to put “can I trust Yelp?” in the same category as other questions like “is there a God?” and “can Democrats be trusted to make the world a better place?” Questions that cannot be answered, I think.
Yelp’s argument is that advertisers get to put an ad, a positive review of their choice, on the top of their pages – and that confuses people. They are also very pro-active about deleting reviews they suspect may be fake.
I know people get confused about online advertising. How else would Google be making so many billions of dollars? In clinical tests people are unable to identify paid vs. natural search results. When asked “how could it be made clearer?” they say things like “put them on the side of the page, put the word ‘sponsored’ near them or put them in a colored box.” All things that Google does in fact do. People just don’t notice.
It’s an unprovable, un-disproval allegation ultimately. Would it be crazy for Yelp to do something that would so damage their credibility? It would if it could be proven. It might not if it couldn’t be proven.
For now I’ll just appreciate the positive and negative reviews I see on Yelp and I’ll check the review history of people I see posting there. And sometimes I’ll just make up my own mind after patronizing businesses.
I’d love to see Consumer Reports do a comparative review of Yelp, CitySearch and others. I told Yelp that, too.