How Yelp’s Review Filter Plays Games with Business Reputations

Having a naturally appearing, “good” online reputation can send many new customers your way. However, a negative online reputation can cause a whole lot of damage across the web and cost a business dearly in lost revenue.  If your business listing on Yelp or other sites show negative reviews – there is no doubt, you are losing business. In fact, a recent study shows that 80 percent of people have changed their mind about shopping at a business due to negative reviews.

Because Yelp is one of the most visited online review sites, they hold immense power in their business listings. 

Some time ago, Yelp employed what they call a “review filter” that was put in place to “automatically” hide fake reviews. In order to keep business listings from being manipulated, they don’t disclose the rules that their filter uses. And any time Yelp takes the axe to a review, it effects the business’s overall rating potential.

In addition to hiding filtered reviews from visitors to Yelp’s website, the rating stars associated with filtered reviews are also completely obscured from search engines and are not reflected in the star rating you might see in search results along side a business listing. With that comes the backlash of many, many business owners that are upset to find that their business reviews have been tampered with by someone (or something) other than themselves.

Throughout the web it’s easy to find complaints from business owners and Yelpers alike stating that reviews from legitimate customers are being filtered; many of which are positive reviews. When those positive reviews are filtered and negative or neutral reviews are left visible, it leaves a business with an unjustified negative public perception.

Algorithms can only find and detect certain patterns – They do not replace human rationale. 

Aside from the straight forward findings we’ve seen over time with our clients, there certainly seems to be exceptions made by the Yelp filter that don’t make sense. These exceptions are evidenced by the many seasoned Yelpers that have come to find their reviews mysteriously filtered – even though they are extremely active on the site. Add to that, the fact that small business owners don’t understand the filter’s reasoning (nor does 99.998% of the world’s population) and it’s easy to see where all of the talk of extortion comes into play.

While I personally, am not completely convinced that Yelp is extorting money from business owners, I am 100% convinced that their review filter algorithm needs alot of work. The company’s flippant attitude towards their review filter and the power they hold over business’s reputations is really disheartening. Awareness of the matter is causing people to lose trust in their site anyhow – which is exactly what they’ve said they are trying to avoid in the first place.

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  • http://www.businessforsale.ie/ Deannitendo

    These review filters only make situation worse because the clever SEOs know how to build a reputation on the internet and good and trust worthy businessmen fail at the same.
    No matter what algorithm you write some people will always cheat you so it will be wise to leave it on fate

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  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Rob-Block/521522240 Rob Block

    I’m convinced that the filter is actually a manual extortion racket.  My electrician has 30 reviews on Yelp, all 4 and 5 star.  Yelp has “filtered” 28 of them including my own, making his business appear much lower in searches than it should.  I read all of the filtered reviews, and they all look legit.  He has turned down ad solicitations from Yelp in the past.  Coincidence?  Yeah, right.

    • estheryim

      yelp did the same thing with my business..

    • http://www.facebook.com/damoneckard Damon Eckard

      They’re doing it to me too. I’ve had my business listed for well over a year, and have enjoyed only five star reviews. Two weeks ago I was solicited by Yelp to purchase advertising. I declined, politely, & after a week’s consideration, because what they were selling wasn’t relative to my business model.

      Another five star review came in this week, but this one got filtered.

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  • Yelper

    Absolutely true. It’s time for yelp to can the filter, or be regarded as a BS site. So many businesses are suffering due to the positive reviews being filtered out.

  • R.B.

    Countless people (Yelper and businessmen, women) hate yelp filter policy.Actual our justice system is fail to stop and punished these people.

  • A’nets Katch

    What can we do i have a small buisness with over 2000 friends on face book that would be glad to write reiveiws about me but yelp will not let any of them come up. REALLY Bull s**t

    • tbbr

      Best thing to do is BOYCOTT yelp and report the company to BBB and FTC.

  • Ben Newton

    I am so frustrated with Yelp and yes, there’s seems to be a link to extortion. I emailed them about the problem and got a call from a sales person that said that the reviews were worthless anyway and that the advertising was all that was going to work for my business.

  • PT

    I can’t agree more. I visit this small eat out joint with some great food, almost every other day. I was surprised to find that its overall rating was 2.5 on yelp. When I looked deeper I found that 50% of its reviews were filtered out (including mine). All filtered reviews were rated this place 4 or 5 stars. I also came to know from the restaurant owner that yelp had offered to advertise their business for some fee and he had refused. Co-incidence? I am not too sure.

  • Pete L

    I’ve had the opposite experience where I’ve provided a detailed critical review without personal emotion added and found that it, along with the other negative review from someone else at a different time had been filtered out. The other review seemed to match my experience so I expect it to bee legitimate too. I can see no reason why we both were filtered except that the business must have a deal with yelp so they keep a perfect 5 star rating.

    • JJ

      I’ve had the same experience of writing a very detailed and specific negative review, in which I gave a local pub a single star. It was instantly filtered and never showed up. The business is heavily stacked with four- and five-star raves, mostly from gushing 20-somethings who blather on about how trendy the place is or how cute the waiters are without ever mentioning the service or food. So, obviously some businesses are being scrubbed clean by the filter.

  • http://www.facebook.com/horologica Horologica Clocks

    Yelp is imploding. On average, 93% of the reviews are filtered out and the Captcha they use is unreadable so preventing anyone from seeing them even if they could be bothered to try. Because of this, my Yelp listing is on about page 50 of Google where no one will find it and below my listing with every other directory. Fortunately my own website is on page 1 so I don’t need Yelp and if they remove my listing for breach of rules, I shan’t lose any sleep. If everyone did the same, they’d have no listing, and thus no business. Vote with your feet!

    • http://www.BlitzMetrics.com Dennis Yu

      Hi Horologica Clocks, where did you get the stat that 93% of reviews are filtered? I’m doing some research here to figure out what is causing this.

      • Guest

        He or she made it up. I often click into the filtered reviews and if you can’t see the Captcha hit the little recycle button to see two other words to type in. That simple. (Sometimes they put in some funny words) One note not one person has mentioned is the new Yelp user rule. That new users which have profiles created recently and an explosion of reviews without completing profile data or a photo, is still a concern to the site. There are many marketing firms that create fake user profiles and spam the web with 5 star reviews. A novice foodie that is somewhat tech smart can pick up the similarities in these reviews. I don’t doubt that some of the business owners responding on this thread with negativity have or may hire a marketing firm to up their scores. At the end of the day, Yelp is a business much like those responding and it’s marketing dollars that run their site. We don’t yet live in a Utopian state. Sometimes having good reviews by Elite or non-elite starts with cleaning up the social media. Address bad reviews through Yelp and try to get a turn around. There are some businesses that are going to make it and there are others that just don’t care to listen to their paying customers.

  • Johnny

    I just signed up for yelp and left a couple reviews. Most of them stayed on the sites where I made reviews. I made one review, Up Country Bakery, Kona HI, and found it was filtered. The place has 18 reviews showing, most positive but a couple negative. It has 14 reviews filtered, a dozen 5 stars and two 4 stars. I wonder if they refused advertising fees from Yelp?

    • http://www.facebook.com/Aros11 U’ilani Aros

      Aloha Johnny,
      I periodically run a google search on our business “Up Country Bakery Cafe” as I like to see what comes up and came across this page. Sorry we were never able to read your review. I hope you had a nice experience. That’s definitely a bummer it was filtered. We value all feedback.
      I’m not too familiar with what is happening with Yelp. We opened up a year ago and a woman that lives next to our cafe came in and said she was going to “set us up” a yelp account. (I assume it was by creating a review).
      As far as I know and understand how it goes, people just go to that site and write reviews and they show up. We’ve never been offered to buy advertising spots or anything like that. We also don’t pay Yelp anything. Hope this helps.

      • http://pixsym.com Samara Hart

        U’ilani, your proactive approach to monitoring your reputation is commendable! If you would like to read those filtered comments on Yelp, you need to look for a very small (minuscule) link on your business listing page below all of the reviews which will say # filtered. Click the link, enter the captcha info (crazy letters/numbers) as you see them and you will see all the reviews Yelp has filtered thus far. Hope it helps! And also hope you will be able to see the Johnny’s review as well.

  • Dolly

    I am speechless. I am a local business owner and just yesterday I turned down yelp ad’s sales pitch and today, all 4 of my genuine reviews went missing. Turns out they were filtered!! I do not feel that it is a coincidence. This is very unfair. It took me time to ask my clients to write me reviews. Is there anything I can do about this?

    • Dani

      The purpose of the filtering is to make those “solicited” reviews harder to see. Yelp does not want reviews that you asked your customers to write on their site. Unfortunately, they cannot be considered genuine if you asked them to write them. They want all reviews on their site to be spontaneous, written only because the customer was independently compelled to write the review, not asked to by the business owner.

      • Tyler Buth

        There is no way Yelp knows that those were “solicited” reviews, meaning those 4 reviews were removed for other reasons. Perhaps because they were too kind, or because the users don’t have a lot on Yelp. If that’s the case, Yelp ratings are based on an elite group of Yelp users who have built for themselves a reputation on the site. Unless one of those Elite Yelp Users visit your business and like it, you are screwed. No matter how many non hardcore Yelp users visit your business and love it, it won’t change your stars, because they will be filtered. It will just take one Elite Yelp User to give you a 1 star rating, and you are done, it will be top of the search engines and for sure your business will lose a ton of customers because of it. Yelp is an agency of free critics, not a public review website.

  • Jordan

    Where and how does a company get fake reviews?

  • Henry

    I am a small business owner who start advertising with yelp for one month and paid $540. After I found out that what they promised was not true , I canceled. Since my cancelation all of my good reviews disepeares and bad reviews stay.Yelp is a mafia. I hope soon they pay for it.

  • TSL

    Same here, I got a call from YELP soliciting advertising, I politely declined. The next day all of my reviews were filtered. YELP the internet MAFIA! Shaking businesses down. WOW!

  • Mandy G.

    I am so livid. I gave up another search company and am paying extra for Yelp. As soon as I set up, a client wrote a review, unprompted by me, saying she drives over an hour to see me, and they blocked it. I have not received one client in several months from Yelp. It’s costing me money and I am a small business. They are not vaguely sympathetic about reviews being deleted, and cannot explain why ,which really annoys me.

  • elijay yim

    is there any way the small business owners can do something about evil yelp?

    • Targetzero

      Contact your state Attorney General. File a complaint. If enough people do it, the Attorney General will investigate.

  • http://twitter.com/TomHumbarger Tom Humbarger

    The filter is too restrictive for our business and I occasionally flag positive reviews that end up getting caught in the automatic filter – and ask for a manual review. We are currently paying a significant chunk of money to Yelp because we have more than 100 locations listed, so I don’t believe in the extortion talk.

    In any case, I don’t think I’ve been successful in getting a review “unfiltered” but it makes me feel like I’m doing something. I should probably be more scientific and conduct a more orderly follow-up process.

    Has anyone else tried flagging their filtered reviews?

    • Bibbs

      I am a doctor in Chicago, I just did what you said and hope it will work! Thank you for your advice Tom!

      • Dawn

        Did this work? We are also a medical office in San Jose CA. The odd thing is we know these are real reviews, we have charts on these individuals.

  • Vf

    Yelp has filtered my legit reviews. Nice. How stupid is it to want people to leave reviews but only if it’s a glowing review and not an actual review based on a real life incident? I don’t believe this filter is legit. It’s a racket of some sort. I don’t believe yelp to be credible anymore either. What fools. Yay for your algorithm!

  • Alex

    As a buisness owner for over 12 years, I have gain rich wisdom and knowledge on marketing, sales and online advertising and was always to maintain a high 6 figure income. YELP is a SCAM!!! I have a new business with all 5 Stars and were slowly being filtered because I did not agree to meet their contract on montly payments. I did call back many times to complain about why my review were filtered, and the rep. hinted if you sign with our montly plan this would not happened. I was FURIOUS!!! and then he began to tell me watch the video presented by yelp. All my 5 star reviews are filtered except for one. Please beware of novice sales reps, and what they are doing to small business in this country. I focus all my marketing elsewhere, and disregard yelp all together. I hope a undercover investigator catches these creeps and puts them out…

  • Targetzero

    I have one negative review and four positive reviews. After refusing their advertising, all of my positive reviews have been filtered and only the negative one appears. After reading several websites about Yelp, I do believe that Yelp is in the business of extorting money from small businesses like the Russian Mafia is.

  • peter holubowski

    We opened a new business and had a few happy customers who posted five stars reviews for us. After a few days our reviews started disappearing even though we bought the Yelp advertisement. We trusted Yelp; we used them when we were looking for a restaurant to go or a good dentist. Should we still trust yelp?????? LOOKS LIKE THEY WANT TO MAKE MONEY AND THEY TRY TO MESS UP HARD WORKING BUSINESSES. We really work hard to please our customers.

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  • FJ

    Yelp filters 88% of my positive reviews and hasn’t let one positive review slip through in 2 years. I don’t get it.

  • Albert Pham

    Yelp using the “Freedom of speech right” and ruin other small business. Why the good review get stuck in the Yelp filter.

  • Don

    I am very upset with Yelp and I hope to God that they either change there rating method or simply shut down!! We have a business for over 23 years and we have between 4 to 5 star ratings with most reviews when searching through Google but with Yelp we have only 3 stars! I have asked happy customers and regulars to please help our rating by asking them to provide an honest review with Yelp. I will see it on one day and then gone missing by the next day. One customer explained to me that they were not able to leave a message. I too have been solicited several times to advertise with them and I asked the sales rep: why would I want to with a company that makes our restaurant look bad? She replied that we can improve our ratings by advertising and getting more poeple to come eat at our restaurant (meaning more Yelp users). I realized that Yelp has a small community of wannabe crictics (creative writers/reveiwers) when I was invited to a Yelp party. We should start a petition or start our own rating website that is more honest and designed to help businesses and not favour businesses that advertise/cater to Yelp!

  • Don

    Sad thing is they do filter out the very offensive negative reviews! What is wrong with Yelp??? I will never advertise with them even if they were the last resource available today!!!

    • Don

      Correction…they do NOT filter out very offensive reviews!

  • Tony

    I used an auto body shop based on yelp’s good ratings. In the end, I had bad experience with the shop. Then I noticed that all 1-2 stars reviews were filtered out leaving only 5 stars reviews, and several filtered 1-2 stars reviewers had similar experience as me. Had I known the filtered reviews, I wouldn’t have used that body shop. I’m not a regular yelper, it’s extremely hard to know there is a filter for yelp reviews.

  • Nash

    I’m in London and have tried advertising with yelp I have had all bar one review filtered they are all good and as far as I can tell genuine ,one was removed after I commented on it having been prompted to by yelp .I find thier filter process very frustrating and have cancelled my ad campaign with them because of this , Qype seems much fairer and thier rates are less than a 10th of yelps this company is heavily biased in favour of its community of reviewers who pay nothing and does nothing for businesses that pay thier ridiculous rates for advertising space that brings little or no value ,their claims of impartiality are seriously flawed

  • peechdoctor

    i am vegan, after visiting a restaurant that claims to b vegan friendly, twice, and discovering that either they werent aware of ingredients or just didnt care and lied, i posted a review on yelp. . to me this would seem to b helpful info for other vegans, but yelp considered it biased or inaccurate somehow and “filtered” it out of the reviews. . .in fact they filterd out other useres reviews that werent all 5 stars and positive. . . . my info on the business was from my experience and not biased or inaccurate. . . its seems yelp’s filtering process is the only thing biased and inaccurate. . . .

  • Anti-Yelp!

    As a brand new business, my Ye*p! reviews are crucial, however, of the
    11 five star reviews i have received, I am now down to 4. They already
    tricked me into paying for the advertising, (only the lowest level,
    mainly as retaliation to those competitors advertising on my page).
    Every day I lose at least one review, from reputable “yelpers” with good
    experiences that they want to share. I have been open for a week, I am
    up to my neck in overhead and NEED these reviews for legitimacy. What
    can we all band together and do? I spent all day yesterday emailing
    departments, finally got a call back today as was informed that “no one
    in the entire company knows how the filter works…except the
    engineering department, and you cannot speak to them.” As an engineer
    myself I was highly aggravated by this, the woman was an idiot. The
    company is robbing us and extorting small business across the board. The
    review filter is obviously VERY aggressive, many websites filter
    content, (almost all in fact) and we do not see this issue…this is
    clearly a pro-active, intentional occurrence and we must get to the
    bottom of it. Does anyone know if any information was released on the
    filter in the prior class action suit? Can we access transcripts, etc.
    to try and get to the bottom of this nonsense?

  • Adam

    I am a small business owner and I am having the same problem. All 5 of my reviews have been filtered!!! I too declined advertising.

  • Annoyed

    Some fat wench gets to whinge about our restaurant while 5 positive reviews from real people get filtered. What a load of BS

  • Anson

    I have read all your comments and I believe Yelp has done a great damage to our business owners rather than helping. i have experienced the same thing with all my positive reviews are all filtered. I think we should form a big group to boycott “Yelp”. If they are running out of business, it will be our great benefit.

    • SPEW

      LETS DO IT THEN

  • Anonymous Guy

    This is not a review filter. It’s a SCAM! Yelp is seriously damaging my business by dumping out all my good reviews and keeping all the nutjob rants. I’m still not paying Yelp. I refuse to give in!

    YELP NEEDS TO DIE!

    • spew

      I will supply the Coffin . Free . No Fuck YELP lets BURN the Bastards alive.

  • lou

    The filter is bullshit! They filter most reviews so no point in taking the time review anything on Yelp. It’s a big waste of time

  • salsabor_tropical

    last night Feb. 12, 2013 we checked if any body has given us any reviews lately and there were clients that had given us reviews .. there were 5 reviews showing and 2 filtered,
    Than today Feb. 13, 2013 .. a rep from yelp called to offer their service advertisement claiming that they would put us in front of thousands of people, and I said I could not do it cause did not have the budget, is only 3 showing and 4 filtered?? is that a coincidence or are they manipulating their system. Manual control of their filtering.

  • ScrewYelp

    You know that this could be a violation of the First Amendment, freedom of our customer’s speech is being targeted by the Yelp filters. The customers’ have a right to voice their opinion, after all that is what Yelp was designed for… or was it to suck the small business owner dry? I have seen all 20 of our 5 star / 4 star reviews get washed aside recently, right after a sales call from the crappy company. I think that Yelp and Facebook need to create better models of business, they both seem to be losing their clients and the next big thing may just wipe them off the internet, almost like Friendster. What ever happen to that….

  • I despise Yelp

    Is there a class action lawyer in the house?
    We have 13 reviews, one from someone who was not a customer and gave a 1 star review, another 2 star review, and 11 filtered legitimate 4 & 5 star reviews, from clients all over the NY metropolitan tri-state region, the filtered reviewers are not all newbies. Yelp is evil, and should pay for the damage they are doing.

    What I would like to figure out is how to use the Yelp filtered results page as a review with Google snippets, and bring the page up organically to compare with the bogus unfiltered results? Has anyone figured out how to expose the filtered results?

  • highlydubious

    Here’s the thing I don’t understand. They can easily change this filter, it’s clear by looking at filtered reviews that this does not work. They have the capability to change it but they don’t. That says something. It’s a lack if integrity. Can you trust a disingenuous company then. I don’t think so.

    Also their financial statements are garbage and look at employee reviews on glassdoor. Employee mill. 700 FTC complaints in 4 years.

    The incentives are to cheat, I think that’s what they’re doing.

  • Tyler Buth

    My church has 18 reviews and 17 of them are filtered, most are 4 and 5 stars from church members or people who visited. The only review they show is a 1 star review by someone who visited the church and was refused membership because she refused to follow the policies of the church, so out of anger she wrote a very negative review.

  • Ian

    I recent performed services for 2 of my customers and they left a positive review and now yelp filters them all out. On the other hand I receive a fake negative review from a customer that I haven’t perform any service for and they didn’t filter it and he also use a fake name. I will take legal actions if possible if they don’t correct this problem.

  • http://www.invitesite.com Scott Rubel

    Yelp is a friendly mafia. There is no question they extort. I had a clean reputation with only a few bad reviews until I agreed to advertise. After 6 months paying them $300 a month, I decided the advertising did not matter and I was getting broke. So I ended it. Suddenly half the good reviews went into the filter, and the bad reviews stayed where they were. They are so arrogant about their filter and claim that nobody can do anything about what ends up there. Liars and cheats. Their filter software is wrong. They claim that they only filter bogus reviews, but every single one of those good reviews was legitimate and earned.

  • SPEW

    I have 20 reviews. NONE are shown ALL are filtered . YES they tried to sell me advertising Yes I refused to advertise. Is there an ATTORNEY out there with the BALLS to get a CLASS ACTION CASE going on these assholes. check it out down under deli & eatery spicewood tx you have to check out ALL THE FILTERED REVIEWS

  • http://www.webprofast.com/ Stephen J. Hill

    As of this moment, Google’s results for “Panama City Beach Web Design” come up with Yelp’s category as number 2. My competitor is number 1… I am number 3. Most of the listings in Yelp’s categories above me are bogus, some companies listed twice, some are one page blogs. Some have copyright notices that read 2009. My Yelp reviews from legit clients are filtered. It’s an uphill struggle, and totally bogus. Yelp should straighten out this issue, of perhaps a letter from the Attorney General about unfair business practices should come…

  • Ace Realty

    Dolly, I feel the exact same way! I had a couple of positive reviews that are now hidden. I was very upset because it minimizes the kind gesture of clients that took the time to post this review. They didn’t have the filter in place at the time these reviews were posted and we as business owners should not be penalized for it.

  • karmicboomerang

    I refused to advertise with them and the very next day every single good review was filtered out. Shortly after some reviews starting showing from people whom I have never even seen as clients, they were completely fake reviews! I spoke with a guy named Foster Davis from Yelp who said the filter or as he referred to it as “the machine” they have no control over, but he then went on to state how he saw that the reviews for my biz would filter out then reappear and then filter out again. He also read some of the bad reviews agreeing they were completely ridiculous and I said how are those not filtered out? He just kept repeating that they had no control over “the machine” and that it still needs work and is not perfect. I said so you want me to pay Yelp $300 a month to a company that is blatantly trying to destroy small businesses and holds no accountability for their fraudulent business practices. I then went on to tell him that Yelp reviews were not going to make me or break me as a business and he responded “well I hope not”. They are not there to provide an unbiased, honest review of businesses, they are there to extort and hold your business reputation hostage at the hands of angry at the world people who have nothing better to do with their miserable lives and thugs like Stoppleman who will meet his karma one day profiting off of the destruction of hard working small business owners. It is mob mentality and I really wonder who Stoppleman is connected to that this is even legal. F**CK Yelp!

  • Dave

    Yelp advertising runs the reviews that are displayed. I have spoken to 3 other business Owners just in my area, and they were also contacted by Yelp for advertising, and when they did not advertise, all of a sudden their reviews were removed. Or better yet, reviewers with one review, but a bad rating of the business popped up first while the other users with multiple reviews on yelp filtered away. This happened almost immediately after they refused to buy advertising. I used to trust Yelp, I used them for everything. Now I have lost faith in them, and I am letting everyone who will listen to me know. Yelp will lose traffic, and will continue to lose its reputation in the marketplace as something genuine. This is so sad. They let corporate greed run the show over there. Just be honest Yelp. Contact Users you filter out, look them in the eyes and tell them why you do it. Stop lying to people. Their is already a class-action lawsuit against them. There will be more. This has to come out now before we lose Yelp. I love their site, but I have lost all belief that they care about me as a consumer. They care about themselves, and I don’t actually learn about the business I am looking for. Instead Yelp creates a false image of the company based on how much money that company gives them. If I wanted that, I would just go to their website. Thanks for nothing Yelp.

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