But the opposite is also true: Good Yelp reviews bring in more business. A March report from the Boston Consulting Group surveyed 4,800 business owners and concluded that small businesses that use Yelp saw annual revenue increase by $8,000. Among businesses in the automotive and home sectors, those gains were even more dramatic -- $39,000 and $54,000, respectively.
Yelp helped pay for that survey, and it has seized on its findings as evidence that the site can work for both businesses and consumers. In fact, Yelp argues that it has provided plenty of tools and guidelines to prevent users from abusing the site. For example, business owners can respond to reviews that need correction or clarification, said Kristen Whisenand, a spokeswoman for the service.
A complex and secretive algorithm chooses which reviews to display on Yelp.com. Some small business owners say they feel pressured to advertise with Yelp for favorable filtering.
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Whisenand said that Yelp has never filtered out good reviews to force businesses to advertise with the site, and notes that, overall, more good reviews get filtered out because, according to Yelp’s analytics, users tend to leave vastly more good reviews than bad ones. The site also promises to remove reviews from trolls who have clearly never been to the restaurant. As of early Thursday evening, reviews of Amy’s Baking Co. had plummeted from more than 1,000 to only 105. Most still give the place only one star
But the Bouzaglos remain unconvinced.
As early as August 2011, one them complained on Facebook that Yelp had tried to “extort” the restaurant by filtering good reviews until the Bouzaglos bought advertising. The couple earned a reputation in Scottsdale for fighting back against their online critics.
In a statement posted to their Facebook page, the couple promised to host a grand re-opening of the restaurant next week, with a portion of proceeds donated to a charity that fights “cyberbullying.” Mike Saucier, a spokesman for the couple, said that Yelp had declined to take down a number of false reviews.
“Yelp said they wouldn’t, or couldn’t, do it because of the aneurysm -- er, algorithm,” Saucier said.
The slip was, perhaps, a telling one.