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Business Insider Article on Cheating Yelp Reviews

For the occasional good article or two on BI, you need to wade through pages of crap. Here is an article on Business Insider about cheating Yelp, which falls squarely into the category of "crap" whereby the article falls just short of telling businesses to cheat on Yelp.

That's not the interesting part for me. The comments to the article are more telling. Just about every article I read  about Yelp these days has similar comments-Yelp reviews are worthless! Perhaps I am slightly bias being in the space myself, but I am inclined (at least for small businesses) to agree. You just can't trust them.


Views: 572

Tags: BusinessInsider, Dealership Reviews, Reputation Management, Review sites, Yelp


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Comment by Scott Falcone on February 20, 2012 at 9:38pm


Awesome info that I would bet most did not know played a role in how Yelp works. I won't bet you a beer, but feel like I owe you one for the time you spent on this. Looking forward to hearing more.

Comment by David Brondstetter on February 20, 2012 at 9:31pm


Thank you for the kind words. For what it's worth, I think you do a fine job of getting your points across and I enjoy reading through your posts. I grew up in a small dirt down in Michigan. Quotes like "Sorry, but anyone with an IQ above room temp" usually end up as an addition to the local vernacular! 

Agree with you on the model. The double edge sword on their model is the discouragement of single review consumers. If you are a business and asking your customer for a review, chances are the customer you are asking has never done a review on Yelp. To give an estimate, I would say to use your CSI score, convert it to a percentage (example: 4.6 out of 5 scale would convert to 92%) and multiply it by a the reciprocal of your SWAG of the number of your happy customers who have previously completed a Yelp review. So, if you think 5% of your happy customers have previously completed a Yelp review, you'd subtract 5% from 100% and get 95%. Times 95% by 92% (your csi index converted to a percentage) and you get the what we can call the Yelped Factor. In this case the Yelped Factor would equal 87.4% which may be a good representation of the number of your satisfied customers who've never been to Yelp. That is the second edge of the sword. My hypothesis: The majority of happy customers who have transacted at your dealership have never completed a Yelp review (see previous post on bell curve). I would be willing to bet that I am not more than 10% off on that number (ok, just a beer, but I like beer so the bet is not without teeth). 

So, dealers and other small businesses jump into the ring with at least one arm tied behind their backs. They can send all the happy customers they want to Yelp, but if they are 501's...poof! That said, I have a lot of faith in dealers. If the last 100 years has proven anything, it's that the dealers can and will find a way to adapt to all the crap that gets thrown at them. 

(disclaimer: the numbers I used above are for illustration purposes only. They don't take into account the scrub factor for 501's on Yelp. It was mentioned that 501 scrubs could be as high as 90%. If that were the case, 10% would stick.)

Comment by Scott Falcone on February 20, 2012 at 8:55pm


What a well written piece as a response to the group. I wish that I had the skills to cohesively put together a follow up to your excellent points, but alas my fingers do not move as fast as my mouth or my brain (not that fast anyway)...but I would like to add that these issues that you so eloquently discuss perhaps could be solved by allowing "in business" participation. I know that we will shortly be seeing the DOING-A-REVIEW-IN-STORE-IS-COERCION-AND-YOU-AND-YOUR-SALESPEOPLE-WILL-GO-TO-HELL-FOE-PLACING-THE-PISTOL-TO-YOUR-CUSTOMER'S-HEAD-AND EVERYONE-WILL-THINK-THEY-ARE-FAKE-AND-NEVER-DO-BUSINESS-WITH-YOU-AGAIN-STARTING-TOMORROW-AND-CONTINUING-FOR-4-6-YEARS (EVEN THOUGH THEY NEVER TRIED IT OR WORKED IN RETAIL-can you tell I'm fed up with "experts") crowd showing up soon, but truly this does solve a lot of the issues with Yelp outside of the algo. 

When you mention the substandard model (sampling), part of the failure is it (the model) encourages angry, unsatisfied people more than happy ones. Life gets in the way! Good reviews often do not get done. Best intentions are shot. How is the sampling fair if you do not allow a customer to do a review at all stages of the experience? One minute or one year? Argue fairness of either and you have a problem. Allow both and you have an average. 

Yelp and other anti in-store platforms do not allow for a fair sampling. Notice I did not say a perfect, algo specific, spot on formula. There is no such thing in the review business. It will always be imperfect...always. Instead they hide behind the nonsense I mentioned above with NO STATS WHATSOEVER to back up their position. Just hunches and agendas. 

And as far as this (Yelp) community goes, how is that a fair sampling of society? A pack of people with so much free time that their mission in life is to get a Yelp Elite badge and show up at Yelp specific parties (yes they exist and that is part of the original growth strategy of Yelp...a merry band of "somethings" dedicated to finding every mac and cheese stand in America and providing a Pulitzer prize winning review of them)? Is that how the algo is supported? By this subsect of who-knows-whats?  Sorry, but anyone with an IQ above room temp knows these little cults groups do not truly represent the populace. Does that mean dealers should ignore? Unfortunately no...should they invest money and time past the point of ROI determined by your dealer? No. So it's your call.

By the way do you know if Yelp has an affiliate program where agencies, etc can resell their ad services? Not that I am interested, but I am interested in who else might be interested. Seems like the models who generate a reasonable amount of profit from click traffic stick together and sing from the same song page.

Can't wait for the experts to arrive. And sorry for failures to complete a complete thought. 

Comment by David Brondstetter on February 20, 2012 at 4:45pm


Thanks for the reply. Pretty spot on. You know the problem for me is really the 501 (thanks, I didn't know they had a name). The big issue with any review site is the bell curve. As many have suggested, the propensity to submit an online review has a lower standard deviation threshold  when the experience was negative than when the experience was positive. I guess that's a fancy way of saying customers with negative experiences post reviews about that experience more than those with either a benign (we'll call that the mean) experience or a great one. Dealerships and other businesses combat this by asking people to give reviews on sites like Yelp and Google Places (a tactic I agree with 100%). So, you get someone who rarely post a review giving you a good one on Yelp and "poof", it's gone.

The real issue to those of us with a year or two of statistical process control and sampling methodology (thank you Deming Institute and CMU-Fire Up Chips!) is the fact that they take an already substandard sampling model and make it even worse by eliminating an entire subsection of respondents; the 501's. So, by the very nature of Yelp's policy, the reviews are not representative. I guess the interpretation is around the word "representative"? It can certainly be said that no review site or CSI feedback can be completely representative of the population without 100% participation and statistically that is correct. Even at 100%, researchers will still tell you that the results are not 100% accurate due to environmental factors (e.g., language barriers, survey fatigue, answer scale, rank order, etc, etc), so an acceptable degree of freedom to comfortably support a hypothesis is applied. My point to the above is only to say that statistically,Yelp's filtering policy (yes I called it a policy because "algorithm" is nothing more than a mathematical means for policy implementation) only exacerbates an already flawed  model. Because many other review sites don't do the same type of filtering, one could argue that they are more representative of a population, and thus more accurate. 

To Ralph's point about community, I think Yelp is less of a "review" site and more of a community. If you are in with the community, you're somehow anointed with the power to provide reviews in a mostly unfettered manner. If you aren't; poof! That said, both you and Ralph are 100% correct, Yelp does need to be a part of the dealer's strategy. It is resource intensive for sure, but technology does exist to help them along.

Really, I can't imagine dealership personnel having not only to ask for a Yelp review, but to ask the customer to review some other non related businesses too? How does that conversation go? "Thanks for buying a car. By the way, what restaurant did you last eat at?". "Did you like the food?". "While you're at it, can you give them a review too?". Thank you both for the engaging responses. David

Comment by Ralph Paglia on February 19, 2012 at 6:36pm

David, thank you for such a well thought out response to my comment... I would find it difficult to disagree with most of what you wrote because you are correct in the assertion that many, perhaps even most small businesses seem to initially despise Yelp.  I have heard many dealers describe working with Yelp as feeling like they are being blackmailed... Yet, look at what Scott Falcone states about their influence in the marketplace and the need for dealers to proactively manage their Yelp profiles... Like most institutions, including some car dealerships, that are chastised and despised by others, I believe there exists a high degree of misunderstanding around Yelp.  This is exacerbated by Yelp's overly aggressive sales team, and then amplified by their activities leading up to the pending Yelp IPO... Agaian, in my opinion, after the IPO and Yelp going public, I believe there will be an evolution of what Yelp is as a company and how they are perceived.

Because as much as you may hear business owners complain about Yelp, in many ways it reminds me of those same owners complaining about Facebook... Yelp is first and foremost a community.  That's why reviews posted by people who are not active within the Yelp community are subject to scrutiny and more likely to become filtered.  In some ways, I believe that Yelp is far easier to understand, and a business's reputation marketing easier to manage if you simply approach Yelp as not so much a review site, but rather as a network or online community.

I continue to have mostly positive experiences with Yelp and using their community to better achieve the marketing objectives of the clients me and my team at Tier10 Marketing seek to serve... I will be meeting with several Yelp executives over the next few weeks to attempt negotiating better advertising terms for our clients.  Why? Because there are many consumers who use Yelp to help get the information they need to make a vehicle purchase and service supplier decision.  


Comment by David Brondstetter on February 19, 2012 at 6:15pm


It’s never good when you read “You are certainly entitled to your opinions”. :-) Seriously, you know I respect and value your opinion and insight and I appreciate your response to my blog post. And to be honest, if we were talking apples to apples, I would agree with you, but I don’t think we are. I think your comments are based on the objective and factual around Yelp, mine are based on the subjective. It’s the equivalent of comparing the color of a car to the ride comfort. Obviously, the color (for all intents and purposes) is black or white. The ride comfort is more shades of gray.


Most people are not as educated on Yelp’s process and even fewer (the average Joe/Jane) have your depth of knowledge and understanding of the review space in general. The average person has a perception of the reviews and the review site without insight or interest in the filtering process and willingness to work with subscribed businesses that happens behind the scenes. For many it’s a legacy issue. For some, it’s not. If you write a review on Yelp and it doesn’t remain on the business page, you get skeptical. So, when one of your friends tells you they are going to check Yelp for a hotel, you tell them that you posted a review there and it got taken down. And so on, and so on. Nobody cares about why it was filtered; only that it was filtered. In the consumer’s mind, “filtered” is gaming the system. Yelp may have a great filtering process? But at the end of the day, even Yelp says they take down reviews that are probably real, suggesting the good of the many out weight the good of the few. Although I don’t necessarily disagree with the premise, it should be mentioned that (for a small business) the misidentification of a positive review from an actual customer could make a huge difference for a low volume business. Yes, I know there are “methods” for helping get them through the filter. Who’s got time for that? Not the small businesses I work with.


I could go on ad nauseam about the subject as I am sure you and a significant number of other board contributors could. I guess my point to all this is that Yelp can do all they want behind the scenes with their filtering engine and their client facing engagement. That’s probably not going to have a wholesale change on people’s perceptions that 1) their reviews are gamed and 2) you won’t have any problems if you are a “subscriber".


As for the Apple deal, I don’t really think they had much of a choice. Yelp has content. Even if there wasn’t an issue between Apple and Google (can you say android), GP still doesn’t have the requisite breadth and depth. It was an easy choice for them. Thanks, David

Comment by Scott Falcone on February 19, 2012 at 6:10pm


So true...these filters are near useless. And as to why Apple chose Yelp...who were they gonna choose Google (reviews)???

Below is an article written for another site. Click on the link at the end to see how many of Yelp's users think it is so good. They are hated by the business community for poor quality of these filters and extortion like tactics.

"I knew there were a lot of unhappy Yelp business owners, but I wasn't quite sure how many. Seems there is a decent bunch willing to complain about it. It looks like similar issues cross industry lines when it comes to disappearing reviews, accusations of false negative reviews, review shuffling, algo filter a joke, and more. Makes for some entertaining reading and also makes one wonder if dealers have a real chance here unless they find "Yelpers" to do a review of their store. A common complaint is that a "one-time Yelper" will typically have the review filtered.  They even have a name for them- a "501". Five star review, zero friends, one review. Like it's some sorta crime not to be a full time review guru. Yelp should recognize how lucky a business is to even get a review, let anyone have the community chastise the person for doing it.


Regardless, Yelp is a critical component of a dealership's reputation makeup and therefore has to proactively monitored and managed, but how much effort can dealers afford to put into this site? The unfortunate answer I think, is that you have no choice but to stay the course and hope things improve and secure as many reviews as possible in the mean time. They are just too big to ignore." 


                                        Review Yelp Here


Comment by Ralph Paglia on February 19, 2012 at 4:14pm

David - You are certainly entitled to your opinions, but in this case I would like to go on record as disagreeing with you 100% at this time... In my opinion, Yelp's review filtering process makes it the most reliable of all review sites (from a user perspective) and their willingness to work with businesses who are subscribed to their enhanced listing product is a winning business model for Yelp investors and the businesses who subscribe as well. 

The fact that Apple chose Yelp over all other review sites to power their flagship product (Siri) is related to the reliability of yelp reviews and the proven effectiveness of their "Filtering" system... Is it difficult to "game" the Yelp system? Yes, it is... Does that make businesses, including car dealerships, dealers and managers angry? yes, it certainly makes it frustrating... BUT, it is at this time Yelp has the most reliable and "BS free" source of online reviews available on the web.

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