Yelp Filtering Out Legitimate Yelp Reviews, Making Good Reviews Disappear and Artificially Affecting Business’ Ratings

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We’ll bet that you thought that the posting of Yelp reviews on Yelp was an open system, allowing legitimate users to post a Yelp review – whether good or bad – without being censored. Well, if you thought that, you were wrong, as we ourselves learned, all too frustratingly, this week. It turns out that while Yelp claims to only filter out reviews “to protect consumers and business owners from fake, shill or malicious reviews”, in fact they filter Yelp reviews with no apparent rhyme or reason, based on a criteria which they coyly demur to explain, saying “It’s a bit of a Catch-22, but the more we describe how the system works, the easier it is for people to game the system and write fake reviews.” Moreover, this is exactly the sort of shenanigans that got them in hot water just a year ago, resulting in a class action Yelp lawsuit last year.

The Yelp lawsuits last year claimed that Yelp would only remove a bad (and demonstrably fake, shill or malicious) review if the place that received the bad review paid for advertising on Yelp. In otherwords, Yelp was accused of extortion.

According to one Yelp lawsuit, “The plaintiff, a veterinary hospital in Long Beach, California, asked that Yelp remove a false and defamatory review from the website. In response, as set forth in the lawsuit, Yelp refused to take down the review. Instead, the company’s sales representatives repeatedly contacted the hospital and demanded a roughly $300 per-month payment in exchange for hiding or removing the negative review.”


 

After the lawsuit was filed against Yelp, a bakery in Chicago came forward, and joined the lawsuit, claiming that Yelp had offered to push their bad reviews to the bottom of their Yelp page if the bakery agreed to buying a sponsorship on Yelp.

Said Jared Beck, a partner at the law firm of Beck & Lee, who is handling the class action lawsuit against Yelp, “Yelp’s practices are extortionate and especially harmful to small businesses, such as our clients, who are particularly vulnerable to reviews posted on the site.”

Yelp steadfastly maintains they are innocent of any wrongdoing. “The allegations stem from confusion over how our review filter works to protect consumers from fake, or shill, reviews and businesses from malicious reviews from competitors,” said Yelp VP of Communication, Vince Sollitto.

Certainly the review that we wrote recently, and which was filtered out by Yelp, was not a fake, shill, or malicious, but filter it they did, along with several other reviews, for a new restaurant here in Boulder. The only apparent transgression that this restuarant did was to be too good, and so to garner too many good reviews. So Yelp filtered out several good reviews, leaving the one bad one up to drag down the restaurant’s rating on Yelp.

Anyways, if Yelp is not going to let our review see the light of day, we will. So, here is the review that we personally wrote, and that has been filtered (meaning Yelp has falsely labeled us as being either fake (no), a shill for the restaurant (no again), or malicious (wow..pot, kettle, black, Yelp?)

Following, are the other reviews that Yelp filtered out. These are all reviews (glowing reviews) for a new restaurant in Boulder, Zudaka, that features vegetarian and vegan Latin American cuisine.

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At the very end is the link to Zudaka’s Yelp page, where you can see the 5 reviews that remain (including the one bad one) – there are 8 good reviews which Yelp has filtered out, meaning that they are screwing with Zudaka’s rating by filtering out 8 of the 13 reviews that Zudaka has – 12 of which are good reviews, leaving Zudaka with an artificially inflated bad-to-good review ratio of 1:5, or 20% (one bad review against four good reviews), instead of the reality, which is 1:12, or about 8% (one bad review to 12 good reviews).

Our review of Zudaka Latin American Vegetarian Cuisine, Boulder, Colorado

At last! A place that truly ‘gets’ vegetarian and vegan (and gluten-free!) needs! How wonderful to be able to walk into a restaurant and know that you can order anything on the menu and it will be both vegetarian *and* delicious! And the owner is *so* sweet and warm and authentic! But most importantly, the food is *delicious*, and *so* reasonably priced!

For those who don’t know what arepas are, they are sort of like a corn-based english muffin – at least they are similar in size, and in what they do with them. Each arepas dish on the menu is a stuffed arepa, so like an english muffin sandwich..and the fillings are *so* good! Black beans, plaintains, scrambled eggs, carmalized onions, and on and on.

There is truly something for everyone – as another reviewer mentioned. there are even veggie hotdogs, and vegan pasta for those who prefer not to have more traditional Latin American food.

Speaking of other reviewers, McKenzie, your review left me somewhat stunned…all I can imagine is that you were there at the beginning (they’ve only been open for 7 weeks), and must have gotten a new server who didn’t really know what they were saying. There is *nothing* canned from that kitchen – everything is handmade (much by the owner herself) – and is as authentic and homemade as can be! I hope you will give them another chance…my son and I go there about twice a week (we go for breakfast when we are in the area on certain days), and I’ve had dinner there at least 4 times – and it has always been *incredible*.

Ooh, and they have vegan rice pudding for dessert now, too! :-)

Our review received 4 “useful” ratings, and 2 “cool” ratings before Yelp pulled it.

When we discovered that Yelp had removed our review, we wrote to them with howls of outrage, demanding that they explain themselves.

We eventually heard back, but only to have them insult us with this very canned response:

Thanks for contacting us about your review and our review filter.

As you may have read, the filter is designed to protect against fake reviews, including those that might be written by a competitor or a disgruntled former employee. Since it’s not always easy to distinguish the good guys from the bad guys, the system sometimes affects perfectly legitimate reviews, especially those that are written by less established users.

Some reviewers might fear that they are being singled out among the millions of other users based on what they had to say about a particular business. Rest assured, the filter is automated to reduce human bias and affects both positive and negative reviews.

Don’t worry – the system isn’t static, so the reviews that it filters today may not be the same reviews that it filters tomorrow as it constantly assesses and reassesses different trust factors. As a result, your review may very well find its way back onto the business profile page as you become more established on Yelp.

You may have already seen this, but we created a video that explains our review filter here:
https://web.archive.org/web/20160224013721/http://officialblog.yelp.com/2010/03/yelp-review-filter-explained.html

Apparently, however, while our reviews aren’t good enough or them, our email address is, because not 24 hours later, they spammed us.

Ptooey.

Today, while breakfasting at Zudaka, we mentioned to the owner that we had tried to post a favourable review on Yelp (which, we hasten to add, she had nothing to do with), and she told us that she had actually received correspondence from Yelp, suggesting that she had asked customers to write a review. I don’t know the owner very well, but I know her well enough from being at the restaurant that I can say she is a very humble person, and I can’t imagine her ever asking someone to say anything nice about her or her restaurant, and she absolutely denied having done so.

But what about those owners who would? We can certainly understand (and even applaud) Yelp for trying to keep reviews that were written at the request of the business from being published. But wouldn’t a much better way of doing it be to check with the reviewers rather than penalizing an innocent business?

The way the system is rigged right now (and we use the word ‘rigged’ advisedly), as a Yelp biz, you actually get penalized for having too many good reviews. Crazy!

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Yelp Filtering Out Legitimate Yelp Reviews, Making Good Reviews Disappear and Artificially Affecting Business’ Ratings

Really, it leads one to wonder “Why bother to write a review on Yelp at all?” and leaves the poor small business owner stuck in the middle.

And speaking of people who may be feeling “why bother to write any more reviews on Yelp?”, here are the rest of the reviews that were removed from Zudaka’s Yelp page, and filtered out, by Yelp. You be the judge…

This place is AWESOME! I am in love with Zudaka and simply can’t get enough. Talk about food for the soul! This place gets an A+++ in my book for food, authenticity, service and friendliness.

The Food: I’m dreaming about the food. The flavors are simply delicious. The dishes are 100% vegetarian, many are vegan, and many are gluten free. I am personally a meat eater, but I don’t miss the meat at all! You simply must try their lentil soup. It’s a secret family recipe developed by the owner’s grandmother…and made with a lot of love. The Arepas are especially good! My personal favorites are the: the Latina, the En Forma, Reina Pepiada, Buenos Dias, the Zudaka, and the La De Pollo. Ok, may be I like them all. Also the Cachapitas are very moist, flavorful, and taste like comfort food. For dessert, try the flan. I’ve had a lot of flan in my life and this one is the best, ever. You may look at the menu and not recognize anything familiar. Don’t worry. You could simply close your eyes and point to anything and you wouldn’t go wrong.

The Authenticity, Ambiance & Friendliness: This place sings with “soul” that can only be created by one who is true to their origins and passionate about what they are doing. By speaking with the owner, I found out that the walls are adorned with family memorabilia. It’s clear that the owner is devoted to blurring the lines between family, community, and restaurant experience. If you are looking for homey, friendly, cozy, authentic and an unpretentious atmosphere, then you’ve come to the right place. I could spend the afternoon sipping on their Venezuelan café con leche and talking to the owner.

I’ve never been compelled to write a review of a restaurant. But I want to shout to the hills about Zudaka. Bottom line: You simply must try the place. You’ll want to come back for more the first chance you get. And you’ll want to bring all your friends.

{Ed. Note: This review got 7 “useful” ratings, 5 “cool” ratings, and even one “funny” rating before Yelp decided to remove and filter it so that it no longer counted towards Zudaka’s ratings, and nobody would be able to read it unless they jumped through the hoops necessary to find, access, and read filtered ratings.}


This place is great!! Not only did I like it, but my friend from South America came along and said she was in heaven.

For appetizers we got the Yuca (fried or baked root) and also the Patacones (fried plantains). They were both really good but I liked the Yuca the best. Dipping sauces came with it but I liked it by itself. I got tamales for my main dish and rice pudding for dessert which was excellent. Oh and for a drink I got zudaka tea which was tasty and sweet. Kind of like a chai. The server and the owner I met were both very nice, the service was pretty fast, the prices were very, very fair, the restaurant is low key, and *everything can be made vegan!*….. I hope this place sticks around because there isn’t anything like it in Boulder and it’s great to have another VEG restaurant to go to!

Keep in mind: Zudaka’s actual restaurant menu must have been updated recently because it has a little more to choose from than their online menu.

{Ed. Note: Before this review was shunted to the filter, it had garnered three “usefuls” and two “cools”.}


There is one bad rating on this site which I have to think the individual who wrote it is from a mental institution. Is she serious?

This is the best place on earth.

The owner is amazing and the food is great.

I have been back over and over and over and over and over and over and over again.

I would absolutely rec commend this place.

{Ed. Note: This review received three “usefuls” and three “cools” before Yelp’s filter ate it.}


I finally joined Yelp just to write a review for this place! It is that good! I would embarrass myself if I listed all of the items my party of four sampled last night, but everything we tried was delicious! Half of us were vegan but all of us loved the veganized dishes. Most of all I recommend the Zudaka Arepas. A previous reviewer said there were no vegan desserts but the rice pudding and fig dish were able to be veganized and were also delicious! All of our food came at once and it was very fast. The service was excellent and the owner was very warm, friendly, and helpful. I can’t wait to go back!


This is THE BEST RESTARUANT!

When you walk in to Zudaka it is like being in a real South American restaurant! I met the owner, she was extremely helpful and very friendly, I felt immediately welcomed by her and the whole atmosphere. For an appetizer I got the Cachapitas, which are small corn pancakes with fresh white cheese. OMG! I am addicted they are so delicious I ordered another plate of the Cachapitas! I also got a cup of Zudaka Tea…….WOW! The spices were such good quality; I have never had tea like that before! It is a great milky tea to warm up and so very good. Next I ordered the Zudaka Arepa. Another OMG! I was blown away with every bite! Inside of the corn meal arepa was the best ground meat that I have ever had! It was so flavorful and tasted just like beef I could not tell it was Veg! There was also their fresh salsa and white cheese, both tasted like they were made then and there! Last but definitely not least was dessert I got their Quesillo. Which was the perfect texture and perfect end to a superb healthy Latin meal.

I noticed that there are some people who are very ignorant about South American food, and are judging Zudaka as a vegan restaurant. I never once saw Zudaka claim or advertise to be a vegan restaurant, only a Latin Vegetarian place. They just offer vegan options, but do not specialize in vegan food, it is vegetarian. So please do not be put off because of some peoples ignorance about Latin Vegetarian food because you will seriously be missing out!

Whether you are vegan, vegetarian or not every one will enjoy Zudaka.What an experience, one that I am planning to repeat many many times! Going to Zudaka is a must! I highly recommend it to all.

{Ed. Note: This review received one “useful” and one “cool” before Yelp filtered it out.}


I became a vegetarian in 1987 and have been a vegan for 5+ years and I am so happy that Zudaka is here in Boulder. The food is REALLY good! Boulder needs more restaurants like this. It’s a vegetarian restaurant so if you are vegan just let them know exactly what you want (like specify no sugar – almost everything is or can be made vegan). I have always dealt with Christina the owner who is a very sweet and helpful vegetarian. I get takeout here all the time and I love it. The pabellon is delish- I love the ground “meat” and the arepas are great too. Try it- you’ll really like it!

{Ed. Note: This review received 5 “usefuls”, one “funny” and two “cools” before Yelp buried it.}


I really like this addition to Boulder. The restaurant is pretty amazing in that it not only provides tasty vegetarian food, it is LATIN vegetarian food.
The owner is so sweet and charming she can talk me into anything she serves!
Regardless if the meat substitute is not made in-house, what I’m paying for is the flavor, surroundings and not having to make it myself. ;)

{Ed. Note: This review got 5 “usefuls” and 4 “cools” before being filtered by Yelp.}


 

Here is Zudaka’s page on Yelp.

And while we’re at it, here is the website for Zudaka Restuaurant. Stop in some time if you’re in Boulder!

  
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Yelp Filtering Out Legitimate Yelp Reviews, Making Good Reviews Disappear and Artificially Affecting Business’ Ratings

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6 Replies to “Yelp Filtering Out Legitimate Yelp Reviews, Making Good Reviews Disappear and Artificially Affecting Business’ Ratings”

  1. I have also been a ‘victim’ of Yelp and their review software. We had one customer that left a very bad, slanderous review where he called me a ‘crook’ which we asked Yelp to take down and they refused. We also had many good reviews, four or five stars from legitimate customers, all over the country since we ship everywhere that Yelp choose to bury in the non recommended file. I am pretty sure Yelp approached us a while back to advertise with them and we turned them down. I would hate to think this is my punishment for not advertising with them. It is my opinion that the entire Yelp system is corrupt and all I can hope is that my customers will realize that and not hold one crazy review against me from a customer that could not be pleased.

  2. Year 2015
    Looks like companies can pay to not have bad reviews.
    Yelp removed my post 3 times with false excuses.
    I posted to help someone not go through the bad incompetent staff and experience I suffered shopping online at a music store.
    It was a no exchange or return trap and a fake customer care policy. I read the 4 good reviews on Yelp and 1 good review on Amazon so I made a purchase from Pitbull Audio via Amazon. Amazon’s policy is to deal with the vendor on exchanges or returns. I was forced to contact the manufacturer for help on a defective midi keyboard and had to resolve the problem on my own.
    This is their last quote threatning to close my Yelp account.
    “We wanted to let you know that we’ve removed your review of Pitbull Audio San Diego. Your review was brought to our attention by the Yelp community, and we found that it fell outside our Content Guidelines because it did not provide enough detail about your customer experience.

    Please be aware that reposting content to this business listing may result in closure of your account, and that the content you post will be subject to removal without notification.

    Thanks for understanding, and we’ll see you on Yelp!”

  3. I give up on Yelp because of their censorship.

    I can understand their need to filter out mis-use or abuse. But doing so distorts the results of reviews and makes the remaining reviews untrustworthy. I don’t know what the solution is. I stay away in the meantime until they find a business model that will work.

  4. I have submitted some 40+ reviews, of which I rec’d 18 useful. I’ve never been “filtered out” until recently…
    I submitted a review for an Italian Bakery on Newman Springs Rd in Shrewsbury, NJ. I gave the bakery 1 star. 2 days later I went back on Yelp to discover that my review was gone. I found it in the filtered reviews along with 6 others… all with 1 star! The only reviews which were readily viewable by the public (and included in the overall rating) were 3 reviews that had 4 or 5 stars.
    Bias? Let’s see… 9 reviews… 6 with 1 star, and 3 with 4 or more. And every review with 1 star is filtered out. H-m-m-m.

  5. Yelp buries every positive comment for my place of employment, Pauls TV in Rancho Cucamonga. All of our positives are in the filtered (except 1), and all of the negatives displayed in front (except 1)
    We have 7 negative reviews and 27 filtered.
    Obviously we haven’t been paying them.

  6. I went and checked the Yelp listing for that restaurant, which is now closed. There were 16 published reviews – and TWENTY FIVE blocked reviews. Of the 25 “filtered” reviews, there was 1 one star, 1 two star, one three star – and the rest were ALL 4 and 5 star reviews, including one 5 star review that had been totally deleted for no apparent reason.

    With so many 4 and 5 star reviews hidden, I wonder how that affected the restaurant’s ability to attract customers. Why so many filtered reviews? I’ve never seen a restaurant with so many filtered reviews, let alone the percentage – 61% of all the reviews were filtered! Wanna bet the restaurant owner wouldn’t pay Yelp protection?

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