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Is Yelp Doing More Harm Than Good for Your Business? Part 2: Prospect Genius Case Study

Last month, we issued a post detailing the problems that the popular site Yelp causes for small, local businesses in all different corners of the country. In today’s followup post, we’ll detail how, like many businesses, Prospect Genius was hit by Yelp’s well meant but poorly executed practices. It was an unfortunate experience, to say the least, but there are some important lessons in our story that are worth sharing.

First, an Overview…

As you know, Yelp is a self-described urban guide that’s predicated on active users and community members voluntarily writing reviews of local businesses. Its purpose is to enable individuals to assess how well other customers fared with nearby companies in terms of service, quality, price, and overall value. Generally speaking, Yelp empowers consumers and helps businesses connect with prospective customers. However, there’s a major flaw in Yelp’s review system, namely the automated review-filtering software. Intended to improve the reliability of Yelp’s content, it weeds out questionable reviews while keeping seemingly trustworthy ones. When a review is filtered out, its star rating goes with it, leaving zero impact on a company’s rating, for better or worse. While this seems like a good idea in theory, it has actually wound up hurting a great number of users due to an imperfect algorithm that seems to favor negative reviews over positive ones. This is what happened to Prospect Genius’s very own Yelp listing…

How the Issue Transpired

We’ve been in business for over five years now, and we’ve always committed ourselves to providing clients with exceptional service and support. In fact, we are accredited by the Better Business Bureau and maintain an A+ rating. However, our Yelp listing used to paint a much different picture. As it turns out, a former, disgruntled client decided to spam his own Yelp listings and ours. This is a client who had signed up for our lead generation program three different times for two separate, unrelated businesses. On his own listings, he boldly left glowing reviews without even disguising himself with a different username. These reviews beat the filtering system. Meanwhile, on our listing, using the same name, he wrote a deeply negative and false review, which also made it past the filters. At the same time, five different, legitimate clients gave us very positive reviews. How many of those made it onto our Yelp listing? Zero. You read that correctly: 100% of our positive reviews were filtered out. This left our listing with a one-star rating and a solitary, terrible review from an angry spammer, while five excellent reviews remained filtered and hidden. As you can guess, we weren’t happy about this.

Our Course of Action in Response

Not prone to ignore blatant injustice, we faced the issue head on. First, we reported our former client’s reviews as spam on his own listing (because that’s exactly what they were). Then, we contacted Yelp’s Customer Service Department and requested that a human, not a robot, look at the reviews on our listing because the automated filter had made an error. In return, we received a form response that explained how the review filter works without providing any semblance of a solution. At this point, we decided to go one step further and contact the Legal Department, this time with a stronger request: either manually review the results of the filter or remove Prospect Genius completely from the Yelp directory. Rather than comply with our request, their response was to mark our listing as “no index,” meaning that it still exists but cannot be found via search. Obviously, this is not the same as deleting it.

The Less-Than-Agreeable Outcome

As it stands now, our listing still exists on Yelp without being indexed. While you won’t find us by searching for our name, you can view the listing here: http://www.yelp.com/biz/prospect-genius-troy. The negative review from our former client is no longer anywhere on our listing. One terrific client review with a five-star rating has made it through the filter—but four other positive reviews still remain hidden. Unfortunately, Yelp’s review filter is here to stay. We can only hope that the software becomes more accurate as time goes on. For now, we’ll chalk this up to a learning experience and use it as an important lesson for small business owners everywhere.

The Lesson to Take Away

While this encounter with Yelp and its Customer Service Department has certainly left a bad taste in our mouth, we’ve at least managed to take away a few lessons—primarily, that you must be vocal and stand up for yourself as soon as you notice a problem. Otherwise, the bad guys (a.k.a. spammers and uncaring corporations) will win. Who wants to live in that kind of world? The second lesson is a point that we’ve made before, but it bears repeating: Don’t put all of your eggs in one basket. Unpleasant interactions with former clients and impersonal web directories are bound to happen. That’s why you should always use a variety of websites when marketing your company. Some of our preferred directories include Google+, Yahoo! Local, Bing Local, Citysearch, Local.com, and Angie’s List. When you utilize a handful of different outlets, you’ll prevent your honest advertising efforts from being crippled by any one spammer, nasty competitor, or irate customer. If you decide to stick with Yelp, just remember, that while it can be a useful tool when the system works in your favor, it also has equal potential to harm your reputation. Stay on top of your listing, watch out for dubious behavior, and report any problems as soon as they appear. If you end up having an experience similar to ours (which we wouldn’t wish on anyone), then you can save a lot of time by directly asking for your company not to be indexed. Yelp won’t delete your listing, but at least others won’t be able to find it without knowing the precise URL.

Get Advice From Prospect Genius

No matter which online business directories you decide to work with, vigilance is your best strategy. But if you see something suspicious and aren’t positive that it should be a red flag, feel free to give us a call! Having gone through this ourselves, we’ll be more than happy to give you our opinion.