Anyone can write a review on Yelp, so it has software designed to prevent, for example, one deli owner from writing a negative review about a competitor. But now, in the interest of transparency, Yelp will let users see all the reviews.
Yelp co-founder and CEO Jeremy Stoppelman says the changes should reassure consumers and businesses alike that its reviews are trustworthy.
"Thirty-one million users come to the site every month and it's really important that they trust the site and understand how it works and the changes we're making today are going to make it very clear to everyone," Stoppelman said.
Yelp software filters reviews and decides which ones are credible. Yelp will not reveal the criteria, hoping to prevent reviewers from gaming the system, but now, reviews once filtered out, will be available and consumers can decide for themselves if they are legitimate.
"Are people going to take the trouble to do that, number one, and secondly we don't know what damage has been done in the meantime," business owner Richard Pennington said.
Pennington is a design and build general contractor. He says his Modern Spaces company got a glowing review by a Stanford professor that disappeared after only a week, while a negative review stayed up much longer. He thinks the site is fundamentally unfair.
"I think it's very interesting the head of steam that's built up now; a lot of people going after them who are fed up with it," Pennington said.
Yelp is also getting rid of something called the "favorite review" to avoid the appearance of giving an unfair advantage to businesses that buy advertising. Yelp is facing class-action lawsuits from companies who say they have been pressured to advertise in exchange for removal of bad reviews.
"The steps that were taken today will help underscore the fact that Yelp treats advertisers and non-advertisers exactly the same on the site," Stoppelman said.
Nasser Nasrah has owned JB's Place deli for 22 years. He is not a part of the lawsuits, but says he was pressured to buy advertising and noticed a change in the reviews when he said "no."
"All of a sudden their phone calls stopped, the reviews started to come differently or not at all," Nasrah said.
Yelp vehemently denies the charges in the lawsuits and says the changes are not in response to the legal action, but because of more general feedback from users.