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    Yelp is Lying to You — But You Should Still Use the Site

     Yelp is Lying to You — But You Should Still Use the Site


                Users on Yelp have long complained about the accuracy of the site’s reviews, claiming that it’s common to see reviews from visitors who never actually visited the business they are reviewing and that there are plenty of fake reviews created by businesses themselves. Is this true? Yes, it’s true — but even with these reviews included, Yelp remains an invaluable resource that you should use to find your next business or place to eat. Here’s why you should still use Yelp even though it has some inaccuracies.

    1. How Big is This Problem?

                Let’s look at some numbers. More than 20 million people used Yelp in March 2014, writing more than 83 million reviews. Reviewers give businesses an average of 3.7 stars on a five-star scale and spend roughly eight hours on Yelp each month. The site has already been visited by tens of millions of iPhone users who have downloaded its mobile app, which will be available for Android devices next year. And it’s growing fast: In 2011, Yelp increased revenue by 70 percent compared with 2010. It’s expected to reach $500 million in sales in 2013—up from $422 million last year—and generate as much as $1 billion within three years. That would put it among the top 100 Internet companies worldwide, based on annual revenue. So you can see why business owners are so eager to game their reviews—and why you should care about what they do. Here's how to tell if your favorite (or least favorite) local store or restaurant is rigging its ratings. 

                Most review sites try to limit abuses by asking users not to review places that they haven't patronized. Anyone caught violating these rules risks having his comments deleted or being banned from future posting, but that only works if reviewers stick to them and don't slip into character assassination disguised as consumer advice. Many sites also prohibit posting competitors' contact information and photos without their permission; treat publicly displayed logos like those on company letterhead as copyrighted material; mandate that commenters provide enough real information about themselves for recipients to know where a review came from; prohibit attacking other reviewers directly in posts; enforce limits on how many times anyone can post per day; and ban multiple accounts owned by one person (however, Yahoo!

    2. The Numbers Don't Lie

                Yelpers are notorious for putting a positive spin on their reviews, but they’re also brutally honest—and often accurate. A report in 2011 found that, of all restaurant reviews on Yelp, 80 percent were useful, with less than 2 percent receiving no stars and 11 percent getting just one star. And when researchers at Cornell University analyzed reviews for 1,341 New York City restaurants that had received between zero and four stars (out of five), they found that Yelpers' ratings were uncannily similar to those of professional critics. This is good news: It means Yelpers are likelier than your average Internet reviewer to share insights that help you make an informed decision about where you’re spending your money. 

                The caveat? There's still room for fudging. In another study, published in 2012, Cornell researchers found that although negative reviews tend to be honest and reliable, positive ones may not be—in fact, reviewers who give businesses high marks may actually know something you don't. In other words: Be wary of raves from users who have reviewed only one or two businesses; such prolific reviewers might actually be employed by local establishments or have some other kind of relationship with them. On balance though, it seems safe to trust what most Yelpers say. The site isn't perfect—but neither is any other source out there when it comes to helping consumers navigate an increasingly crowded marketplace of products and services. So if you're looking for advice on where to eat, play, shop, or stay—or just want a heads-up about which spots in town aren't worth your time—check out Yelp. Just remember that while many of its reviews can be trusted, others can't.

    3. Honest Yelpers Are Killing Online Reviews

                As online reviews have gained traction, some businesses have resorted to dishonest tactics, most notably writing fake positive reviews and leaving negative reviews on their competitors' pages. Honest Yelpers like Scott A. Gellatly are calling out these liars, but they’re in a no-win situation: If they report them, users think they’re just complaining that they’re not getting enough positive feedback. If they don't say anything, Yelp perpetuates an atmosphere of dishonesty. How can you get around it? According to Gellatly, you can only do so by reporting those suspicious reviews and backing up your claims with evidence such as receipts or photos. It may seem tedious, but if we want to keep online reviews honest, it's our responsibility. And, who knows, maybe you'll even help save someone from spending $400 on a haircut. 

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    👉Claim your Yelp Business Page

                Every day, more and more people turn to online review sites for recommendations about where to spend their money, whether it be for dinner or designer clothes. Online review sites let us hear real opinions about everything from parks to restaurants—even hotels! While many consumers depend on these reviews as valuable resources, there are two problems with how many people go about seeking them out: They trust every single review they read without looking at what other reviewers said—and now there's even an app designed to manipulate ratings. We need to make sure that doesn't happen! Here's how you can be part of creating a better future for online reviews.

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    4. 15% of People Report Trusting Online Reviews as Much as Word-of-Mouth

                Some studies have indicated that as many as 20 percent of people trust online reviews as much as a personal recommendation. It’s not unusual for someone who has never heard of your business or service to take their word-of-mouth cues from online reviews; Yelp claims that its users are twice as likely than non-users to visit a local business after reading a review on Yelp. In other words, if you’re hoping that your customers will hear about you through word-of-mouth recommendations, they may be getting those recommendations from strangers on sites like Yelp. That’s good news if you have positive reviews, but bad news if your competition gets more word-of-mouth referrals than you do. The moral of the story is? Make sure you get some positive reviews on Yelp and elsewhere. If you don’t, it could cost you business. (You can also respond to negative reviews with humor and class.)

    5. The Good News About Yelp Reviews

                While Yelp does have a smattering of fraudulent reviews and reviewers, here’s what you need to know about Yelp reviews: First, despite many claims to the contrary, most Yelp users trust them. (About 80 percent of respondents in a Pew Research Center study from 2013 said they believed user-generated content on sites like Yelp was very or somewhat trustworthy.) Second, not all reviewers are created equal. Just because you can write whatever you want on Yelp doesn’t mean that every Yelper has an equally valid opinion. In fact, we've found evidence that some reviewers rarely or never review any business—suggesting they may be either bots or people paid by businesses hoping to improve their rating. We also know that when it comes to restaurants, there's a big difference between amateur foodies and professional critics. The former tend to focus on ambiance and customer service; while professional critics look at things like taste, presentation, portion size, and value for money. This means if you run a restaurant, it's probably best to ignore amateur reviews while making sure your staff treats everyone well. And if you're looking for an objective assessment of your restaurant? It's probably worth paying for one.

    6. Conclusion

                People have turned against Yelp, with some going so far as to create filters that remove reviews from businesses that refused to pay for advertising. Critics claim these filters skew review data. They accuse Yelp of extortion and manipulating businesses into buying ads or risk having their reputation ruined by negative reviews. And, yes, there are some people out there writing fake reviews for kicks or getting paid to write biased reviews. But don't let all of that dissuade you from using Yelp's tools—they're still very useful. If anything, it should remind you to always use your best judgment when reading reviews. There's no substitute for doing your own research. If a business has tons of 5-star ratings but no other information about them online, be wary. If they've got lots of bad ratings but also a ton of good ones (or vice versa), take those ratings with a grain of salt and do more research before making a decision. The only way to avoid being manipulated by bad actors on Yelp is to learn how to think critically about what you read online. And that skill will serve you well in life in general!

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