Yelp's stated goal is to connect people with local businesses, but persistent concerns over the reliability of its user reviews have prompted the company to take steps to make them more transparent.
Yelp announced two major changes to its reviews in its official blog on Monday. First, the company will now let anyone see reviews that were previously hidden by its automated filter. Second, Yelp is getting rid of the "Favorite Review" option that it sold to advertisers. Both features have been the object of criticism in regards to the legitimacy of its user reviews.
The company had set up its automated filter to specifically remove reviews that were considered fake, malicious, or questionable in some way. But because the filter is automatic, legitimate reviews have ended up getting tossed aside as well. In response, the company will now offer links to a separate page showing all of the filtered reviews for a business.
The "Favorite Review" feature was sold by Yelp as part of an advertising package to companies that wanted to tout their best reviews. But with unease over possible ties between Yelp's paid advertising and its user reviews, the company has turned off that feature completely.
"Today we've taken steps to make it even more clear that Yelp treats review content equally for advertisers and non-advertisers alike and that there is no relationship between advertising and a business' reviews on Yelp," Jeremy Stoppelman, Yelp's chief executive officer and co-founder, said in a statement. "While Yelp is helping millions of consumers find millions of great local businesses each month--and consumer traffic and business advertisers continue to reach new highs--myths have persisted about how review content is displayed on Yelp."
Yelp's almost six-year history has at times been a rocky one as the company has faced complaints over the credibility of its user reviews. Allegations have been made that Yelp gives more prominence to positive reviews of businesses that advertise on Yelp and that it removes positive reviews of businesses unwilling to cough up the cash. Stoppelman has adamantly denied such allegations.
The San Francisco-based company is currently facing a class action lawsuit filed in late February by a veterinary hospital. The hospital is claiming that Yelp sales reps asked for advertising payments in exchange for removing negative reviews--a charge that Stoppleman has refuted.