Yelp.com is not a big hit here in the South Valley... at least not yet. But then, it's only been in the last few years that my fellow Visalians seem to have come to fully embrace the Internet at all.
I discovered Yelp accidentally several years back while Googling myself... Yes. I know it sounds dirty. I think Google did that on purpose when they chose their name.
Nevertheless, as a small business owner, I realized that the Internet was the future of customer referral for my type of business long ago. I've been working hard to maintain a strong web-presence for as long as I, myself, have had Internet access. It actually drove me nuts for many years that my customers seemed so non-plussed about the Internet at all. But-- THANK YOU STEVE JOBS!-- as soon as the iPhone hit the market, I saw a distinct change in attitude toward Internet use among the people I see and talk to IRL every day.
So, occasionally, when I have a little extra time, I Google myself-- just to make sure I'm findable.
And so it was that a few years ago I discovered Yelp.com. And that's how it all began:
When I stumbled across Yelp, I had already closed my Court & Walnut location and gone back to a booth rental set up at Attitudes Salon. When I did this, I forwarded the land line phone # to my cell phone for a month and made sure to point this out in my outgoing voicemail message so that callers would take note to change their contact # for me. Then I cancelled my account with the phone company and have used my cell # as my primary business contact number since 2007.
Unfortunately, this meant that I was initially unable to claim my own business with Yelp!
There are a lot of "peer review" style sites out there in cyberspace and many of them simply add listings from the local telephone records-- I assume that's how Yelp had a listing for The Art of Nailz to begin with. But since the number on file was the land line number, I had no way of claiming my business listing because they were unable to verify my claim by calling me.
I looked through Yelp's site and sent off an email to their contact info-- to no avail-- so I simply wrote a review for the business.
Oh yeah. I know. I'm not supposed to do that! Oh NO! Ok... well, I've read through Yelp's TOS several times now and it doesn't really say "YOU CANNOT DO THIS" so much as they repeatedly use the term "we discourage this..." at any rate, I wanted to let anyone who came across the listing to at least know what happened to the business.
Then I added the salon where I was working at the time, wrote a review for the hair stylists, and happily nodded every time one of my co-workers said they'd gotten a new client from Yelp.
Then I moved to my current location. I created a business profile on Yelp, still had that lost-in-space listing from my old location, and-- since I have a new land line (for the credit card machine)-- Yelp created a new listing for the "new" business.
So I had, essentially, 3 listings. Stupid. But I was totally unable to get ahold of anyone at Yelp to take care of it.
Until they decided to contact me.
Naturally, all they really wanted to do was sell me advertising. Which left me in a frustrated, exasperated state of hysterical laughter and simultaneous irritation and incredulousity (that's a word, isn't it?) I did manage to finally get someone to condense all 3 listings into one page. BUT NOW, the 4 reviews-- and I'm willing to just count the 3 legitimate reviews from people other than myself (from that first listing, remember?)-- are "filtered."
Well, apparently I'm not the only person who has experienced the Yelp Review Filter and been left with the feeling that I've been groped by a toothless stranger on a bus-- because it's obviously such a common complaint that they've seen fit to include a significant discussion of the issue in their FAQs.
So... I have been looking for a way to review Yelp itself. So far, I haven't figured it out. So I'm just gonna do it here:
Yelp sucks. Like Communism: it's better in theory than in practice.
I WANT-- desperately want-- to love Yelp. I think it's such a great idea. I like the idea of peer review sites. I like the idea that my clients have a place-- a place that gets noticed-- online to talk about how great I am. I even-- gulp-- like that the clients who don't think I'm great, can voice their opinions as well. It gives me an opportunity to "listen in" on what people think of my and my business. That's extremely helpful to me when it comes to deciding how I do business.
I also like the idea of Yelp as a consumer. I like being able to look up a new doctor or a restaurant or salon and find out what people in the community think of them.
Because, let's face it, the marketing that businesses do for themselves is all about us telling you how great we are! And sometimes we are great, but not for the reasons we think, and sometimes we're not as great as we think.
Ok. So... I also totally get the concept of the Review Filter. I understand where the Yelp-masters are coming from when they talk about trying to weed out "fake" reviews. Yeah, we can review ourselves. Disgruntled employees can review their companies; people can review their competitors, their ex-girlfriend/boyfriend/spouses' businesses... there are lot of opportunities for people to leave less-than-accurate reviews and ratings that unfairly tip a business' reputation pro or con. And Yelp can't send a duly appointed representative to each and every place/person to check up on it-- not to mention that duly appointed representatives are generally (still) human beings and are subject to persuasion too.
And I get that Yelp doesn't have (and probably doesn't want) the manpower to individually read and assess each review on the site to determine if it should be posted or not.
So, in essence, I get that Yelp built a fancy piece of software to crawl their site and review reviews. And so, I get what Yelp is saying about the filtering process.
What I don't get, don't like, and think is stupid, is that they've "filtered" ALL my reviews. And I'm not sure I think that makes sense. And not just for me, personally, but in other cases for other people dealing with the stupid too.
I think, maybe, the Filter should "think" to not hide ALL of a businesses' reviews. That's crap. All 4 reviews were made by separate people, from separate accounts, using separate IP addresses, so the Filter shouldn't be thinking they're duplicates.
Hopefully my reviews will eventually be un-filtered again and show up on my business profile. But, in the meantime, Yelp is a review site. How does it make sense to essentially "erase" ALL the reviews a business has accrued?
Especially in an area where the site is just starting to see regular use? Doesn't it make sense that Yelp would want businesses to have reviews? No one wants to keep checking your site for reviews if there are never any reviews.
Is this because I laughed at your advertising prices? .... oh sure, I read that in the FAQs too, all about how Yelp doesn't "punish" businesses for not advertising with them... but, ya gotta admit, seems coincidental.
I don't pretend to be Good Will Hunting-- I can't "reverse engineer" the fancy algorithms that are used to determine credit scores, or Yelp Review Filtering. But I wouldn't be surprised if some of the variables used for the filtering process are the number of overall reviews any particular person has written overall, the number of reviews a business gets within a certain time frame-- like if I get 20 reviews all in one day, it might be because I told people to write me a review and I'd give them each a cookie for doing it-- and ratings, like, if I get 27 reviews and they're ALL 5 stars, maybe that makes the Filter think, "hmmmm, I wonder if she's bribing them with cookies?"
But, like I said, Yelp isn't big here yet. In fact, after my conversation with the Yelp rep about their ludicrous ad prices, I spent the next 2 days asking everyone I spoke with if they'd ever used Yelp-- overwhelmingly the response was "What's 'Yelp?'" And my hair stylist said she only knew about it because I wrote a review for her.
People don't love constantly being required to register for a site and set up a profile-- I guess, eventually, we'll all be able to use our Google or Facebook accounts to sign in for ANY site-- but so far, Yelp isn't playing that game, but Yelp requires you to create an account and log in in order to write a review. That's more effort than many people want to make. And yeah, I tell people all the time to write a review for me-- I never tell them what to say, I don't want to bake cookies to bribe people. I'm not trying to sway the results, just introduce people to the site.
I have hopes that Yelp will figure out a more accurate filtering process. I expect that Yelp will eventually see far more use here in Visalia. And, as long as they continue to play nice with Google, Yelp will grow and prosper. But I am ticked that they now tell me that my business "has no reviews" just because they've been "filtered" shouldn't mean I go back to square one altogether!
But-- I'm not going to bother to keep posting reviews if the reviews I write are going to get trapped in a filter. And my clients aren't going to write reviews for me if their reviews are going to get hidden. And I'm not going to keep encouraging people to use the site if it's going to end up that their efforts are for naught.