Yelp's Way of Caving to Corporate Pressure and Hiding Reviews While Saying They Didn't Delete Anything
Update: This post may be unfair, as discussed here. I am not fully convinced, though.
A few days ago I posted a negative review of Applied Underwriters, and linked to this post on my blog for much more detail. Yelp promptly pulled the review, saying I violated their terms of service by linking to a commercial web site. I thought that bizarre, since my blog has absolutely nothing commercial about it. But it made more sense when I received a letter from Applied Underwriters demanding that I take down my negative Yelp review or they would sue me for libel. I don't know for sure what happened, but I suspect that Applied Underwriters sent Yelp a similar demand and they used the link in the review as an excuse to delete it and avoid legal entanglements.
So I posted an updated review with more detail and no link. Now, Yelp is hiding the review, along with most of the other negative reviews, behind a nearly invisible link at the bottom that says "other reviews that are not currently recommended". Scroll down to the bottom of this page and you may see it if you have a keen eye. It is not even clear it is a link, but if you click on it, you get all the bad reviews Yelp is hiding.
Let's dismiss all the reasons why Yelp might say they do this. One is clarity, to reduce clutter. But go to your favorite restaurant Yelp page. Likely you will not see this link / hidden review phenomenon. You will see pages and pages of reviews, far more than they would have to show if they just displayed all the reviews for Applied Underwriters.
So there must be another reason. They say in their note there is a quality algorithm. Anyone who has read a lot of Yelp reviews will know that if this is so, their quality algorithm is not working very hard. They have a number of reviews that they "recommend" that are nothing more than a rant like "I will never use these guys again" while my unrecommended review includes paragraphs of detail about the service. They say it is based on your review volume as well, but I have more Yelp review volume than several of the others who seem to pass the screen.
All of which leads me to believe that this is Yelp's purgatory where they hide reviews based on corporate pressure. They have gotten a lot of cr*p publicly about deleting bad reviews from sponsors and from corporations that pressure them to do so. They have a zillion self-righteous FAQ's asserting that they don't delete anything. So imagine Applied Underwriters sends Yelp loads of threats to take down each negative review that comes up. What do they do? They put them in the not-recommended purgatory. They can claim that they haven't deleted anything, but absolutely no one will ever likely see the review. And they don't count any longer to the company's review count, so for all intents and purposes they are gone.
All of this is a guess, because it is absolutely impossible to contact Yelp about these issues. No phone numbers. The ones in general directories for San Francisco don't work for them. You can't email or chat or contact their customer support in any way. For a company in the transparency business, they avoid it like the plague.
But do you want to know what makes me doubly sure of my analysis? Because there is no way to up-rate any of the "not recommended" reviews. I would have thought the whole up-rating system was how they sorted reviews to present the most relevent at the top, but you can't do that with the ones they have put in purgatory. Why? Because these reviews are being put in purgatory not for some customer benefit but to protect corporations able to put pressure on Yelp. Yelp doesn't want them uprated. They are supposed to disappear. If I had time, I would compare the number of "not recommended" reviews for corporations with powerful legal staffs like Applied Underwriters to the number for Joe's local business (AU has 17 recommended reviews but a 28 full reviews that have been "disappeared" as unrecommended).