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Yelp Gets More Transparent

What happens when a review site gets panned?

Back in February, several businesses filed a class-action lawsuit against Yelp, accusing the popular review site of tweaking bad reviews in exchange for more advertising money from the poorly-reviewed companies. At the time, the site seemed on the verge of losing some credibility, but now Yelp is responding by making the site a little more transparent for consumers and a little less friendly to businesses.

Yelp announced yesterday that it will make two key changes to the site. First, the site will allow users to see all reviews that have been “filtered” out in the past in order to prove that they have no bias. “You can see that Yelp’s review filter works just the same for advertisers and non-advertisers alike,” Jeremy Stoppelman, Yelp’s CEO, wrote on the company’s blog.  Second, Yelp will eliminate the option for businesses to pick out their “favorite review” on the page and highlight that one. According to Stoppelman, this “led some people to the wrong conclusions about whether businesses could control the review content on their page.”

Several sites have already written approvingly of these changes, but skeptics remain. Frank Reed touched on the underlying issue on MarketingPilgrim.com. “Who is the real influencer with Yelp?” he wrote. “The reviewer who is supposedly the cornerstone of Yelp’s business or the small business owner who needs to make sure his/her reviews are in their business’s best interest?” I might even put the question a little more broadly: Is it really possible for a site to offer advertisements for businesses and offer unbiased customer reviews? Only time - and lawsuits - will tell.

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