Why the Yelp Review Filter Sucks

What’s Yelp?

For anyone living under a rock since Elvis died, Yelp is a Review site. A lot of people I talk to say they use Yelp to help them get the real scoop on a business. Sure, hey, as consumers don’t we all want that? And Yelp’s free, so I give ’em a big banana right there. Sometimes I completely love Yelp, like when I see all the universally negative reviews of Ticketmaster, the company everyone seems to hate. Jonathan from Boston Yelped it thusly:

You guys suck, make the world worse and should feel ashamed each and every day you walk into work.

That dude’s not holding back, which makes him pretty Yelpful to others who might not already know Ticketmaster blows. Of course the biggest challenge for Yelp is that the forces of human nature are constantly in a struggle to game it. Competitors trashing the competition, friends and colleagues five starring their buds, and the hard fact that a happy customer tells no one and an unhappy one tells the world.

What are filtered reviews?

Filtered reviews are reviews that for whatever reason are determined by Yelp to be flawed. Once tagged as filtered, they’re removed from the page and hidden so well that Homeland Security can’t find them.

According to Yelp,

We try to showcase the most helpful and reliable reviews among the millions that are submitted to the site. Not all reviews make the cut, and those that don’t are posted to a separate “Filtered Review” page. Filtered reviews don’t factor into a business’s overall star rating, but users can still read them by clicking on the link at the bottom of the business’s profile page.

More on Yelp Filtering can be found in the Yelp FAQs

So why does the Yelp Review Filter Suck? Let me count the ways:

  1. First because the filtering is done by a robot not a human
  2. Because the robot gets it wrong – a lot
  3. Because Yelp is impossible to contact about blown calls
  4. Lack of transparency in the filtering algorithm

I don’t want to be accused of being a Yelp kiss-up — not that there’s anything wrong with that — it’s just that I believe they provide a valuable service. And in among the big vats of petty rants and sugar coated 5-star fodder are some really painstakingly well thought out, reasonable and helpful reviews. And too many of those get filtered out.

One client of mine, for example, has 5 reviews showing. One is a 5-star and four are 1-star. The cumulative rating is 2-stars. Positive reviews to negative are a dismal 1:4 or 20%. A clear example of a company to stay away from, right? Hardly. They have tons of happy clients and 27 of them have submitted positive reviews over the past four years – but 26 of these were filtered out! In all fairness, 5 negative reviews were also filtered but still, 27 to 9 is infinitely better than 1 to 4. Lastly, one of the 4 negative reviews was posted in error to the client’s business, when in fact the reviewer had used another, similarly named company. Easy thing to fix? Sure, if one could actually communicate with Yelp.

After some searching I found the filtered reviews link and dived in to see what was there. What I found gave me the impetus for this post and left me wondering why Yelp hasn’t fixed this broken process. The following is an example of what the Yelp filtering robot filtered out.

You be the judge: Would you find this review helpful?

(Company Name Withheld)
Category: Financial Services
Neighborhood: West Los Angeles
Review Date: 3/3/2011
Stars: 4 (out of a possible 5)

Like Dennis L, our loan officer was also Jennifer (Last name withheld). We were able to close the mortgage-refinance by the end of the rate lock period, and considering the cost of (the company) and the rates they have available, we would recommend that you consider using them.

Compared to all of the competition in the mortgage industry they are the cheapest way to refinance a mortgage. That cheapness is not without consequences though. Though we are overall happy that we used them, it is because of cost and not because of service. The 4 star review I’m giving them here, is because I value cost much more than service in a mortgage agent. 30 years of very low rates is worth 30 days of headaches and heartache. If I was rating them solely on cost they would get 5 stars. If I was rating them on service, they would get 2.

The team at (the company) and at their suggested title company (title company), did little to make this process easy or clear to us. Compared to the name brand banks, their customer service through the process is dismal. Their approach to customer service allowed challenges to come up in the deal that almost caused us to miss our rate lock date. They also made mistakes such as sending us another clients personal data (which they say “usually never happens”), and sending us closing documentation with wrong amounts in it.

By the way, one of our many things we learned in this process, is that a 30 calendar day rate lock, actually translates into about 2 calendar weeks. They take 5 business days off the 30 for transmitting it to the servicing bank, and another 3 here and there. It works out to about 2 weeks from the day you lock your rate until they expect everything to be done. This is one of many examples of the sort of thing that a first rate bank makes sure you are clear on, up front, and the sort of thing that (the company) lets you find out the hard way. Having paperwork done in 2 weeks might not seem hard, but they make it hard by frequently adding to the documentation that they need throughout the process. If they’ve been doing this for 25 years, you would think they would have the underwriting process figured out by now.

As you read my review, you can assume that these challenges are unique to my situation or that I am ignorant. You might be right, and that is certainly what (the company) will try to imply when problems came up, but between my credit score, advanced degree (in business), and side-business in real estate investing, I don’t think that my knowledge or situation was that special or was the source of the frequent issues that arose. I learned from the process, and you will too. The message of my review is that you are going to learn either way, going through the refinance process. If you want to learn hard lessons, at a low cost, (this company) is a good bet. If you want to pay a premium and not have any surprises through the process, look elsewhere.

As for the negative reviews from the other postings on here, I don’t think that any licensed mortgage agent who has been in the businesses for more than a few years is fraudulent. The current regulatory climate in this industry makes fraud almost impossible. In my opinion, (the company) nor (the title company) did nothing illegal, immoral, or unethical in processing our application and closing the loan. Jennifer and everyone else I dealt with at (the company) seem like honest hardworking people, whose priority is on volume, not customer service. The issues that I had were more a sign of minimalist customer service than any intentional misconduct. I believe that the biggest risk to you, as their customer is that their mistakes could cause you to miss your rate lock deadline, and will definitely cause you to scramble frequently for random documents that they ask for at the last minute.

This reviewer could have just said, You’ll get the best price. Don’t expect the best service. What about you? Do you think this and reviews like it should be filtered?

I stand by my review of the Yelp Review Filter: It sucks. Big time. And not just because it gets things wrong a lot, but because it dumb’s things down, filters out valuable data and makes us all just a little bit more robotic.

Update to original post: It’s always rewarding to see a major news outlet write about a topic you covered a year ago:
By Sandy Banks, LA Times “Take a critical look at Yelp” Saturday, April 20, 2013
By Sandy Banks, LA Times “Needing help with Yelp” Tuesday, April 23, 2013

A website where Businesses Talk About Yelp

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