Yelp: The Numbers Don’t Lie

I like Yelp. When they started to gain traction and popularity in Vancouver I thought there was an opportunity for consumers to have a genuine alternative to the disingenuous competition as it relates to my industry. However as time passes I’m becoming increasingly uneasy about my decision to endorse Yelp.

When a consumer visits Yelp to read about a moving company they see the name of the reviewer, a smattering of clerical information in addition to their review. The reviews you see at first glance contrast with a category of reviews at the bottom of the page entitled ‘Reviews Not Recommended’ and therein lies the question, are some companies hoodwinking the consumer on Yelp?

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If I stood near a completely flat pond and ripples suddenly approached the shore I might reasonably infer that a fish had jumped or a rock was thrown even though I saw neither. Similarly, a statistical analysis of legitimate reviews versus ‘reviews not recommended’ on Yelp.ca leads me to infer that some companies may be gaming the system.

I started by making a list of the companies that appeared on Yelp.ca under the keywords ‘Movers Vancouver’ and ‘Moving Company Vancouver’. I then tabulated the number of published legitimate reviews and the number of reviews not recommended. This later category of not recommended reviews is best explained by Hannah Chessman spokesperson for Yelp;

Reviews are excluded for a variety of reasons. For example, it monitors IP addresses to make sure several reviews are not coming from the same user. It also screens out what it sees as biased reviews, “written by a competitor, a disgruntled employee, or solicited by a business owner from friends, family members or favorite customers, and unhelpful rants or raves,” says Cheesman.’

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Once the numbers had been tabulated I started to do a detailed analysis;

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As you can see three companies have wildly disproportionate numbers when compared to their competition however this last graph is perhaps the most troubling. According to Hannah Chessman spokesperson for Yelp, ‘about 25 percent of the reviews submitted to Yelp are not published on a business’ listing or recommended to consumers.’ Emphasis mine. How can these companies run at an average of over 80% of their reviews getting kicked to the curb by Yelp? I can think of three reasons; 1) just bad luck, people write them a review and Yelp doesn’t like it. 2) The reviews are excluded because they violate Yelp’s terms of service . 3) These companies are actively trying to game the system as demonstrated by their disproportionate numbers. Res ipsa loquitur – the thing speaks for itself.