Inside Bai Thong Thai restaurant in San Francisco, a sign brandishing the words, "Stop the Bully! -- Boycott Yelp," was posted on its door. Bai Thong Thai currently holds a 3 out 5 star rating on Yelp, yet the sign suggests that their score would be higher if the site didn't manipulate rankings. The restaurant claims that when it approached Yelp regarding the disparity between their positive customer reviews and actual score, the company replied, "Perhaps if you paid to do Yelp ads we could help you with this."
Unfortunately, Bai Thong Thai is among hundreds of restaurants who have accused Yelp of granting higher star ratings and more favorable search placement to businesses buying advertising. These issues have brought many to file several lawsuits against the networking powerhouse, all thrown out by judges before reaching trial.
Upon seeing the sign at Bai Thong Thai, Times writer Sandy Banks felt compelled to delve deeper into Yelp's reviewing process, noting that the company favors consistent reviewers over first timers, in part, to avoid "fake" reviews. Banks continues to question how much influence a restaurant's ad buys have on the overall algorithm determining their rankings.
"I don't know the exact script people use when they sell advertising," Yelp spokeswoman Kristen Whisenand told Banks. "There's no amount of money anyone can pay Yelp to manipulate reviews."
Still, Banks states that Yelp's current "algorithm seems to me aimed less at protecting consumers than rewarding reviewer loyalty."
As Yelp strives to increase its profitability, the issue of how much influence ad sales have on the integrity of their reviews will continue to be as pressing as ever.