Yelp.com has become the prominent website synonymous with reviews. It has reached the echelon of becoming a “verb” like “Googling”; “Yelping” has become a term describing reviewing anything. “I’m Yelping this restaurant.” or “I’m Yelping my doctor’s office.” are phrases constantly blurted on in the Internet age. Yelp.com has become the one site on the Internet users frequent to rant, rave, criticize and praise businesses. Yelp was also a target to be bought out by the great and powerful Google, but that did not happen. Yelp held its own and continues to be the best site for web reviews.
We the People?
The first site I usually visit if I want to know more about a local restaurant, mechanic, dentist, etc. is Yelp. Their reviews usually display on the first page of search results. And thus, Yelp has become hard to miss when researching and looking up businesses. Every business on Yelp is usually chock full of reviews. Yelp, of course, is a content driven site. Its content is created and posted by the general public. Yet, how valid is the general public? And are the reviews posted on Yelp come from an adequate sample (audience)?
There are several factors or I would say, detractors, in Yelp reviews. Though the site touts itself as “Real People, Real Reviews”, sometimes the reviews come from the businesses itself. Yelp really does not do its due diligence in approving members, so anyone can become a member. They can also open multiple accounts. So in essence, you can become ten different reviewers that can raise a business’s rating or bring it down several notches. It would good for Yelp and honest at the behest of the Internet if they did a better job at screening its membership base. Possibly add a Facebook API that integrates those “real” users into becoming “real” reviewers. If you want a perfect example of just how many “fake” and “multiple” accounts exist on Yelp, look for accounts with one review and zero friends. You will see there are many of them. Even better, go to the tempestuous “Talk” section of the site, no one there seems to have a real name.
Are We Experts?
Another detractor is the subjective nature of the reviews. Are “Yelpers” experts in their field? I don’t see many “Yelpers” nor their reviews on a Zagats or Michelin guide. A lot of reviews come from first-timers at a business. For example, a restaurant. Perhaps, one item on the menu does not agree with the “Yelper”. Said “Yelper” logs onto the site and writes a five-thousand word diatribe on how bad the brisket is at one Korean barbeque restaurant. But did that “Yelper” try the short rib or the spicy pork. It is common knowledge that there are plenty of cuts of meat at a Korean barbeque. One needs to visit the restaurant and try the majority of the menu to attain an adequate opinion of the place.
Conclusion: You Decide
Yelp certainly is not the definitive source when researching a business. Yet, it is the most frequented and it collects a lot of reviews. But take the reviews with a grain of salt. The majority are not from expert reviewers. The majority of reviews are extremely subjective and completely "off the cuff". It is up to you, the user, to look through each review and weed out the good from the bad, the subjective from the thoroughly objective and the fake from the “real”.
Image credit: Alessandro Valli on Flickr