Yelp’s Computer Algorithm Hurts Small Business

Posted 09/03/12

We started Hermit Woods Winery during one of the most depressed economies in 70 years. Today, being successful as a small business often means adopting the many newfangled technologies available to us in this modern world in order to reach potential customers. The newest and most powerful of these new tools fall under the category of Social Media.

We at Hermit Woods Winery have done our best to use social media as a way to spread the word about our business, and with some degree of success.  Through the use of Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, Foursquare, and Yelp, Hermit Woods has reached tens of thousands of potential guests, many of whom have come to our winery.

However, all is not good.  Having signed up with Yelp early on, we waited patiently to receive our first Yelp review.  Not wanting to sway opinions by reviewing ourselves or having friends review us, we waited four months for our first review to come from an objective guest of the winery.  Unfortunately, a seriously unhappy customer whom the owners and staff of Hermit Woods never met submitted the first Yelp review.  The circumstances that resulted in this review were very unfortunate, and every effort was made to prevent what happened (to learn the details, you can read the review and our response on Yelp).  Regardless of our efforts to contact the customer, apologize, and explain the unfortunate circumstances, this person chose to give us a very bad review on Yelp.

We were horrified.  Our first and only review was devastating and we were about to close for the season without possibility of a new review for six months.  After a month had gone by, we made our next mistake.  We suggested to our many friends of the winery that it would be really helpful if they reviewed us on Yelp, and they did.  Within 24 hours, 11 of our winery guests and friends posted outstanding reviews on Yelp.  Our excitement was quickly dispelled during the course of the next few days as each and every new review was removed from public view and the only remaining review was the bad one.
This is where we learned about Yelp’s famous algorithm!  We were informed that Yelp employs a highly sophisticated computer algorithm to seek out and hide from view any review that is suspected of being generated in any way by the business itself.  We had learned our lesson, and even though we didn’t like the outcome, agreed that this was in the best interest of both businesses and consumers to ensure that reviews on Yelp remain unbiased and true to customers’ experiences.

That was nine months ago.  Since then, we have become model Yelp users following all the guidelines provided by Yelp.  Never requesting or even hinting that guests should review our business, we have simply posted that we are on Yelp in our tasting room and on our website.  At Yelp’s suggestion, we have also posted Yelp deals for our customers to get discounts.  We have done everything right to correct the problem, and we still only have one public review, and it remains very bad.

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Hundreds, if not thousands, of Yelp users have seen our listing on Yelp over those nine months, all of them seeing our one-star rating and drawing their conclusions, whatever they may be.  Fortunately for us, despite Yelp, we have attracted lots of new and very happy customers during our first year in business.  In fact, outside of the one customer on Yelp whom we have never met, of the over 3,000 people who have come through our doors since we have been open, we have not had a single complaint or unhappy customer that we know of.

Regardless of how we run our business, how many satisfied customers we may have, or how hard we work to provide the highest degree of customer service, on Yelp we rate one star.  We continue to be seen as a business that most people would more likely avoid rather than risk the experience of a business with such a poor review.   And it is a computer algorithm that has made the decisions that have resulted in that first review being the only one out of 25 reviews that our customers are allowed to see, 23 of which are all five stars.

Like all new businesses, not everything always goes your way, and we can except that, we are just saddened that in this case it’s a computer that is determining our fait and doing so in a way that does not in the least bit reflect the reality of our business experience.

If you would like to see all our reviews, you need to look for the small print under the reviews that are public that says “filtered reviews” you then need to type in the letters they post and you will see every review we have had.