Why Does Yelp Hide Reviews? Unpacking the Yelp Filter

by Posted @ Feb 20 2020

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The Yelp filter, also known as the “Not Recommended” section of reviews on a page, has been a frustration of business owners and reviewers for years. Maybe you’ve experienced it yourself –– watching a review seemingly disappear only to find it buried at the bottom of the page where it does not contribute to the average star rating. 

The algorithm Yelp uses to filter reviews is a closely-held secret, but Yelp has offered some hints in this video on the subject. Yelp says their algorithm mainly looks at review quality, reliability, and user activity when determining filter status. Yelp also states they want “active members” to have their reviews featured, rather than “reviews written by users we don’t know much about.”

Here at Go Fish Digital, we’ve monitored thousands of Yelp reviews on behalf of our clients and tracked the correlation between filter status and certain qualities of a Yelp review or reviewer profile. Correlation is not causation, but when combined with Yelp’s own statements on the filter, we can put together some hypotheses. 

Here is what may cause your Yelp review to disappear or fall into the “Not Recommended” filter:

  1. Your Yelp profile is brand new
  2. You submitted your review at the same time as others
  3. Your Yelp profile is not verifiable 
  4. You don’t have a realistic review distribution
  5. You violated a Yelp guideline

1. Your Yelp Profile is Brand New

The characteristics we see correlate most strongly with filter status are the number of friends and number of reviews on a given Yelp user profile. In Yelp’s own video on filtering reviews, they compare an established profile to one that has no profile picture, zero friends, and just one review. In our research, adding just one friend on the platform increases the odds that your review pops back out of the filter.

It’s a frustrating double-standard by Yelp. Users are required to build up their Yelp presence before their reviews start to count. But if you are a business on Yelp, the first review you receive is marked “First to Review” and it very rarely gets filtered out. 

2. You Submitted Your Review at the Same Time as Others

It’s not just the characteristics of your profile that determine filter status, but also the timing of your reviews. Think about the algorithm that Yelp has devised. It’s designed to filter out untrustworthy reviews. Wouldn’t a sharp spike in the rate of new reviews cause some alarms to go off at Yelp?

The evidence seems to support this theory, even if the correlation is not as strong as it is with other profile characteristics. We’ve seen plenty of businesses who, in an effort to turnaround their Yelp scores, host an event or place more Yelp-approved calls to action (like signs, stickers, etc.) around the business. Even if these reviewers are legitimate, we see Yelp filter out a large percentage of them. Conversely, we’ve also seen businesses helped by the filter when they’re victimized by negative or spammy reviews that come in a wave. In those cases, the filter is a useful tool for business owners.

3. Your Yelp Profile is Not Verifiable 

Even if your account has a track record of reviews and friends, there are still some characteristics that could put a new review into the filter. Remember, Yelp is looking for “reliability” as one of its criteria. 

So how can Yelp confirm you’re a real user, and not a bot or an alias account? There are a few things you can do. 

  • Have a profile picture – in Yelp’s own example, you’ll notice that the filtered review does not have a profile picture. 
  • “Check-in” at the business you review – this verifies your location. Yelp likely prefers reviews and reviewers with a demonstrable track record of consistently reviewing businesses in their city.
  • Use the Yelp app – this goes hand-in-hand with checking in. Geo-tracking increases the odds of your review sticking.
  • Sync your Facebook account to your Yelp profileConnect Yelp and Facebook to further verify your identity. 
  • Include a photo with your review – Yelp likes to feature photos, and including one with your review can help it stay on the page. 

4. You Don’t Have a Realistic Review Distribution

This one is tough to define, but fits our hypothesis around reliability and trust signals that Yelp would take into consideration. Yelp wants to highlight the reviews of active users, which leads us to believe that a super-engaged reviewer would eventually develop a som

ewhat natural distribution of positive and negative reviews. Five-star reviews and one-star reviews are the most popular ratings published to Yelp by far, so perhaps something resembling an upside-down bell curve helps your chances.

Yelp Review Distribution

If your profile is full of either all four and five-star reviews, or all one and two-star reviews, don’t be surprised to see your reviews fall into the filter at a higher-than-normal rate. 

5. You Violated a Yelp Guideline

Yelp’s policies are pretty strict about businesses requesting reviews from customers. While tactics like putting a Yelp sticker on the cash register are ok, explicitly asking for reviews is not permitted. So if Yelp sees a bunch of new page visitors originating from the same source, they’re likely to start filtering them out. 

Let’s also include other explicit Yelp rule breaking here. For example, if you have accessed your personal Yelp profile from the same IP address as one that has accessed a Yelp for Business account, best believe Yelp will filter out a review you leave for that business. 

What Does NOT Affect Yelp Filter Status

We’ve covered what characteristics likely impact whether or not a review gets filtered. But there are other review traits that Yelp business owners have long suspected are also part of the algorithm. There are many theories out there, and Yelp is unlikely to confirm or deny anything. However, these are the characteristics we see having little to no correlation with filter status.

Star Rating

As far as we can tell, a 5-star review has just as much of a chance of being filtered as a 1-star review. This leads to more business owner frustration. Seeing a bunch of 5-star reviews not contributing to the business star rating can be infuriating. But you have to remember that Yelp may be keeping out some negative reviews as well.

Length of the review

We don’t see a correlation here either. Long reviews and short reviews get filtered at the same rates. 

Language/Word Choice

“Colorful language and imagery is fine” according to Yelp’s review guidelines. Word choice will not impact filter status, but don’t push your luck. Personal insults, advertising another business, or revealing intellectual property are all grounds for a review to be removed. 

Conclusion

Keep these tips in mind and you’ll hopefully start to see your reviews featured on a business page more frequently. If you’re a business owner, take a look at your page’s own filtered reviews and see if you spot the same similarities. 

Should you have any other questions about Yelp, whether it be removing negative reviews, monitoring locations, or responding to reviews, get in touch with Go Fish Digital. We’d love to help you out!

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