Last October, I took a grand travel stint. I explored the trails and waves of Maui, ate my way around New York City and celebrated a friend’s wedding in Asheville, NC. Roaming consecutively, from one place to the next, I didn’t have the luxury to plan out every pit stop—though, quite honestly, that’s my preferred often way to explore a new place. It leaves time for spontaneity. So, day to day how did I choose where to eat?
Yelp. I downloaded the app and for each meal I’d pull up the map to see what restaurants were close by or where a particular type of cuisine was located. I would look at, A) the type of food, B) the overall star rating, and C) the total number of reviews. The higher the number of reviews the more likely I was to trust the rating, given, of course, that the overall rating had an average of 4 to 5 stars. (Hypothetically, I wouldn’t opt to eat at the highest-reviewed diner if the star rating was midlevel.)
Pay to Play
But, I don’t consume all review site info at face value: I have heard of fake online reviews and am aware of the pay-to-play insinuation (or obligation) that threatens review sites and even sanctioned publications. If there isn’t a comment left under the star rating, that’s one red flag that the post is inauthentic. Likewise, a review doesn’t ring true if the same account holder posts to multiple or many locations—especially if they are all positive, 5-star reviews.
A friend of mine—an entrepreneur-type and business person—even told me he used to make a little extra cash by contributing online reviews for products, which the same box-store site would send him to test. It’s unclear to me if objective, honest reviews—even the negative ones—would be published under such an arrangement. Not withstanding, Yelp has a tail of lawsuits and criticisms regarding posed reviews and claims that the site leverages advertising power in exchange for removing negative reviews, claims that began to surface publicly as far back as 2008. According to WSJ numbers cited by an article from The National Law Review, more than 2,000 related complaints have been filed to the Federal Trade commission since 2008.
Online Reviews Reign
Yet, I continue to use Yelp—and I travel with a band: 88 percent of consumers have read reviews to gauge the quality of a local business (that’s 9 out of 10 consumers) in the last 12 months, according to the 2014 Local Consumer Review Survey released by Bright Local, which received input from 2,100 individuals. Furthermore, 4 out of 10 consumers check reviews regularly. Galvanize—a co-working, networking and educational campus—analyzed Yelp reviews using Bayesian Analysis and, as explained by author Jared Polivka, found that the rating system not only helps customers but also small business owners. So, having a few negative ratings is better than having no ratings at all. Another study, from legal technology recommendation site Software Advice, found that Yelp was the most popular and trusted website for legal reviews, according to responses from a pool of close to 3,500 respondents.
But, aren’t people less persuaded by reading a random review than via face-to-face recommendations? (If it’s worse we might be turning into robots…) According to the same Bright Local study, hearing it from someone we know isn’t necessary to validate the review. Of the study’s consumer base, 88 percent say they trust online reviews as much as personal recommendations, which rose from 79 percent in 2013. So, despite the growing number of lawsuits that Yelp faces, it appears that the allegations aren’t enough to scare people away from digesting virtual opinions. And, Yelp doesn’t seem to be experiencing a significant impact, or one at all, from the backlash.
Yelp isn’t the only platform for people to list their business or for consumers to read service and product reviews. Here’s a list of 16 popular sites for listing your business online and a few of the other best online review sites where consumers choose to land:
The reviewers on the online shopping store, Amazon, each have their own profile, which is visible for site visitors, which helps to legitimize the posts. We can see all of the reviews that have been published by that author and the contributor’s overall ranking.
Convenient and helpful, Open Table helps consumers find restaurants based on their location—and also make a reservation.
Roots Rated prides itself on publishing experiential content based off of real experiences from locals and experts. With a focus on outdoor activities. the site also features outdoors gears shops, food and drink options.
Morgan Tilton is a contributor to the Connectivity blog.