News Round-Up: Business Owners Questioning Fairness of Online Reviews

Online reviews have become a major focus for consumers and businesses. For consumers they provide presumably authentic information describing the quality and reliability of a service provider. For businesses they’re a marketing tool that can be leveraged to gain an advantage over the competition. This past month there have been articles and stories regarding both the legitimacy and authority in which reviews are displayed. And no, not all reviews are treated equally.

This becomes most apparent when observing how Google ranks its own reviews service. Will Scott, CEO of online marketing firm Search Influence, questions the weight given by the search giant to its own Google+ Local reviews. Google has a responsibility to provide accurate search results, and with a vast amount of the online population using search with the expectation to find reliable reviews, the best reviews should be ranked highest. Scott notes that after Google’s battle with TripAdvisor in 2010, during which TripAdvisor refused to let Google feature reviews from the travel site on Google’s own pages, Google has since altered search engine results pages to feature Google reviews over all others. Besides Google’s own assumption that it provides the most reliable information, there is no evidence that Google reviews are any more trustworthy than those of other services. Perhaps one of the most infuriating things for businesses with an online presence is seeing positive reviews pushed to the bottom of results, or worse, not displayed at all.

Last month Yahoo officially announced its partnership with Yelp. After only a month businesses are already witnessing years’ worth of positive reviews from customers disappearing. As Angus Loten, a writer covering small businesses and startups for The Wall Street Journal, explains, Yelp reviews are replacing those already on Yahoo. This creates two major problems. Many businesses had built a strong reputation on Yahoo, ensuring they had an adequate amount of reviews to convince consumers of their trustworthiness. Now some businesses must once again start from scratch. Secondly, owners who previously relied on Yahoo’s service must now come to terms with Yelp’s infamous “filtering” practices. Yelp claims its process, which is far from transparent, increases the legitimacy of search results. However this system is far from perfect and faces strong opposition.

Lee Schafer, a business and economics columnist for the Star Tribune in Minneapolis, decided to test Yelp’s filtration process with a review of his own. Soon after he created an account and wrote a completely legitimate endorsement for a bakery in St. Paul, the review was relegated from top of the page to all but taken down. The review can still be found, he says, but only by choosing to view reviews “not currently recommended.” Business owners and users are forced to guess how reviews are judged which only invites more allegations against Yelp. Few will argue against the need for a filtration process, but it seems the industry incumbent cannot defend its own system.

As business owners struggle to make sense of practices by the major players in online reviews, they need to be diligent when choosing and leveraging their presence on a select few platforms. Wyngspan offers a no-nonsense algorithm as a solution to current problems facing the industry. The quality and quantity of Trusts received by a business or professional are two main factors among many that determine a Trust Factor. No reviews are filtered or pushed to the bottom of a results page, and business owners have a platform to easily communicate with verified consumers. The Trust Factor leaves little room for confusion and you can be certain Trusts are being issued by actual consumers.

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