No stranger to Yelp, Leonard Donato, VMD, owner of Radnor Veterinary Hospital in Wayne, Pa., especially took notice when news
spread of the death of Shirley Koshi, DVM, a New York practice owner who committed suicide in February amidst a very public
ownership dispute with a community cat advocate. The advocate's supporters mounted a nasty online campaign against Koshi—one
that continued even after her death.
Dr. Leonard Donato
Donato says he too has been the target of a cat advocate group. He was inundated with what he says were falsified reviews
he traced back to a group unhappy with the Radnor Township Board of Health, on which Donato serves.
Donato says he's currently weighing whether he wants to take legal action against Yelp. He recognizes the unsuccessful suits
previously undertaken against the website and he's not sure if he wants to invest tens of thousands of dollars fighting what
could be a losing battle.
Right now, he says, all he wants is for Yelp to better police fictitous reviews and allow his real clients to comment. "They're
not allowing the good reviews to show up," Donato says.
Yelp uses a proprietary algorithm to organize its contributor content. As the site puts it, the goal of this algorithm is
to "recommend the most helpful and reliable reviews."
What this means for Werber is that a good review can be up for less than 24 hours while a bad one can be up for years. He
says he's asked for details about the algorithm to no avail. His conclusion: "They like dirt. They don't want to print the
Also, there's a perception among business owners that if a business advertises with Yelp, the site will promote more favorable
reviews. Werber says says don't fall for it—advertising won't help you get rid of reviews. In fact, Yelp states on its website,
"Paying advertisers can never change or reorder their reviews."
Werber says Yelp employs a double standard that favors the reviewer over the responder. He says he's been notified by Yelp
that he cannot use proper names in his responses to clients despite the fact that reviewers can use his name and clinic. And
while Yelp points its reviewers to content guidelines, many believe that Yelp shirks responsibility for abusive or even false
content by saying reviews are simply the opinion of their contributors. "It pretty much gives them carte blanche," Werber
Both Werber and Donato have had some luck getting Yelp to take down reviews where they can prove false information, but Donato
says it's hard to keep up with it. He's tried to create a positive campaign to balance the negative reviews on Yelp, but he
says the good reviews rarely stay up. In fact, his clients complain about it.
On its FAQs page Yelp explains that it's "looking for people who are intrinsically motivated to share the wide range of rich
and detailed experiences they have every day with local businesses." Translated, this means that people who contribute often
to the site have a better chance of seeing their review featured. If a client who has never used Yelp before posts one positive
review with few specifics, it's likely to be overlooked by the Yelp software.
Werber takes a "two can play at this game" approach always encouraging clients to write reviews. Clients who have an enjoyable
experience are invited to share their review on their favorite review site—including Yelp—from links provided on the Century
Veterinary Group page. Dissatisfied clients are told to contact the clinic directly by e-mail or phone.
Werber's favorite trick is to send the reviews received through his website to a reputation management company. "We send them
to Review Boost and it feeds them to all these websites," he says. "The fact that we read them and choose the ones we want—it's
a luxury we have."
However, Donato has looked at his numbers and he thinks Yelp reviews have affected his business. "Granted we're doing OK—we
grow every year," he says. But after three years of battling negative online reviews, his client pull from the Internet pales
compared with word of mouth. "We're down about 15 percent and I think that's totally because of Yelp," he says.