Yelp rejigs site to counter extortion claims

Yelp is attempting to sidestep criticism of its business review service with an overhaul of its website.

With a class action lawsuit looming and claims that the company has in effect been selling good reviews, it’s adding the ability to see reviews that have been taken down and eliminating the Favorite Review feature.

The lawsuit, filed by several small businesses in Los Angeles Federal Court, alleges that Yelp is prepared to remove bad reviews or reinstate previously taken-down reviews for companies that are prepared to pay for advertising.

There’s also been suspcicion over the fact that Yelp allows advertisers to pick which review shows up at the top of their profile page.

Yelp maintains that it’s been misunderstood. “Despite our best efforts to educate consumers and the small business community, myths about Yelp have persisted,” says CEO Jeremy Stoppelman, plaintively.

“Lifting the veil on our review filter and doing away with Favorite Review will make it even clearer that displayed reviews on Yelp are completely independent of advertising – or any sort of manipulation.”

Opening up the innards of the review filter will allow users to see there’s nothing fishy going on, hopes Yelp. And it can’t be accused of showing favoritism to advertisers through Favorite Review slots if those slots don’t exist.

Another new feature will allow advertisers to add video to their business page, and the company has also created a Small Business Advisory Council to advise Yelp management on what business owners want.