YELP: Is it a Waste of Time to Set up a Business Page?

The Good, the Bad and the Ugly Side of Yelp

I recently created a new business page on Yelp to allow my customers to write reviews of my business. As a marketing and PR writer, I figured this would be a good way to get the word out about Writer For Hire by letting my clients tell others about their experiences. So this week, I got down to it and created a Yelp page.

Early yesterday, I started contacting people with whom I had worked to let them know that I had created a Yelp page. Many of them were very enthusiastic about writing me a review as they wanted to share their level of satisfaction with my work. By the end of the day, 10 clients had posted reviews – but mysteriously, 3 others that people told me they had posted, were absent.

This morning, I eagerly opened my new Yelp business page, Writer For Hire, to see what was going on with my reviews. To my surprise, half of my reviews had been taken down and hidden by Yelp — and the 3 that had been missing were STILL missing!

So I called the “nice” advertising guy, Joe, who I had previously spent 2 hours with on the phone reviewing advertising options, about this new glitch with the system. (Joe had recommended that I spent $300 – $450 a month on advertising – and another $75 a month if I wanted to hide the advertising by my competitors, which automatically shows up on my business page!). I told Joe that my reviews were being removed by Yelp and I needed his help to restore them.

To my surprise, he told me that there was “nothing he could do,” – that it was their algorithm software that made those decisions, and that “nobody really knew what the parameters were for choosing what reviews to post and what reviews to hide.”

When I questioned him further about this, he said it was probably due to the reviewers not having enough experience in writing reviews – or it could be that they didn’t have a photo posted.

Well this didn’t make any sense to me because some of my reviewers DID have photos and HAD reviewed other businesses and they were still hidden, while other reviewers who didn’t have a photo and hadn’t written other reviews, were visible. I told Joe this and waited for his reply.

He then told me that it was probably my fault that the reviews didn’t post because I had asked people to write me reviews in the first place!

On the Yelp business “How To” page, it explains this policy of hiding people’s reviews:

Why would a review not be recommended?

“There are a number of reasons why a review might not be recommended. For example, the review may have been posted by a less established user, or it may seem like an unhelpful rant or rave. Some of these reviews are fakes (like the ones we see originating from the same computer) and some suggest a bias (like the ones written by a friend of the business owner), but many are real reviews from real customers who we just don’t know much about and therefore can’t recommend.”

Then it further explains that their algorithm can actually change what it approves, from one day to the next:

Why are different reviews recommended on different days?
“Our recommendation software runs on a daily basis, so the results can change day-to-day. For example, the software might pick up new information as time goes by that makes a reviewer seem more trustworthy, or the information we have about a reviewer can grow stale.”

Now as a marketing and PR writer, I know that when you have any kind of vehicle – be it a blog, a press release, an article or a new book published, you promote it. How else are people going to know about it? So it stands to reason that when I set up my new Yelp Business Page, I was going to let people know about it. In doing so, it was understandable that there would be a flurry of activity with people writing and posting their reviews. This is a good thing, right?

Apparently not. Joe questioned me – wanting to know if I go on Yelp to write reviews or to find businesses. I said I did both. “Well,” he told me, “Yelp is a business directory and that’s why we recommend you use it rather than just to write reviews.” I could tell by the way he said it, that he was inferring that I was using it “wrong” and furthermore, that this was a waste of his time even discussing it with me.

I wish I could write a review of Yelp, itself, because I would tell users that it has not been a positive experience for me in setting up a business page for Writer For Hire. No, in fact, I’ve learned that my customer reviews will be viewed with suspicion if there are “too many positive reviews” and also, that they will hide them if they choose to and that there’s absolutely no one who can do anything about it because it’s controlled by their “algorithm software” which nobody understands (or is willing to re-program).

So I decided to try another strategy. I wrote myself a positive review, and then sat back and waited to see if it got taken down by the algorithm software. And guess what? It didn’t! So much for their algorithm software being able to detect suspicious posts. Eventually, I took it down myself – my point being proven.

Over the past few months, I’ve heard a lot of gripes and grumbles from business people who have used Yelp and gotten bad reviews by competitors looking to cast aspersions on their business. I’d be interested in knowing what you think about Yelp: Have you had any experiences like mine? What happens to those reviews that are “hidden” – do they ever see the light of day? Is there anything anyone can do about it?

For anyone interested in seeing my page, you can go to “Writer For Hire” on Yelp – but if you want to write me a recommendation, I would recommend you NOT waste your time here because it’s probably not going to be posted. Instead, go to my LinkedIn page: where at least I know the reviews I get will be visible.

Being Open to New Experiences: My First Airbnb Stay

I recently booked time at an Airbnb residence in the Ventura/Oxnard, California area, which is about 60 miles from my home. My plan was to drive to the beach early in the weekend and then stay overnight at this person’s home, leaving late in the day on Sunday. I must admit, booking time at an Airbnb was a bit perplexing: I was not sure it was “safe,” I was concerned about whether it would be awkward staying with someone I didn’t know, and I really didn’t know what I was getting myself into. I only knew that other people had done it before me and they had survived!

For those who have limited knowledge of Airbnb, it is a booking service for travelers seeking to rent a room, an apartment, a home or a shared space in a private residence. Airbnb is now worldwide – you can rent a private room in an English castle, a cozy cabin in the Netherlands, stay on a boat in Ventura harbor, or in a yurt or an RV, somewhere in the United States. There are many, many options available, ranging in price from cheap to luxurious. The main draw for people booking through Airbnb, in my opinion, is that it offers a host of options that weren’t previously available and at a lower cost than most motels.

Anyway, back to my story: My choice was to rent a room in a private home in Ventura near the beaches that I love to visit. The cost was a mere $66.00 for the night, which included the taxes and fees. I got to see photos of the place before I booked and I also got to read a number of reviews about the host, which were all exceptionally positive. With that tidbit of information, I set off to explore my first Airbnb experience.

I started my day by heading to one of my favorite beaches to cool off. While there, I received a text from the host, asking when I would be ‘checking in.’ I texted him back that I would be there between 4:30 and 5 p.m. That was my first point of communication with him. Later, I met “A.,” a young man in his 30’s with a ponytail, who showed me my room and the different amenities available. He was very thorough in his explanation of everything and had prepared a small pile of brochures on different attractions in the area. By my bed were two bottles of water and some candies. On the table was the house key, a remote control for the ceiling fan, the code for his Wi-Fi and some sightseeing books. After showing me where the towels were in the bathroom, he invited me to join him and his girlfriend for a glass of wine, then departed, leaving me to my privacy.

So far, so good, I thought. He’s respectable, very professional, and he obviously cares about his customers.

A little later on, after a shower and a change of clothes, I was introduced to his other house guest who were renting a room and a couch from him. I then left to join some friends for dinner and headed out for the evening. When I returned, a few hours later, he and his girlfriend, “L.,” greeted me and asked how my dinner was. We then had a nice conversation about his residence, neighbors, and the amenities offered at his complex. Being a news reporter by trade, I asked a lot of questions, which they didn’t seem to mind answering. One had to do with his mention of the facility’s salt water pool.

Now I’ve never been in a salt water pool and that sounded very cool. So I asked whether I might be able to try it the following day. A. told me that they normally don’t bring their guests over to the pool because it’s reserved for residents, but seeing that I was really interested, he said he’s make it happen.

That night, I enjoyed one of the best night’s sleep I’ve had in a long time. The air was cool, the complex was exceptionally quiet, and the bed was extraordinarily comfortable! When I awoke, there were pastries laid out on the kitchen table and coffee waiting to be made on the counter. It really felt like I was in my own home, for all intents and purposes.

Later that morning, I got to experience the salt water pool where you can float effortlessly, suspended in the salt water like a balloon. It was heaven!

I indulged myself in another shower at A.’s place before leaving. To my surprise, they greeted me with homemade lemonade and hors d’oevres before I left. I was not hurried out but treated like a member of their family. This was probably because they didn’t have a booking for that night, so there wasn’t a firm timeframe for check out.

I eventually left at around 2 p.m. that afternoon and when I did, A. told me that I would be welcomed back again, should I like to stay with them – and you know, I think I will. As someone who has traveled a bit, I definitely know what I like and what I don’t like.

I’ve stayed in very nice hotels where I’ve paid a lot more and still had to deal with noise issues from traffic and neighbors. I’ve also stayed in hotels in major cities where parking was expensive or non-existent. And let’s not forget the campground experiences where I’ve had people keep me up all night because they wanted to party till the cows come home.

Unfortunately, you can’t pick your neighbors – it’s always a roll of the dice – even in expensive hotels.

For the price of my Airbnb, I got a great location in a private home with really nice, caring hosts who did everything they possibly could to make my visit comfortable. So for my first Airbnb review, I’m going to give it 5 stars. If you are interested in experiencing Airbnb, it helps to go into it with an open mind. For the record, I got more than I paid for!

My Visit to the Sierras: Lake Isabella for July 4th

Lake Isabella is in the southern Sierras: I chose this location because of the beauty of the lake and the proximity to the Sierras with their majestic redwoods. Unfortunately, when I arrived on Sunday, July 2nd, 2017, my companion and I found the lake covered with a thick green slime – algae, which is caused by excessive heat conditions. This pretty much rendered the lake unswimmable, although the dogs didn’t mind wading chest deep into the green goop to cool off. Give that this was Day 1 of my 4 day vacation, things were looking grim.

Meanwhile, the KOA campground where I was staying, offered me a lovely little log cabin that perfectly met my needs. It had a double bed with a thick cushion mattress and a bunk bed with room for two more people. My roommate took the bunk bed and one of the dogs decided to share it with him (we have four between us). The bed was comfortable and with the air conditioner on its highest setting, we were prepared for a good night’s sleep.

Not so, as we quickly found out: We were situated in the middle of ten other cabins which were all rented out to a very large family from India. There must have been 75 adults and children all competing for attention. While the children and teens ran around playing a game of musical chairs out in front of the cabin next door, the adults began socializing with a beverage of their choice and it started to get loud!

I don’t fault anyone for enjoying themselves. Camping offers the opportunity for people, who may not have seen each other in a while, to get reacquainted in a laid back setting. But this party was non-stop and lasted well into the night. Because we were in the middle of their cabins, we were also in the middle of a busy traffic area and people did not seem to notice that the sound of their voices was being heard within our little private setting. Despite that snafu, we managed to get a few minutes of sleep and move into the next day.

Day 2, we awoke early and began setting up our breakfast table on the picnic table out front. I was pleased to learn that the proprietors had arranged for a free pancake and sausage breakfast for everyone as a holiday celebration! The food was great and because the camp store had ready-made coffee, I didn’t have to heat up any water to make my own. In a short time, we were in the car with the dogs and off to our next adventure: the Kern River.

The Kern River meets Lake Isabella and fills it with a steady stream of fresh water, which should keep it clean as the water is moving. But since the algae was already well formed, we chose to avoid the lake and go directly to the source. The Kern River was accessible from Riverside Park in Kernville where we found a large shade tree to set up our lawn chairs and hook up our dogs. The view of the river was magnificent and it was exciting to watch the rafters and kayakers navigating the rapids and white water! To our dogs delight, we even found a few coves off the river where it was safe to wade in and enjoy the refreshingly cool water.

This experience proved so delightful that on Day 3, we returned again and just relaxed all day in the shade of a tree by the river. Back at the campground, our friendly neighbors continued to party, so the second night was only slightly better for sleeping than the previous one. We still could hear them chatting into the wee hours – well past 2 a.m. – although my ear plugs did help a lot.

After the second day on the river, I returned to my cabin where I took in a long walk with my dogs on a lovely open dirt road that ran from the back of the KOA property to a Wildlife Reserve. The backdrop for this hike was a majestic view of the high Sierra Mountains which were surprisingly clear and well defined in their beauty. As dusk fell and the stars came out, the sky came alive with brilliance. The sky was especially vivid at 2 a.m. when all the lights from the nearby RVs were out. It was very clear that night and I relished the view of the heavens, having not seen so many stars in my neighborhood of Los Angeles in a long time.

On Day 4, I packed up, walked and fed the dogs, then ate a nice light breakfast at my picnic table before hitting the road home. About halfway back to L.A., I stopped for lunch in Mohave, CA where some close friends drove up to meet me. It was hot in Mohave – 106 degrees (although the inside reading on my car was 115 degrees). After a little rest for the dogs and I, under a large tree in a park, we started the second leg of the trip home.

Driving back to the city, I was thankful to be returning to the place and people I love, but was glad to have gotten away from the fireworks and explosives that people seem to enjoy setting off around the 4th of July. This trip introduced me to a place that I might like to return to again – albeit in the Fall, when the foliage changes color. Hopefully, there will be fewer people at the campground, although I would settle for quieter neighbors!

My dogs had a good time and for a change, I didn’t have to feel guilty about leaving them behind. It’s nice to been welcomed, dogs and all, when traveling somewhere new. 

Till then, I’ll sign off with this: Don’t be afraid to explore unknown places, because in doing so, you get to open your world to new sights, tastes, and experiences that make your life richer~