Accusations about Yelp's business practices and authenticity of reviews have angered scores of small-business owners.
They also have left some consumers feeling confused about what they can and can't trust on the popular site, which features 42 million reviews of bars, restaurants, orthodontists, body shops, gyms, nail salons, hotels and much more.
Although Yelp is the leading user-review website, plenty of other sites offer online reviews from users. For restaurants alone, people can turn not only to Yelp but also to OpenTable, Google and MenuPages, among others.
Here are some tips to help you wade through the endless sea of reviews on Yelp:
Don't rely solely on the overall star rating. Read a bit deeper because the rating can be misleading, especially if reviewers are basing their scores on something you don't particularly care about, such as valet parking.
Change the way reviews are sorted. The priority is important because most users look at only the first few reviews. When you first arrive at a company's Yelp page, it automatically shows you reviews that are ordered according to "Yelp Sort," which is "determined by recency, user voting and other review quality factors."
Yelp says Yelp Sort is applied to all businesses regardless of whether they advertise, but the method raises suspicions that Yelp unfairly manipulates the order. You can reorder the reviews by clicking one of several options, including sorting by date or star rating.
Search for what you care about. Yelp enables people to search for specific terms within a business' mass of reviews, which is helpful when a business has hundreds or thousands of reviews. For instance, if you want to know whether a restaurant is pet-friendly, search for "dog" within that restaurant's reviews.
Check out the filtered reviews. Many business owners who don't advertise with Yelp believe their favorable reviews are filtered out, leaving only the negative ones behind. On the opposite end, there have been accusations that Yelp filters negative reviews for businesses that do pay. If you're suspicious, scroll to the bottom of a business' page and click on filtered reviews. Then you can decide for yourself.
For Yelpers who are confused about why their reviews have been filtered in the past, it helps to include a photo of yourself, to write several reviews to build legitimacy and to include useful information instead of short, random generalizations such as: "Food was bomb."
Despite some consumers' misgivings about the site, Yelp has 108 million visitors a month, making it the place to go for business reviews. Those numbers understandably make business owners with poor ratings nervous.