Yahoo local reviews are taken from search results

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Yahoo forces businesses onto Yelp

Yahoo has begun to swap the reviews service shown in its search results from Yahoo Local reviews to Yelp, causing some businesses to lose years of accumulated reviews.

The switch comes at a time when Yahoo is trying new ways to take on its rivals. Yelp replaces the old Yahoo Local review service, both of which allow users to search through businesses and pin reviews on a local map.

The current status of the service is unclear: while the Yahoo Local website is still live, its Twitter page has been taken down; and if a user searches on Yahoo for a business that has a review on Yelp, then any of the old local reviews will appear to have vanished.

Angus Loten reporting for the Wall Street Journal shows the effect on some small businesses. Colonial Hardwood Flooring of Lexington is just one such business to suffer from the changes. Its owner Dan Tringale said six years of mostly positive feedback from Yahoo Local is gone, leaving him with just one Yelp review.

"It's a slap in the face that they took all those reviews down overnight... it's not easy to get 50 great reviews."

Bala Iyer, teacher of internet business strategy at Babson College, Massachusetts, said multiple reviews are crucial for success as they provide consumers with diverse opinions. When there is just a single, five-star review, consumers become suspicious that either the post is fake or the businesses is paying for its reviews; the devious practice known as AstroTurfing.

Grassroots and astroturf

On the Yelp blog Mike Ghaffary, Vice President of Business and Corporate Development, promises: "the leading local guide for real word-of-mouth on everything from boutiques and mechanics to restaurants and dentists."

Problematically, reports suggest this goal is not fully achieved. Michael Luca, business administration professor at Harvard, wrote a study in 2011 which analysed 316,415 Yelp reviews and concluded that up to 20% of these were fake.

One reason the number of fake reviews is so high may be the lucrative nature of stars on Yelp. In an earlier study, Mr Luca found a one-star increase to a Yelp listing can boost sales by 5% to 9%.

Natalie Booth, head of search at theEword, said: "Yahoo, Google and others have commented on astroturfing, saying it will be punished more severely in the coming months as the methods to track it become more sophisticated. Additionally, whenever your business gets feedback from a customer, make a personal record, just in case whoever hosts that information decides to change plans."