Yelp: Customers Rate Local Services

By Marilynne Rudick on June 29, 2012

I was looking for new hair salon. In the past, I’ve relied on recommendations from friends and have even stopped strangers with great haircuts. But this time, I turned to Yelp.

Yelp is a consumer-based website that allows anyone to review a local business or service. Yelp is heavy on restaurants (about 25% of reviews). But it includes just about any type of local business—spas, medical services, landscapers, plumbers, car repair—even parks and museums. Unlike other consumer rating services that charge a subscription fee, Yelp is free, supported by advertisers. Paid advertisements at the top of the results page are shaded in yellow and labeled as ads.

Yelp is easy to use. Just enter the service and location into the search field. You can do a broad-brush search (hair salons) or a targeted search (hair salons for curly hair). You can sort reviews by different criteria including highest rating (5 stars is the highest), most reviews, price or distance. In addition to star ratings, reviewers often post lengthy reviews and comments.

My search turned up a half-dozen hair salons that met my criteria. I read the reviews to find stylists that did a good job on curly hair. I was a little nervous about relying on Yelp. I’ve had my fair share of haircut horrors. But what the heck. I made an appointment for a haircut and highlights. The story has a happy ending: Yelp reviewers were right—my hair looks great.

In addition to user reviews, Yelp provides helpful information about each business: price range, transportation and parking, hours and accessibility.

Are Yelp Reviews Reliable?

It’s no secret that most people review places that they love or hate. Indeed, 37% of reviews are 5 stars and 12% are 1 star.  Yelp has a system of filtering ads that it claims weeds out the vitriolic and those written by owners and friends. Yelp publishes these reviews but lists them on a separate  “filtered review” page.  Business owners can comment on reviews.

As in all ratings, there’s safety in numbers. The greater the number of reviews, the better the reliability. And there are some categories, such as doctors, where recommendations from people you know are probably a better bet. But Yelp can help you narrow your choices.

Found a great local business? Write a Yelp review.

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