Yelp’s November 2018 Algorithm Change and Sudden Loss of Reviews

A client of mine who checks his Yelp rankings monthly at the end of the month contacted me today to inform me that a significant number of his reviews were suddenly buried in the month of November. While I’m not certain of the date this occurred, I do know these dates and numbers to be accurate:

November 1, 2018 (69.44% of reviews displayed):

  • 75 (recommended) reviews
  • 33 (not currently recommended) reviews
  • 108 total reviews

November 30, 2018 (41.66% of reviews displayed):

  • 45 (recommended) reviews
  • 63 (not currently recommended) reviews
  • 108 total reviews

All of the reviews are legitimate reviews.

They’re not alone.

I went online and as of December 1, 2018 I found several other people who were suddenly missing their Yelp reviews as well.

Maxine Evans, below, noted that she suddenly lost over 40 of her reviews in November. Currently, on her Yelp page, 88 of her reviews show and 81 are buried.

Tampa Rug Cleaners says they have seen a huge reduction in displayed reviews:

Apparently, it could be a world wide algorithm rollout:

Fix It Nick went from 66 reviews (54/12, that’s 54 recommended / 12 not recommended) to 34/32. That means Fix It Nick went from 81.81% of his reviews displaying at the beginning of November to 51.51%.

I understand this is not a lot of data. However, something has definitely changed. In the first example, the Yelp listing is closely monitored, and while the recommended review number may fluctuate by 1 or 2 points each month, never has the review count sunk so suddenly. That’s a huge change.

Why aren’t my hard earned reviews showing up?

I owned a brick and mortar business for 13 years and totally understand how difficult it is just to get a single review. To me, to have any of them disappear is gut wrenching, and to have HALF of them disappear is infuriating.

To the best of my knowledge, Yelp is not screwing you over intentionally. Yes, there are dozens, if not hundreds of websites which state otherwise. In 2015, I looked into this myself and wrote this article: Why your Business’s Yelp Reviews Aren’t Being Displayed. In the article I explain that Yelp has an algorithm which picks and chooses which reviews to recommend or filter (not recommend). The “recommended” reviews are basically when 99.9% of people are going to see as the entire review count. In fact, Yelp displays this business number as the review count in Google’s search results. I can see why most people would see that as incredibly misleading. Anyways, in the article above, I explain that the FTC looked into Yelp and determined that they are not suppressing reviews in exchange for payment.

That said, it would be nice to have some communication from Yelp. Is this a temporary problem? An algorithm change? Who knows.

Which reviews are being filtered or “not recommended” as of December 2018?

The last in depth study of Yelp’s algorithm was conducted in 2013. It’s like studying computer science so I’ll explain it in a nutshell:

  • User reviews can come and go from day to day. 
  • A user’s first review is very unlikely to display. A user’s second review has about a 20% chance of displaying. As they leave more reviews, the more likely their reviews are to display.
    From the study – here are the chances they came up with of a review showing:

However, if you’re reading this you feel that there’s been a huge change to that algorithm in late 2018. Unfortunately, Yelp hasn’t told us anything about it, and their employees know nothing about it either.

Again, I don’t have a ton of data here to go by, but after looking at the filtered reviews of a dozen or so businesses, I think Yelp has tweaked their algorithm (at least for some business types) to bury some types of reviews. Here are some theories:

  • Yelp may be cracking down even harder on reviews from users who have left 10 reviews or less
  • Yelp could be filtering reviews from users who are inactive (not sure for how long. 16mos?)
  • Yelp could be filtering reviews based on niche / business type.
  • Yelp may have simply been overdue to filter reviews from Yelpers who have only left a few reviews.
  • This could all just be a temporary error on Yelp’s side.

As you can see, I’m not 100% certain why some reviews aren’t displaying. Once a review is no longer recommended, I can’t click onto the user to see their recent activity, so I can’t check to see if they’ve become inactive. Here’s an example of a filtered review from a user who is obviously a Yelper (but again I’m not sure if they are inactive since I can’t click their profile):

Is it the niche?

I haven’t paid close attention to the performance of niches on Yelp but it does appear that some niches are held to different standards. From a quick look around, I am seeing that personal injury attorneys often retain 40%-80% of their reviews, while massage therapists seem to retain 75%-95% of theirs.

Massage Green Spa San Marcos, for example, has 74 of their 81 reviews displaying on their Yelp page.

No communication from Yelp:

I reached out to Yelp but there was no comment on the state of their algorithm; they basically have people there that say “we have a special software to recommend certain reviews, blah, blah, blah…”. In other words, if there was a huge change, Yelp employees are either completely unaware of it or have been instructed to pretend their has been no change. It would be nice if they could confirm they’ve updated their algorithm OR let us know that they’re experiencing a problem and working on it.

Please comment below if your reviews got whacked:

If you lost a significant number of reviews in late 2018 we’d be happy to hear from you. Please feel free to email me or comment below. If you happen to know the number of reviews which you had before the algorithm change or the date you lost your reviews that would be extremely helpful as we continue to monitor this situation.

Len

President at Telapost
I create content and do SEO for law firms, small businesses and companies worldwide. I have been generating traffic online since 1992. I have owned multiple successful companies. I'm an organic eater, nature lover and German Shepherd owner. Feel free to contact me here.
39 Comments
  1. Thanks so much for this post. I do SEO and offsite marketing for my clients. I received an email from a martial arts studio I’ve gotten great results for. His Yelp reviews were reduced and I was at a loss. I then checked mine and the same thing. There’s no reasoning with Yelp…as pertinent and genuine as the reviews are. I myself only have 4 out of 13 reviews showing :O. Whatever, thankful for each and every client that took the time to post on behalf of the services they’ve received.

    • Wow, you found that post fast. 🙂 This article is already getting traffic. I wonder if Yelp will fill us in…

    • This happened to me too. I hate yelp. It worked well, until it didn’t.

  2. Same issue with my business, hard work down the drain plus big mone if you pay for yelp. Software update or not yelp needs to reach out with an official explanation,I was told is was a software updated that doesn’t make sense. They making harder for small business to stay alive. In the end I’m going to terminate business with yelp if there no resolution.

  3. I have a moving company and lost about 25% of my reviews as well. Yelp has absolutely no idea what I’m talking about and says it is “their software”. I get that paying them won’t help, but I feel that they owe me a crystal clear explanation. This is a gigantic change.

  4. I lost over half of my reviews 35 unfiltered and 40 filtered. I own a small beauty salon. I canceled my YELP AD and they unfiltered my only 3 star review immediately, the client took the review down then Yelp started to filter because I won’t advertise for them.

  5. I have a small hair salon. Before the review rampage, i had 100 reviews (97 5*). Slowly day by day we lose a review or two every day till today 12/6/18. Currently i have only 48 recommended & 88 unrecommended. It is painful as it took me 3 years to get all that reviews… My competitor seem to lose a few reviews every week. But I’ve been hit so hard by this.

    • Wow. It’s normal for 2 or 3 to come and go and rotate out. I’ve never seen so many reviews disappear so suddenly…

  6. I went from 118 reviews and a 5 star to 60 reviews with 4.5 stars. Lost 40 reviews from 2018 alone.

  7. Our Carpet Cleaning Company went from 325 (5-Star) to 238 (4.5 Star). We pay for a small CPC plan with them, so I don’t believe it’s because they want to push you into paying them. These are all documented customers reviews that our team went above and beyond to get. Never paid for fakes or pressured clients.

    This is very unfortunate and we are questioning whether it would be wise to focus our Yelp efforts elsewhere

  8. Yep! Happened to us! End of october we had 80 beautiful reviews we know to be real and we worked really hard for those. Now we have 45? More then 65 in filtered? We gotta start a petition here.

    • Please! I had almost 150 reviews, now barely 80 something. Let’s start something

  9. I own a tattoo shop and our reviews suddenly dropped from 144 recommended reviews in early November to only 78 today (Dec 8). This morning we had 79. Last night we had 80. Yesterday morning we had 82. Since this sudden and quite drastic rapid drop in visible reviews, we have noticed that none of the other tattoo shops in our area have fallen victim to this “random algorithm”.

    Some of these newly filtered reviews are from just a few weeks ago, from seemingly active yelpers. And all are legitimate reviews. And of course, only 5 star reviews are filtered, while our few one star reviews (from inactive yelpers) remain as “recommended reviews”.

    Yelp has been absolutely no help at all and in fact their lack of help or knowledge has resulted in our decision to cancel our Yelp advertising package (we were paying a small monthly fee for the ability to sort our photos and prevent competitor ads on our page).

    Hopefully this is a temporary problem. But if Yelp is trying to extort small businesses to get our reviews back, they need to start playing fair.

  10. Additional note: Perhaps this article about Yelp’s stock plummeting in November explains the sudden loss of recommended reviews. Yelp may be grasping at straws trying to bully small businesses into purchasing ads.

    https://www.google.com/amp/s/www.cnbc.com/amp/2018/11/09/yelp-craters-30percent-as-advertisers-abandon-the-site.html

    • Well, as a long-time Yelp advertiser, I am going say that this strategy is a sure-fire way to lose me!!! There is no way I am going to pay them a penny more, after they slashed my hard work like this. In fact, I have already decided to cancel my advertising plan with them altogether and advertise elsewhere. I am so turned off by them.

  11. I am in the resume writing business. During the past few weeks, Yelp has slashed my reviews from 98 down to about 53 and it is going down by the day. I have noticed that this was not persona. In other words, they haven’t done this only to my business. In my city, there are about two or three dozens of resume writers listed on Yelp. Yelp slashed everyone’s reviews except two of its resume writers in my city: 1) The one who had the most number of reviews, and 2) The one who was (and is) paying the most for advertising.

    Even the merchant who had been the winner of #peopleloveusonYelp Award for three consecutive years, was subject to Yelp’s November review massacre. Oh, that winner is me, by the way. No respect for the very awards they granted me after all my hard work!!! What kind of a game is that? I had a review from a 2018 Yelp Elite member. His review of my business was also slashed!

    When I say they filtered me down from 98 to 53, it is important to note two things:
    1. I am a Yelp advertiser already for a long time
    2. When I was showing 98 reviews, I already had 26 filtered. So here is a comparison:
    BEFORE –> Total: 124 = 98 visible + 26 filtered
    NOW —–> Total: 124 = 53 visible + 71 filtered

    To remove 71 reviews from my page, is like calling me a liar 71 times.

    THAT IS NOT ALL…..
    Ever since this review massacre began, the in-flow of quote requests totally stopped. There are no more quote requests from Yelpers at all. Gone! It’s like all Yelpers died and went to heaven! I get the odd quote request once every few days, from someone who is using Yelp as a Guest, and has no account, no reviews, ho friends, no profile… It’s really weird. I wrote to Yelp and sent them 17 snapshots of these weird quote requests. They completely ignored me.

    AND NOW….
    They have started to call me, leave me vm, and send me follow-up emails. There isn’t even a remote tone of courtesy in the emails they send. On the contrary, their emails are very cocky… They write things like: “For an opportunity to discuss your account with us, call us at blah, blah, blah..” For an OPPORTUNITY to discuss my account??? I don’t know about you, but I think that is so rude.

    At this point, all I am going to say is that “I used to be a fan!”

    • Hi Mandy,

      Thank you for your detailed comment. I too have seen several people in the same niche impacted in the same city. It is unfortunate that two others were not impacted; that doesn’t sound good.

      From your numbers:
      79% of your reviews were displayed prior to this change..
      42% of them are bring displayed afterwards..

      Yikes.

  12. Oh boy, let me pile on. End of October I had 64 reviews showing. As of this morning I have 36 and I added 3 the past few weeks so I lost 31 reviews-all 5 stars. I have spoken with 3 separate yelp employees and its all the same BS answer. I had been spending 4k a month with them through September and I cut it to $2500 starting October. $2500 a month and 31 reviews gone!!! Legitimate ones as well. Of course the only 1 star one I have is still recommended. This company is horrific and I cant wait one day to waive the flap at their funeral. The owners should be put in jail. What other company solicits money from you just so your competitors ads do not show up on your own profile, then filters so many great reviews and leaves the bad ones up? These owners should be personally liable and I hope one day they get theirs for all the pain and deceit they have done to us small business owners. I mean I have sales/credit card receipts that I can show them and still they dont care. Their answer is that if every business tried to verify their reviews they would not have enough staff to go thru it. yet I am sure if the people who want to advertise with them triple they would find a way to hire more people. You know, its all and always will be ABOUT THE MONEY!!!

  13. Wow! I have home furnishing company and saw my reviews drop every day since November. They filtered 8 of my 11 reviews. Thanks god they can’t pick and choose since they are all 5 star and real reviews. I started campaign with them after my yelp traffic dropped by just ended it after reading similar stories. I am better off advertizing with google! I am going to ask for google reviews instead after all! Thanks everyone for sharing!

  14. Thanks so much for posting this Len. I have a digtial media background (sold my agency 4 years ago) and now, in my second life, I own a wine tasting tour company. In November, my displayed reviews (29) slowly throughout the month continued to decline to where I have 10 reviews that are displayed and 31 that are hidden.

    This has been SO infuriating and I felt as though it was retaliation for not advertising with them. This article at least helps me feel better knowing that I’m not alone and that others in my situation are experiencing the same feelings.

    I just find it hard to believe that Yelp would penalize users for giving a review. It doesn’t make any sense and it would be so amazing if Yelp would pull their heads out of the sand and identify that what they are doing is hurting local businesses. People just aren’t as active on Yelp as Yelp would like for them to be. Nor do they give the education to the end-user to understand that their initial reviews won’t really ever display.

    While it’s a necessary evil for a small business, it makes my company look small because it won’t display the true amount of reviews that we’ve genuinely received.

    • Thank you Gary. Yes, to the best of my knowledge, Yelp is not extorting you. 🙂 Glad I could clear that up! That’s a really interesting business you have there, too! 🙂

  15. Yes, more than half of my Yelp reviews are gone. Very frustrating. I work hard for my clients and when they take the time to leave a review, I am very grateful. I don’t know what to do. Greatly impacts my business. I pay $1500/mo for advertising on Yelp. I may switch to Google.

  16. Update: The company I mentioned at the top of this article is now down to 38 recommended reviews. The review slaughter is indeed continuing through December. Now only 35% of their reviews are showing. Wow..

  17. Len,

    Appreciate the write up, but I think your leaning away from what is really going on here.

    Couple great write ups on how their stock tanked. They need the ad money, plain and simple. Without that source of revenue, yelp goes down, and fast. While it is possible it could be a system glitch, that is highly unlikely. Yelp would have addressed this by now.

    Clear as day what they are doing here.. google “billion dollar bully”. Kaylie and her partner have done a wonderful job with the film.

    • Hi Mark,

      Shortly after typing this up I was pinged into a conversation which mentioned their stock price dip. I had no idea. That said, I don’t see how businesses losing their reviews would want to suddenly spend more money with Yelp. In fact, I’ve been hearing just the opposite. But, who knows what people will do.

      I also do not subscribe to the theory that Yelp is holding reviews ransom. In the comments above, there are plenty of paying customers who have lost their reviews. Of course, I do not know the CEO, but as mentioned in my article, Yelp has been investigated before and there was no foul play found.

      I do know that “recommended reviews” are tanking for all sorts of businesses all over the world, and that the reviews displayed are controlled by an algorithm.

      • Correct. An algorithm that they built. They can make it do whatever they want. When they say otherwise they are full of it.

        Taking away reviews levels out the playing field, so smaller companies with less reviews aren’t discouraged to advertise. More competition equates to more needs to advertise.

        I believe yelp will be like MySpace in no time.

        • That’s interesting. I haven’t thought of that. That’s definitely worth looking into… I just looked at my client’s niche – and everyone has lost a ton of reviews.. However, not every niche in every city is like that.

          This is still rolling out and reviews are still going away. People are not happy. I don’t know if the average user will ever care (or even notice) though…

          Anyways… Their silence is deafening…

  18. My company went from 136 reviews to 101 reviews. I am a longtime advertiser and part of the “Yelp Biz All Stars”. I tried to express concern to my ad rep and local biz rep but as far as I can tell, they are choosing to ignore me. Sending a note to Yelp resulted in only a generic and condescending message stating that they can’t treat my business differently than anyone else’s… obviously not the point of my feedback. Yelp was a great thing for my business for a long time, but it’s time to invest in other avenues. The outlook for Yelp is not looking good anyway. I am among those that think this was a desperate ploy to shake things up after their lackluster earnings report.

  19. Update 12/12/2018: Maxine Evans (mentioned in the article above) is now down to 79 reviews.

    Fix It Nick, mentioned above, is now down to 28 reviews.

  20. Yep, I work in the home cleaning in industry and EVERYONE has been hit very, very hard. I’m down from 21 reviews to 7 (only the 5 star reviews are getting hidden). A lot of people I know in this industry have lost over 50% of their positive reviews.

    Personally this has cut my revenue in half. I wonder if we will be able to survive another year.

  21. I have gone from over 60 to less than 30 reviews since I first noticed the changes in early November – now with over 100 filtered, many from visibly active Yelp users with lots of friends, reviews and photos. I am the #1 spot in my market, and thus far still am although not sure when the filtering will stop. I have always checked every so often to monitor the competition’s reviews, and as far as I can tell no one else is losing reviews at this rate. There was always a gap and most others behind me had 5-25 reviews or so. I am not a paying user, but have a colleague in a similar related industry who’s in the #1 spot and is losing reviews at a similar rate — he was paying thousands a month in advertising. So the target doesn’t seem to have anything to do with paying vs non-paying users — instead seems to be targeting the top tier of businesses with the most reviews and hitting them with the biggest percentage of lost reviews; next tier a lower percentage and so on. So they are certainly NOT treating everyone’s business the same and seemingly have applied different algorithms to different users. If it was a mistake on Yelp’s part, they would have fixed it by now …the question is when/if it will stop.

    @Len My theory. I agree with you that Yelp’s ad money is the driving factor — nowadays if you do a search, 4 ads come up before the organic rated businesses – which alone shows how Yelp has shifted gears from an organic website that started as a way to connect small businesses with customers, to this. But many of these advertised businesses have little to no reviews. Poor guys think people will go to Yelp and call them without a review, but those are the businesses I imagine Yelp gets a chunk of their advertising income from. And when there’s so many businesses with lots of reviews, how could they ever catch up? Yelp is somehow trying to level that field — in effect hurting the businesses that have been on Yelp for many years and built up reviews by actually providing amazing customer experiences (which is what Yelp supposedly stands by!) – all in attempt to get new businesses to sign up with them.

    Anyways, that’s my blurb – it’s very frustrating – but my guess is Yelp will lose both many paying customers and consumer confidence with this move, both quicker than they think. I will be focusing my efforts towards building my Google presence and reviews there in the future.

    • I generally focus 90% of my efforts on Google but I guess that totally depends on the niche…

  22. We lost our reviews as well (we had well over 20 and now have less than 12). In response, we are going to cancel our monthly spend on yelp, which is about $1,500 and spend it elsewhere. Very frustrating as we worked hard to get those reviews in the first place. Bottom line, we will NEVER use Yelp again as it is far too unpredictable/unethical.

  23. I’m in the under the Notary Category in San Francisco and we went from 68 5 star reviews in October to 29 today 12/14/18. This is scary stuff for small business’s. I hope someone buys Yelp and fixes this garbage. The platform has so much potential, but this is just making things worse for themselves.

    The problem with Yelp is their inconsistent ad revenue. They had a huge sip in the markets for their 4th quarter and then as soon as that happened the review for many started dropping into the not recommended area. They’re probably trying to level the playing field, but this is not the way.

    If any one has used both Adwords and Yelp ads, you know how absurd it is trying to use Yelp ads. The preferences, search terms, geography settings and categories are so general. They do this because they think it will create more revenue for them…but they’re wrong. If you gave people the options like Adwords does to customize their ads, I guarantee a lot more people wold be interested in advertising. That’s just my two cents.

    But to do this to companies that work so hard for their good reviews is so sad. I’m very disappointed and hope that this get’s sorted out.

  24. Like many people on here, our reviews suddenly dropped. At the time I write this post, Yelp is showing ONLY 14 of our reviews and HIDING 38 of them. http://www.yelp.com/biz/one-wave-designs-honolulu

    Of course, our only 2 non-5 Star reviews are shoved up top, one by a reviewer who only has 2 reviews and I know for a fact she left the country a couple of years ago to a place that doesn’t have Yelp, so she’s not active.
    This all happened shortly after I quit responding to their sales calls. We have worked very, very hard to be the top rated company in our area, but now for the first time in over 10 years, I am not a 5 Star Company on Yelp. I hate to say it, but it’s very seriously effected our business. We have less phone calls and emails from new people than ever in 10 years, and December is usually on of our busiest months.
    Of course when I call Yelp, they offer no help, only “$900 in bonus advertising IF I pay them.” Everyone I’ve spoken to their simply does not care. One guy even told me, “I’m not even obligated to talk to you about your reviews. I don’t have to spend anytime talking to you about these reviews because YOU don’t own your reviews. I’m not even obligated to offer you an additional $900 in bonus advertising if you sign up, so I’m really doing you a favor even offering that.”
    It’s terrible how much Yelp can effect and hurt businesses. We work long hours and hard to earn our reputation, only to have Yelp tear it completely down and hurt us.
    I would never pay to advertise my business on Yelp right now. I told them, “Why would I pay you when I have a less than 5 Star Rating for the fist time in over 10 years? Why would I pay to promote my Yelp profile when it’s at it’s worst?” THey only said, “We believe you will be ok, plus we’re offering you a generous $900 bonus.”

    I really, really wish everyone would just simply quit paying Yelp for advertising. They do so much relentless damage. If everyone would stop paying them, they would finally have to respect the businesses they hurt.
    IF you haven’t Googled “Billion Dollar Bully,” you should. It’s a movie being made about their tactics being identical to mob style, extortion tactics.
    STOP PAYING YELP! They’re killing our business for their own profit!

  25. I own a tutoring company and had over 30 reviews for a long time- I think I was at around 37. I checked around Thanksgiving and saw 25 (this ruined my holiday btw) and just checked yesterday and I’m at 19. Another tutoring company I sometimes refer to has gone from 50 to 25.

    I wrote yelp who gave me a pat answer in reply. Then I wrote the following complaint. I would encourage everyone on this thread to go here and file a complaint

    “I more just wanted to file a complaint in hope to be a part of a critical mass that leads you to change this dire mistake in the new algorithm. It seems like the story that yelp has put out there from the beginning with their filtering algorithm is “Do good work, put your yelp emblem out there, and trust that the chips will fall where they may”. I have done that for several years and built up a good yelp (and real life) reputation. Nowhere in there does it say, “Work years to build this up and then yelp will change their algorithm overnight in a way that will make you lose half of your reviews”. This kind of move is just not a way to build a relationship with your customers (in this case, the businesses). You say that this review thing is about building trust. This type of sweeping change is unnerving and undercuts businesses primarily and also the reviewers who take their time to write reviews. It does exactly the opposite of what you intend. I’m telling you because I have been in many email conversations and Facebook conversation with other business owners who have said they are going to start to de-emphasize yelp in their strategies due to the unpredictability (and untrustworthiness in the sense that you sweeping change can be made to remove all of your hard work) of it all. We all understand you have to filter reviews- but this is very excessive and is not helpful to anyone. It won’t be perfect but you have way overstepped. It can’t err on the side of removing the hard work customers have put into having their voice heard and the hard earned reviews our blood, sweat and tears (and lost sleep) as business owners have earned. I hope this is changed before it’s too late.”

    Thanks for writing this. I think I have finally reached a point of abandon with yelp It’s just so extreme what they have done. I love reading through these- I also have dramatic words like review slaughter and massacre coming to mind. I wish we could do more, but, in desperation and panic, it’s nice not to feel alone.

  26. Update: The company I mentioned at the top of this article is now down to 36 recommended reviews. That’s 33.33% of reviews showing…

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