Reviews help Yelp website soar

One of the most popular “hot and cold” websites out there is “Yelp,” a huge and growing site that allows users to review everything from restaurants to bars in your hometown or places you have visited.

One of the most popular “hot and cold” websites out there is “Yelp,” a huge and growing site that allows users to review everything from restaurants to bars in your hometown or places you have visited.

What gained Yelp some notoriety lately is a rumored bit from Google to buy the site, which has been growing by leaps and bounds lately. I think the site is quite interesting for a number of reasons.

One, a lot of the reviews appear to be honest and written by local residents and not just shills or the business owners themselves.

And the sheer depth of the site makes it a great choice if you tend to travel a lot or just want to find a good dentist in a new city.

For example, if you are travelling to a strange city (well, a new city not necessarily a strange city like Rabbit Hash, Kentucky) you can head to the site and look for hotels and restaurants and places to go with some honest reviews. I think that’s a major plus when compared to other sites out there that tend to be travel-focused exclusively or even rivals like CitySearch which just seem more impersonal.

I have looked at a few cities with which I am very familiar and found the reviews to be pretty spot-on for the most part. The smaller towns, understandably, have less content but the Chicago content was accurate and well-rated. (Users can rank the content providers and many seem to be competing for points.) I believe the small town aspect of the site will grow as more people in the Midwest find out it is there.

The site was founded in San Francisco in 2004 and since then it has spread across the USA, Canada, the United Kingdom and Ireland. Just last month the site drew 26 million unique visitors and the users, called “Yelpers,” piled on their 8 millionth review. So it is a pretty impressive collection for free.

Like everything else, the “grain of salt” rule applies on Yelp as well. Some reviews are clearly written by people with an axe to grind … in some cases obviously competitors of businesses or employees of competing firms. Others are written by morons. Some are written by the barely literate. But the vast majority are fair and surprisingly complete. The site does not do any editorial management of the content so be careful when you make decisions based on a few comments. However, once you have more than a handful of comments you generally can see a trend developing, especially in a decent city.

The other area you have to focus on is your own participation. If you have good or bad experiences and you patronize Yelp, you owe it to the community to give something back. Write some reviews of your own and see how it grows.

James Derk is owner of CyberDads, a computer repair firm and a tech columnist for Scripps Howard News Service. His e-mail address is jim(at)cyberdads.com