A Washington, D.C., remodeler made headlines late last year for suing a customer for libel after discovering that the first (and only) review his company received on Yelp charged him with stealing jewelry, and other despicable acts.

Though I don’t recommend that remodeling companies take this sort of action, I do think the dispute raises important points about where Yelp works and where it doesn’t.

The truth is: Yelp isn’t working well for our industry’s customers.

Punishing the Good

Searching Yelp for contractors in Atlanta, I see just 22 with at least one review. Only seven have more than one. This begs the question: Is Yelp helping prospective customers by promoting that lonesome opinion (out of the dozens, or hundreds, or thousands of actual experiences from a remodeler’s customers)?

Likely as not, there are bad companies on Yelp with a single good review and nothing else. Similarly, there are very good companies on Yelp with a single bad review and nothing else. In these cases, Yelp is inadvertently promoting bad businesses and is punishing good ones.

And with only a tiny fraction of customers sharing a review on Yelp — or anywhere else online — it’s going to be a long time before that second, third, or fourth review rolls in.

More May Mean Merrier

Ultimately, I don’t think the folks at Yelp can solve this problem without dramatically changing their business.

But, they’re not alone. Yelp, Google, Angie’s List, and others all face the same problem: The way they gather information and communicate quality is relevant to only those businesses that have an extremely large customer base.

This is a problem for Yelp, for the contractors with Yelp profiles, and, most especially, for the customers who rely on Yelp to inform their choice of remodeler.

However, it’s a big opportunity for others, and I expect that 2013 will see some significant innovations as businesses rise to this challenge. —Geoff Graham is president of GuildQuality, a member-based company focused on customer-satisfaction surveying, reporting, and benchmarking for the remodeling and building industries.

Related articles:

Vindication: Suing a client for a negative online review

Update: Virginia Supreme Court reverses ruling to have portions of negative online reviews removed

Golden Opportunity Loses Its Luster: Why one cabinet company is abandoning Yelp

How Using Angie’s List Can Benefit Contractors