Tech by VICE

How Many Sparkling Reviews Would the Lion-Killer Dentist Need to Save His Yelp?

The damage has been done. Rest easy, armchair avengers.

by Kaleigh Rogers
Jul 29 2015, 9:20pm

Image: Sid Das/Flickr

When the internet is intent on destroying your business, it can make quick work of it. But there's always a way crawl out of a hole, right? So just how much work would it take to crawl out of the hole that the lion-killing dentist from Minneapolis has dug himself?

The internet found out this week that the man who killed Cecil—a beloved, protected, 13-year-old lion in Zimbabwe—was a dentist named Walter Palmer, and it quickly began destroying his online presence. Within hours of Palmer's identity being revealed, his business's Yelp page was flooded with one-star reviews expressing disgust and outrage over the violent killing and beheading of the famous feline. Some people posted five-star reviews with equally vitriolic sentiments, too.

The overall rating of a Yelp page is an average of all the approved ratings on the page (how Yelp decides which ratings to approve, hide, or remove is another story), and Palmer's page quickly plummeted to an overall one-star rating, the lowest possible rating on Yelp.

The number of reviews, by rating, on Palmer's Yelp page as of Wednesday at 5 p.m. Screengrab: Yelp

After all of the international media attention, Palmer's business may well have been destroyed long before his Yelp page was (his office has been closed for two days and people are building a memorial to Cecil on the doorstep, according to the New York Times).

Still, the demolition of his online reputation piqued the interest of Connor Jones, a digital media associate at Go Fish Digital. Go Fish helps businesses with their SEO, social media strategies, and online reputations, including building up Yelp ratings. Though Go Fish isn't planning on taking on Palmer as a new client, Jones was curious how badly damaged the Yelp page really was.

"My boss will often ask me, 'can you calculate how many more reviews this client needs to get to the next level rating?' so after awhile I said we should just make a tool to automate this," Jones said.

So he built a Yelp calculator that uses simple algebra to determine how many high-star reviews are needed to push a page to a certain rating. Jones input the number of five, four, three, two, and one-star reviews on Palmer's page, and calculated how many new, positive reviews the dentist would need to recover the 3.5 star rating the page had before the shit hit the fan. The results? It would take 7,348 five-star reviews or 17,145 four-star reviews just for Palmer's page to get a 3.5 star rating.

"I actually expected it to be higher, in the tens of thousands," Jones told me over the phone. "But it's not like he's ever going to get 7,000 [positive reviews] anyway."