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The Story Behind Yelp Reviews: The Good, the Bad — and the Hidden

Sep 20, 2016 | Reviews, San Francisco Plumbing

Finding myself with a few minutes recently, I took a peek at O’Grady Plumbing’s reviews on My plan was to read them from the standpoint of a potential customer looking to hire us for a commercial or residential plumbing job in San Francisco.

The problem with that, of course, is that I’m not an impartial client who never heard of O’Grady Plumbing. I’m the owner, for goodness sakes. So all these feelings of pride and prejudice raised a roller coaster of emotions within me as I read post after post — the majority of which were very flattering to my staff and service.

One review in particular grabbed my eye, and I’m going to paste it right here for your perusal and then reflect on the post from our angle, filling in any details missing from the review. The longtime client is Ellis W., and he is writing about the replacement of his sewer line:

  • After 100 years, we had to replace the main drain from the house to the street. O’Grady did the job in two days at the lowest price. They have been reopening it for the past 15 years and keeping it flowing. O’Grady came out two times to clear the drain and only charged for one time.
  • After looking with a camera it was determined that the drain needed replacement. They also helped me contact the city’s department of power and water, who sent a crew out the next morning. Fast! The city cleared its part of the drain from our curb to the middle of the street. Now everything works great! Good for another 100 years!

If memory serves, Ellis lived in the Richmond Seacliff area. Great family with a wonderful wife and kids who were grown up but still nearby. The problem was a sewer back up, followed by another backup, which prompted us to run the camera on the second visit. Often the problem is old clay and roots or baby wipes.

Ellis was not happy to hear that a root condition existed and that the sewer line needed to be replaced. But sewers are what I do everyday. I have done many small, medium and large underground jobs to the tune of 2,000 and counting.

As I recall, the entrance to his home was on the side and the sewer was directly below the entrance. Our plan was to use the garage as the alternative entrance and install new line under their original brick steps. The work was quick and affordable, the pain was over and there were no blemishes.

Thus, the kind words of praise on Yelp.

In the early 2000s, my customers saw the value in my detailed work and tenacious business practices. I’ve always been proud of my ability to make hard decisions based on values and good practices. And I was proved accurate in that assessment by a bundle of complimentary Yelp reviews. People love our services and they put it online.

Then about five years ago, I noticed the number of reviews on Yelp went from 55 to 13 almost overnight. When we asked several times how this could happen, a Yelp employee would tell us they aren’t in control of the algorithms that display reviews on on our Yelp page. They said the review oracle (that’s my way of saying, who knows who’s calling the shots) will do as it sees fit and has nothing to do with the acts of man. So where did all those nice reviews go? Well, if you take a look at the faint print on the bottom of our Yelp page, you’ll see this:

52 other reviews that are not currently recommended 

When you click on this statement, you are directed to type in a secret magical password and then observe another beware warning before you see the filtered reviews.

Aha! There they are, starting with some one-star reviews and followed by page after page of five-star reviews — every last one of them earned by O’Grady Plumbing and citing a great experience for a job well done.

And even though it’s a bit of a journey to get to those reviews, I can still read all those wonderful, positive reviews about my company.

As a side note: A few years back a friend sent me a link to a nasty review of O’Grady Plumbing on Ripoff Report. In short, this person I had never met submitted a fabulously false review on Ripoff Report in which he claimed a fly-by-night plumber had resolved an issue that I apparently couldn’t.

Most of the time, I chalk up such claims as bad behavior and let it go. But this time, I felt strongly enough about it to confront him while shooting company video. You be the judge:

So it goes as I sit down this late summer Wednesday morning, winding down for the end of the week. Thanks to our client base and staff, I’m sure tomorrow will be another happy day in the trenches.

About The Author: Paul O’Grady is the founder and general manager of O’Grady Plumbing — San Francisco’s multi-generational residential and commercial plumbing company. O’Grady grew up in the plumbing business and his company is backed by three generations of plumbers. At O’Grady Plumbing, Paul manages a team of master plumbers who build, repair, maintain and retrofit plumbing systems and equipment throughout San Francisco and San Mateo.

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