Yelp, the popular online review website that has a strong following in major US cities and launched in the UK earlier this year, has seen its fair share of controversy.

One of the biggest complaints amongst business owners: that reviews canbecome a shakedown by emboldened customers or Internet trolls“.

Up until now, it has been difficult for business owners to respond to complaints aired publicly in bad reviews. But that changed this week as Yelp launched public commenting for all businesses.

The new functionality, which is free, gives business owners who claim their page on Yelp the ability to leave comments in response to reviews that Yelp users leave. Now, if a reviewer writes something that the business owner disputes or would like to address, it is possible to do so without, perhaps, having to file a lawsuit.

This is good news and public commenting for business owners was long overdue. Review sites should be a two-way street; users deserve to know when a business owner disputes a claim that was made or has made amends for a mistake. In many cases, reading what a business owner has to say can be just as valuable to making a decision as reading a customer review.

Yelp has provided a Business Owner’s Guide which contains best practices that are useful reminders to all businesses addressing customer feedback and complaints online.

Photo credit: jwalsh via Flickr.