Business owners beware of Yelp!Submitted by Smudge Pot on Tue, 06/10/2014 - 12:10
A client recently shared a tale of woe with me. Her service-oriented business rather suddenly hand't been performing. Her business relies in great part on web marketing, SEO and social media outreach.
It seems she had some negative reviews on Yelp, a popular review website. One negative review she desicribes as being "legit", that she did make a mistake and miss an order from a customer. Another one never executed contract or made down payment and so there was no business done, no exchange of value. A third she simply has no idea or it's origin, no record of any business transacted.
At first I took this in stride and felt that these negative reviews would help her improve in the long run. Then I started looking into Yelp.
They have a honey of a model going. If your business is negatively reviewed, the negative reviews are placed right at the top of your Yelp page and other positive reviews get literally hidden or obsured through a series of links that most people aren't aware exist: it's not really obvious to the user.
And then, just by coincidence, Yelp begins to call this business to offer them special "advertising" to help improve their image on Yelp. The calls can come weekly and even daily for A YEAR OR MORE.
It also seems that Yelp has either a cozy relationship with Google or Yelp has Google over a barrel (possibly) due to Yelp's other strong strategic partnershps with facebook and other "mo-mos". Yelp reviews appear above other "organic" search results with speed and regularity across business sectors.
It took no time at all to find these reports corroborated all over the internet. Especially eggregious are the descriptions of Yelp's sales people as aggressive and forceful and actually say they can help negative reviews go away, that the businesses positioning will be improved and they reportedly follow through with this promise routinely. HOWEVER they claim that there's no human itnervention here, that these placements and positions are the result of an algo.
If they had called it "Albert" and not "an algo" I suspect we'd be closer to the truth unless they have designed fickleness into this algo because it seems to change it's mind when it's getting paid. And I read countless tales of woe of small businesses basically erradicated by Yelp. True, there are some marvelous success stories too but seriously there seem to be TENS OF THOUSANDS OF PEOPLE all with these very indicting reports of what now seems to me to be extortion plain and simple. And if you look a bit deeper you find that it's not all just an algo determining higher and lower value reviews, THEY ACTUALLY HAVE HAD AND MAY CONTINUE TO EMPLOY PAID REVIEWERS. In other words, they actually hire people to go out and review businesses and these reviews end up guess where?
At the top of the page, above the fold. In other words, this "don't blame us it's just an algo working with unsolicited reviews" rap is a naked lie.
Yelp seems to charge from $200-500 monthly for this "advertising and marketing assistance". To a medium sized business this doesn't sound like much but for many small businesses that's more than they spend on all other advertising combined. The net effect? Yelp is not just out there picking winners, it's creating losers.
All service businesses experience complaints no matter how diligent and professional and that is because some people are just plain bitchez. There's people out there who will complain about anything and everything.
Do you have any Yelp success or nightmare stories? I'm interested to hear if you can confirm or refute some of these points. If you feel your business has been unfairly damaged by Yelp you might consider contacting your state's Attorney General's office and making are report. Multiple states are looking into this issue and it looks like multiple class action lawsuits are in the works.
If your business isn't on Yelp yet you might consider NOT encouraging anyone to review you or they have their claws into you. If you are "Yelped" it suddenly becomes part of your marketing strategy and the expense involved might well be worth it. They can lift you over your competitors literally OVERNIGHT. But you will be left wondering how long it will be before they come and shake you down for more because an outfit that can so easily make you can easily break you. What I'm seeing is this model will eventually resolve itself into something more like Google's Adwords and that's simply catering to the highest bidder.
Disclosure: no position. Yelp doesn't review my categories of business.