19 votes

Business owners beware of Yelp!

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.

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Disapointing

I actually am fond of sites like Yelp, generally. I hoped that they could hep reduce the demand and need for things like regulation. This is very disapointing.

F$%# Yelp!

Seriously, I hate yelp with a passion. When I was running my retail business we sold about $2M with an average sale of about $27. This means we had a lot of freaking customers. I trained our staff to provide world class customer service. Overall I would assume that our feedback was generally good. But there is a train of thought that goes into training a sales team. If someone has a great experience they will tell 0-1 people. If someone has a bad experience they will tell everyone. I completely agree with this. If you were to look at the yelp reviews for my business you would think I was running a shit show. We had about 20 reviews over 2.5 years and only 3 of them were good reviews. The other 17 reviews were extremely negative. Over half of these negative reviews were easily ridiculous. The other half of the negative reviews I would say were completely warranted.

Overall we ran a tight ship and took care of our customers. Like any retail business, some scenarios fall through the cracks. But according to Yelp! I ran a business that no one should ever shop at. Luckily no one cares about yelp these days. It is literally old news.

I pay Yelp a bunch!!!

They do not filter reviews based on if you pay them or not. They use the same Fed up filter either way! T

http://www.yelp.com/biz/ifixaz-scottsdale

The only advantage to paying them money,

as far as I can tell, is that if you do, they don't put ads for your competitors right above your "Recommended reviews." I don't pay them money and I can easily put up with the competitors' ads -- because MY reviews are better than theirs are.

Recommended reading: The Most Dangerous Superstition, http://www.amazon.com/Most-Dangerous-Superstition-Larken-Ros...

Kathleen Gee's picture

I've helped several clients "bury" bogus Yelp reviews with SEO

I wasn't aware that there may be payola going on, but I am very aware that there are lots of fake negative Yelp reviews that are placed by businesses' competitors or sock puppets. This is a LOT more common that you'd think. (Not to single out Yelp...this is true with almost any reviews site.)

I've helped several businesses recover from Yelp sabotage without paying anything to Yelp, simply by creating other (positive and accurate) content about the business and working some SEO magic to help the new content rise above fake Yelp reviews in search results. Any good SEO consultant should be able to do this kind of thing.

Yes, unfortunately it costs money (usually starting at about $10 to $20 a day) but it is kind of the cost of doing business on the Interwebs. In general, ignoring fake negative reviews costs a company a lot more in lost business than hiring a reputation management firm.

"Evil is powerless if the good are unafraid." - Ronald Reagan

Public Relations Consulting

Uh, aren't YOU creating bogus reviews?

If what you do is "creating other (positive and accurate) content about the business" -- aren't YOU being paid by the business owner to write positive reviews? To bury negative reviews with a bunch of positives? And who decides what "accurate" content is -- a legitimate customer of the business, or just what the owner tells you? For that matter, exactly HOW do YOU know that the "bogus" reviews you're being paid to bury really are bogus? Sure some reviewers lie -- and so do some business owners.

I have a business with over a hundred Yelp reviews -- all of them from real customers. I would be ashamed of myself if I hired someone to do what you are evidently doing.

Recommended reading: The Most Dangerous Superstition, http://www.amazon.com/Most-Dangerous-Superstition-Larken-Ros...

Kathleen Gee's picture

Congratulations on the success of your business

Perhaps when a wave of bogus anonymous reviewers costs you tens of thousands of dollars in revenues, you'll feel differently.

I do not write bogus reviews or testimonials. In addition to being unethical and stupid, it's against the law.

My largest-scale reputation management project was for a pro-Capitalism non-profit organization that was being systematically trashed by sock puppets that apparently originated from several leftist front groups. (I know this because I had access to the back end of the capitalist group's website, and I could see the IP addresses that the comment spam was coming from.) There were also several out-in-the-open attack campaigns organized against them.

So I designed and set up several websites and populated them with accurate, pro-Capitalist content related to the Capitalist group's various positions on issues. I applied SEO ninja skills to the sites and eventually they outranked the attack posts generated by the leftists.

So, your theory is that the pro-Capitalist group should have just sucked it up and taken it?

Again, when it happens to you, I imagine you'll see the situation differently.

"Evil is powerless if the good are unafraid." - Ronald Reagan

Public Relations Consulting

That all sounds very honorable, but

I was speaking about Yelp, in particular. On Yelp, the ONLY way to bury a review is to generate new reviews. Your comment suggested that that's what you did. If I read that wrong, I do apologize, sincerely.

Recommended reading: The Most Dangerous Superstition, http://www.amazon.com/Most-Dangerous-Superstition-Larken-Ros...

Kathleen Gee's picture

Apology accepted.

Google and other search engines determine how all the various bits of online content that contain your company's name are displayed in search results. I help companies create and promote accurate, positive content so it ranks higher than bogus Yelp reviews (and other attack posts) in search engine results.

As the OP mentioned, Yelp determines how reviews are displayed inside their site, and I have nothing to do with that.

No offense meant, but it's clear from your reaction that you don't know much, if anything, about search engine optimization, or you would have understood my comments. I apologize for not being more clear and assuming knowledge where there was none.

"Evil is powerless if the good are unafraid." - Ronald Reagan

Public Relations Consulting

I think I like your style

Many people seem to know the terminology but not the proper definitions or understanding.

What dabooda says scares me to death on HIS behalf. With 50% of business coming from Yelp...he's standing on a precipice and telling us everything is fine-o.

Alas, I fear we have done our best to inform him. The only constant we an rely on in online marketing is change.

There is nothing strange about having a bar of soap in your right pocket, it's just what's happening.

Thank you very kindly for your concern, Smudge,

but I'm in less danger than you imagine. I get a lot of business from Yelp because here in Los Angeles Yelp is the go-to site for small business reviews -- the same way Amazon is the go-to site for book reviews. Yelp, like Amazon, owes its popularity to its reviewer-friendly policies. And as long as those policies continue, I figure I'll do okay. I treat customers the way I'd like to be treated myself -- and that's unusual enough that a lot of customers get inspired to write nice reviews for me. If Yelp self-destructs, there will still be a demand for reviews of businesses like mine, and SOMEONE will fill it. That's where my customers will post reviews in the future. And if no one fills the void that Yelp would leave behind -- where will people turn to find someone to repair the products I service? They'll probably ask the folks who sold them those products -- most of whom know me well and freely hand out my business cards. That's how my business survived for fourteen years BEFORE Yelp even existed, and I did just fine.

So -- thanks for worrying about my business up on the precipice. But you really needn't worry. Incredibly superior customer service and twenty years of connections with local retailers are bedrock.

Recommended reading: The Most Dangerous Superstition, http://www.amazon.com/Most-Dangerous-Superstition-Larken-Ros...

She's saying something quite different

Your defense of Yelp has obscured your vision. We get it, you like Yelp. The point of the article was not to challenge your like of Yelp. It was to caution business owners and highlight what a great many people have to say about them.

As I said in disclosure: NO POSITION. I got no skin in this game. You do.

There is nothing strange about having a bar of soap in your right pocket, it's just what's happening.

I can see doing that for niche websites

but go ahead and try to bury something in a competitive and well funded field like BMW automobile sales. You aren't gonna top-page with on-site SEO, that takes the full Monty of social media and PR services like media placement. I have a few client sites ranking above Yelp on Google but they are established, those were written before Yelp existed.

There is nothing strange about having a bar of soap in your right pocket, it's just what's happening.

Kathleen Gee's picture

I've done it for both national and local clients.

But for the most part, when you're dealing with Yelp, you're dealing with local businesses and local search engine results. Naturally, it depends on the niche, but's not really that hard to dominate search results for the name of your own business or your own category locally.

"Evil is powerless if the good are unafraid." - Ronald Reagan

Public Relations Consulting

What about when those sites abuse individuals?

Hey, this is somewhat offtopic though very related...One of my best friends was posted on a similar site, even though she's not a business owner. The person made up a wild story about her being a prostitute and drug addict who stole over $10,000 from her and listed her full name, current/past addresses, and employment history on the site. We can't get them to take it down. They simply don't respond to complaints about the posting.

This is a big deal because it would show up in any basic background check when she applies to a job or promotion. Anyone know how we can make them remove it?

Lawyer up

That's a libel and that's a crime. File suit and subpoena the website owner to discover the identity of the poster and go after them.

There is nothing strange about having a bar of soap in your right pocket, it's just what's happening.

If she sued them, it would

If she sued them, it would become public record for any background check to find and she can't afford a lawyer. Maybe I can help her file for some kind of injunction manually, as a last resort

Public with a finding in her favor

So you are worried about a public record which she can refute in the public record or a record made public which she can't refute?

It seemed you indicated the damage is done: employers are already finding this info.

We have a couple JDs here at least: Lawmanjed and Permaculture Republican. I'd PM both of them for advice.

There is nothing strange about having a bar of soap in your right pocket, it's just what's happening.

Very Insightful!

I use Yelp but I always take all reviews with a grain of salt. It's a useful website, but now I know what they're doing to the little guy! That's messed up!

I second this post!

I personally, experienced a similar issue with Yelp! No bad reviews, all good ones. But they hid them under the guise that they may not be legit. In my case, each review was legitimate. I was also paying them $300 a month for "advertising". My company followed every guideline and listing "best practice" to the letter.

We even had them produce an "intro" video for us. The sales people at Yelp promise the world. But our paid Yelp listing's performance was absolutely dismal. Not even on the radar. I managed to get out of the contract. But not before paying a small $700 ransom.

I would NEVER, EVER, recommend Yelp's paid services to any business person.

The ironic thing about all this is, last time I checked you couldn't even review Yelp's service itself on their own website. Imagine how many of their own bad reviews they'd have to publish above the good ones?

Yelp has changed their filter

Yelp used to "filter" reviews, and demanded that you fill out an obnoxious "captcha" thing to be able to view the "filtered" reviews. They've changed this for the better. Now they publish reviews as "recommended" or "not recommended," and just a single click on the "not recommended" access button lets you read all the "not recommended" reviews easily.

I've never paid Yelp for service, and I've been very happy with the free service they've provided me. I don't even have a website of my own -- Yelp is all I've needed to get just about all the work I can handle.

Recommended reading: The Most Dangerous Superstition, http://www.amazon.com/Most-Dangerous-Superstition-Larken-Ros...

If that is their model I won't be looking at their feedback

What I notice about yelp is you have people on there where that's all they do. Just complain on yelp, their opinions are everywhere So they skew what is reality because it's the same people over and over.

I'm sure a better system and fair opinions could be created

this is also how google search ranking works

in a nutshell. and no I don't mean the paid advertisements on top of the page.

As a consumer I like Yelp but

As a consumer I like Yelp but I do not condone if they have some shady practices. One time my transmission went out. We got it to a shop and he quoted $2000. I thought something was fishy and even though I felt stuck since it was already at his shop I decided to get a 2nd opinion. I took it to some dive transmission place who said I just needed a new solenoid - cost $75 out the door. I was happy that I was able to warn other people about the bad place and put a great review for the honest place that was hurting for business.

I've had lots of other situations like that. Yelp does have a freaky algorithm which has blocked some of my reviews before but they did eventually show up for that business. Its a great idea but I do realize there have been some unjust circumstances perpetrated against business owners on Yelp.

I used to use yelp for the same reason

but more and more I started to notice businesses (restaurants mostly) that I think are fantastic but they get bad reviews. Look at the reviews themselves and you often find they aren't really relevant.

I happen to love Waffle House and I see people complaining about the decor and the personable, informal attitude of the staff. For a Waffle House fan this is part of what keeps us coming back, it doesn't pretend to be a 4 star affair. It's more like country food, down home, saturated in fat and salt and all things unhealthy (which I love and adore). I think they miss the whole point about Southern hospitatlity which is probably why WH is a Southern innovation.

The best had to be a review of an Indian restaurant I like. The reviewer complained that so many dishes were curry dishes and she didn't like curry. IN AN INDIAN RESTAURANT. Another reviewer said "the sweet and sour sauce is brown". OK I can't recall ever seeing sweet and sour sauce in an Indian restaurant. Could they have been talking about the tamarind chutney? Yeah uh, that's what color tamarind chutney is.

Ditto this Afghani restaurant I love. Reviewers complain that everything is a kabob and it all comes with that funny flat bread they hate. OK fine but Afghani cuisine really does rely upon skewered meant, rice and nan.

Do these same people complain about the lack of cloth napkins at McDonalds?

So I guess this is a whole other issue that's not Yelp's fault: the USA isn't producing many epicurians these days.

There is nothing strange about having a bar of soap in your right pocket, it's just what's happening.

Not to detract from the obviously mafioso style of Yelp that you

have brought to my attention (thanks for that) but if your friend relies on "web marketing, SEO, and social media outreach" for the survival of her business then she is going to fail in business.

Instead, she should be relying on providing the best service possible for a fair price. Then she'll have so much first hand word of mouth advertising for free, Yelp and the rest will be irrelevant.

"Web marketing" and "social media outreach" are NOT your business. They are tools you can use to aid and enhance your reach to your potential market to grow your business, but you should never rely on them, any more than you should rely on any other form of advertising.

As for "SEO" it's all b.s. The only real and true SEO is to have a website with relevant content. That's it. The rest of it is a pure scam.

You are forgetting that we

You are forgetting that we are living more and more in a world where people stare at their phones and computers for companionship and cant even say high to the person sitting right next to them.

Which one do you think has more of an effect on getting the word out.

If she provides a good service then review sites and social media that are on the internet should accurately portray that. Of you then have to have marketing to show people these reviews.

I am tired of the annoying checkins and likes everywhere, but thats how things are. Some people I know can post every day on their facebook about something their doing but if I talk to them in person they may not ever mention it.

Yes, but the social stuff follows the business, not the other

way around.

You even noted that yourself just now.

I'm not suggesting one should avoid the Net for marketing, but one should not bet the farm on that alone to bring in the bacon.

Well the facts suggest differently

She's at the top of her class. Well known in her locale even among her competitors. You are correct to the extent that her product and customer service are top notch and these aren't neglected in favor of online marketing.

There is nothing strange about having a bar of soap in your right pocket, it's just what's happening.

Good for her.

I don't think I suggested otherwise.

It was the OP rather that claimed she relied so much on those methods, implying without them, the business would fail or suffer greatly which is also the point of the entire post. The OP seems to suggest that Yelp or some similar site could do real damage. If they can, maybe you really aren't that great of a business in the first place is my point.