More Unproven Yelp ‘Extortion’ Accusations Publicized

By: Chris Crum - January 24, 2014

The story has been going on for quite some time. Businesses accuse Yelp of “extortion” or holding their positive reviews hostage unless they spend advertising money, and Yelp denies it vehemently, citing a lack of evidence and research appearing to contradict it.

But the story isn’t going away, as more accusations make their way to the public eye.

Has Yelp sufficiently proven that such accusations are unsubstantiated? Tell us what you think.

Last week, the Seattle Times ran a guest column by Terry Thomas, a small business owner who has taught business ethics at Seattle University and the University of Washington.

“Shortly after our company began receiving positive reviews on Yelp, an energetic Yelp salesman called me, congratulating me on our company’s online reviews, and offering to help boost our Internet presence with one of several of Yelp’s marketing programs,” he wrote. “Once I was finally able to get him to answer my question about what the price would be, I was staggered: $8,400 per year for their midlevel program. I politely declined.”

After that, Thomas claimed his positive reviews began to be filtered or “buried deep” within the site and “difficult to access.” Only positive reviews had been moved, he said. The more negative reviews moved up the page and were featured more prominently.

It’s pretty much the same story we’ve been hearing for a long time. One business owner even shared it with Judge Milian on The People’s Court:

Last May, Yelp defended itself after similar accusations from various business owners were reported by The Washington Post and the Los Angeles Times.

“Some business owners have even gone so far as to take these accusations to court, but their claims keep getting dismissed for lack of any fact-based evidence,” blogged Yelp’s VP Communications & Public Affairs, Vince Sollitto, at the time.

He pointed to research finding no connection between advertising and Yelp’s automated filtering.

With the data set employed, a Harvard Business School study found that “none of the advertise interaction effects are statistically significant,” and that “neither 1- nor 5-star reviews were significantly more or less likely to be filtered for businesses that were advertising on Yelp at the time we collected our dataset.”

It went on to conclude, “Yelp’s current implementation of the filtering algorithm does not treat advertisers’ reviews in a manner different to non-advertisers’ reviews. While we have no direct knowledge of how Yelp’s filtering algorithm works, the lack of filtering biases associated with advertising increases our confidence in using filtered reviews as an unbiased, albeit imperfect, proxy for fake reviews.”

You can find the report in its entirety here. Find section 3.4 for more details on the methodology.

“A simple Google search debunks the conspiracy,” Sollitto wrote. “Want to see if businesses that advertise on Yelp really do get ‘special treatment?’ Feel free to do your own version of a simple Google test like this [ ‘Yelp sponsor’ AND ‘rude staff’] by inserting your own negative phrases in the last set of quotation marks. The words ‘Yelp Sponsor’ only appear on pages of advertisers, which begs the question: if these Yelp advertisers get a special ‘Delete’ button for negative reviews, why in the world aren’t they using it? (Hint: because it doesn’t exist.) Nor is there any rational incentive for a Yelp sales team member to jeopardize his or her career by pitching a product that can’t be delivered because it doesn’t exist.”

Thomas says he’s not buying Yelp’s defense, and notes that many other small business owners who have filed a class-action lawsuit against the company don’t either. The case was dismissed, but is awaiting a decision in appeals court.

His article points to an NBC report from November about a dentist who claimed his negative reviews had been removed when he paid to advertise with the company, but reappeared when he told the company he no longer wanted to advertise.

Following Thomas’ article, The Seattle Times posted a letter to the editor from someone named Nete Olsen, who claimed, “I’ve also been extorted by the online reviews site,” and that the article “puts into words the exact experience that our business has gone through with the online review website.”

This week, the Times published another letter to the editor from Sollitto saying that both Thomas’ piece and Olsen’s letter “rehash a conspiracy theory that lacks evidence (see: Woozle effect).” He noted the Harvard study again.

“Yelp does not extort small businesses,” he continued. “We have been transparent with the fact that we do not recommend every review that is submitted. Why might a review not be recommended? It might be a fake, an unhelpful rant or rave, a review that the business owner asked a customer to write, or, simply, a review that was posted by someone we don’t know much about.”

“Let’s spend a moment on that last one,” he added. “We feel the most useful reviews come from active members of the Yelp community — those who regularly return to the site to share their opinions, who engage with other members of the community and share more information about themselves. After all, whose opinion would you trust more: a friend who you know is an expert in that given area, or a faceless stranger just shouting out a drive-by suggestion?”

Jeremy Stoppelman

Image via Jeremy Stoppelman (Twitter)

Yelp CEO Jeremy Stoppelman addressed the topic in a reddit AMA in November, saying, “Despite the ‘Yelp extorts’ conspiracy meme, there’s never been a shred of actual ‘smoking gun’ evidence (phone call recording, email, etc.) to back up the claims.”

As far as we know, he’s right. We’ve not seen any real hard evidence. Still, the accusations continue to fly, and businesses even go to Yelp events to voice their frustration.

Yelp and the U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA) have a new online reviews initiative, which will see even more events in various cities throughout the country this year, leading up to Small Business Week in May. We’d imagine that Yelp will face a few more unhappy businesses.

In a couple weeks, Yelp will release its Q4 and full year 2013 financial results, and will no doubt provide some stats on reviews and users. On the last one, they announced a 68% year-over-year increase in revenue and 42% year-over-year growth in cumulative reviews.

The extortion accusations are only one of the controversies Yelp continues to face. It also continues to battle fake reviews with “sting operations.” The company recently revealed that it has caught nearly 300 businesses engaging in fake reviews, resulting in their business pages displaying Yelp’s consumer alert messages.

Do you believe the “extortion meme” is a baseless conspiracy theory or do you think there’s a legitimate reason these accusations continue to fly? Share your thoughts in the comments.

Lead image via Yelp

Chris Crum

About the Author

Chris CrumChris Crum has been a part of the WebProNews team and the iEntry Network of B2B Publications since 2003. Follow Chris on Twitter, on StumbleUpon, on Pinterest and/or on Google: +Chris Crum.

View all posts by Chris Crum
  • Alan

    When the fox is guarding, there is never and extortion. Why couldn't Yelp provide a resource that allows a business to verify that the review that is filtered a real client and moved into the rating column?

    • Mike Jacoubowsky

      That's really tough to do; anytime you get into having people look into things, you're going to get quite a drain on resources, and where people are involved (not data-driven algorithms), there will be room for claims that the system is biased towards advertisers etc.

      What would be helpful would be for Yelp to provide the reasons a review was filtered. In some cases it appears to be due to a 5-star review from a one-review poster looking like a staged review.. I've seen posts move from filtered back into the main pool with the poster starts reviewing other businesses. They also appear to filter based upon IP addresses, so if multiple posts come from a single IP, they all get filtered.

      Curiously, they don't do a good job of filtering reviews from people who say that the business gives special favors for favorable yelp reviews. Sometimes you can read this between the lines, and sometimes it's right out in the open.

      • Jackie Horvath


  • Michael Korn

    Thank you for helping spread the word of Yelp's shady business activities. We are a new dental office and I believe positive Yelp reviews can really contribute to our growth. Our first two reviews were 5 stars, completely legit and thankfully well written by our patients. Both were filtered out by Yelp stating they were "Unrecommended".

    A colleague of mine had five 5 star reviews all from legit patients that had a great experience; this is an Endodontist mind you (very hard to give patients a great experience). Yelp kept calling him asking him to advertise which at the time he could not afford. They wiped all five of his positive reviews and he hasn't been able to get one to stick ever since. Sounds like a scam to me.

    • IamTheFij

      I’m inclined to believe you didn’t read the whole article.

      The article sources an independent study done that shows there is no correlation between filtered reviews and advertising.

      • Saori

        Iamthefij I believ you re a sheep. read articles about the complaints. Do some research. It s always the before and after the phone calls. An algorithm can always modified by a variable. What if the variable was ” paid advertising or not paid”? The Harvard study doesnt have any weight, it depends on who funded the research, the sampled they used. And did they really know who paid the ads? I dont think yelp provided this info.

  • Mike Jacoubowsky

    I'm inclined to believe Yelp has made attempts to be fair with regards to paid advertisers vs others. What Yelp has failed to do is improve accountability. Sites that review businesses and allow anonymous posts should nevertheless allow businesses to contact those posting, through Yelp (so the poster remains anonymous), and engage in a conversation. But Yelp allows posters to opt out of such correspondence. In my opinion, any post in which the person posting has opted out of further correspondence should be excluded from the results, or at least minimized. Leave the post intact, but with a disclaimer that the person has refused any attempt to clear things up with the business involved.

    I'm not suggesting this be open-ended (that a conversation between poster and business should go on forever) but perhaps for a 6 month period. It would also be appropriate to note where a business has responded but the original poster has not.

    With these simple changes, we could greatly increase accountability while still keeping the anonymity that people feel is essential for such on-line review forums. In my humble opinion. :-)

    Mike Jacoubowsky, Partner
    Chain Reaction Bicycles

    • IamTheFij

      Business owners can publicly reply to a review. There is no way to opt out of that. It’s a great feature that allows other readers to hear the other side of the story.

      Personally, if I see a business owner reply, period, I mentally bump up their reputation. It shows they care. Good points though!

  • Rob Benton

    On my way in to work on 1/23/2014, on 560 AM bryan sussman had at least 5 callers state that their positive reviews disappeared following a call by a YELP representative trying (and failing) to sell advertising. I think where there is smoke, there is likely to be fire.

    • Jackie Horvath

      Absolutely The Truth, YELP NEEDS TO BE SHUT DOWM

  • Chris Gormley

    I believe where there's smoke there's fire and how would small businesses from all across the country get together to come up with the same story. The majority of the negative reviews on Yelp are generic and don't give any specifics as to why the reviewer is unhappy. Example: "The restaurant was not what we expected" 1 star. Fact is the business has no way to control what you thought it was before you came in. They simply have to be honest and provide a good product or service. Or this restaurant uses X products which are cheap or easily purchased at the local grocery store" 1.5 stars. A business shouldn't be reviewed based on your guess at what products they use. However the good reviews are usually more specific and recount actual points about the experience. I feel none of the reviews should be filtered. If the business has a good following let them tell us about why they like the place. If someone actually visited the establishment and had a bad experience that would be helpful for the public to know.

    • Jackie Horvath

      Amen I wish the COURTS would see it that way

  • Debbie

    Unfortunately, I tend to agree. I had the same situation. I have positive reviews that have been filtered. They were honest reviews by customers that were pleased what what we did. At that same time a Yelp representative was trying to get me to buy advertising with them. I did offer a "Yelp Deal", but that was all. The reason I won't advertise with Yelp is because of them hiding my reviews.

  • william

    I agree that the "filtering process" is very suspect.
    I don't believe anything on yelp as they have no credibility with me

  • Jay Clitheroe

    I have had customers tell me that they posted positive reviews on Yelp only to find they are taken down withing 2 days after posting. We believe it is because we stopped paying Yelp. There are also several posts regarding our company that are written from pretend customers, customers that were never our customers and never serviced by us. Maybe these are members of the "Yelp Community". When we try to correct the obvious errors we are told that that is how their "alogrhythm" works and it's "out of their hands". Yelp should be sued.

  • Kara

    It is true. They told me if I advertised they would literally remove my one negative review immediately, within minutes. I taped the phone conversation. Not sure if that would hold up in court… I will say the filters seem to be heavily weighed by how much the person reviews on Yelp. Anyone who is a frequent user gets their reviews posted immediately and they never get filtered. If they are not a frequent user, their posts seem to filter and come and go. They also can take up to a year to post, then usually disappearing anyway. If you know someone who if a frequent user, you best get them on your good side… and don't upset that crazy Yelper out there either, or your rating will go down! Take it from me : ( Not willing to pay for the advertising, but it for sure hurts the business…. If you are a business owner, better hope you have good karma! Speaking of karma, wonder how Yelp will fair a few years from now… Keep spreading the word!!

    • IamTheFij

      While advertising isn’t going to get any reviews removed from your page, it could help get more people into the door. People in the door gives you the opportunity of nurturing positive reviews. It doesn’t guarantee them though.

  • P Crowley

    I would like to be able to offer some concrete data on this, but apparently there simply isn't any. Nobody has a recording of a Yelp representative offering reviews for cash. However, I have a natural distrust of semi-anonymous reviews online. People do not write positive reviews without encouragement but they are often prone to writing negative ones for things the business can't control or shouldn't control. So Yelp is trying to "filter" reviews to make them – what? The idea that better quality reviews come from "Yelp community members" rather than just single-review writers is mysterious to me. I'm glad I don't depend on Yelp for business because it all sounds like a scam to me.

    • IamTheFij

      Not only is there no concrete data suggesting there is a correlation, there is pretty solid data (in the article) suggesting there is no correleation.

  • dan

    I run a small business and have a few very good reviews and no bad ones. The one yelp review I have, a positive review, was buried by Yelp, because "the reviewer does not make enough reviews" to be be reliable according to their algorithm. Which to my mind is another aspect of this problem.

    I really have no reason to support Yelp. While I do not know if Yelp is playing games it is impossible to know if they are not. I basically find the site annoying and ignore it as much as I can.

    • Wise King

      If you read my Yelp story you will see that in my case, the punishment for not advertising was that all my good reviews are now buried while my bad ones, even from Yelp shills or competitiors we suspect, were written by people with no significant Yelp presence. Thus, their filter b.s. should be ignored.

  • Jeff Koenig

    We are making a simple thing complicated. The problem with online business reviews is twofold: first, as an individual, would you accept being refused service by retailers, and when you tried to find out why you were being blacklisted, you discovered that your name had been sent around between them on a "rude customers" list? The first thing you would want to do is find out who put you on the list and try to have your reputation restored, right? Except that you can't because contributions to the list are anonymous. Outrageous right? Now just reverse the players and you have Yelp, Google, and all the rest. Second (and related to the first), if anonymous testimony with the weight of influence on a verdict was a good idea, we would not have as a HALLMARK principle of American law the right to face one's accuser with all testimony being sworn under threat of perjury by known witnesses. But in the wild west of the web, merchants are second class citizens without rights while consumers can use it as a bully pulpit to attack without any standard required to prove their claims. Many ethnic minorities have been persecuted as baselessly in human history and today we consider ourselves enlightened – yet we have merely shifted our openly practiced discrimination to an economic class (business owners) who the majority agree aren't worthy to be treated fairly, no different than a slave in 1840 or an Indian in 1740. We should be ashamed of this online culture — but most of us aren't.

  • Colin Hooker

    I think it's true based on my dealings with Yelp. We have been contacted by them several times for clients that have good reviews. In short the message has always been, if you want them to stay that way, you're gonna have to pay.

  • Ambrose Bittner

    Yelp does not provide transparency into it's reasons for filtering. There is no logic in assuming that a Yelp community member that writes more reviews has more credibility than someone who has only written one review. That encourages businesses to pay for fake reviews from someone who has or can create that kind of profile. I have no fake reviews on my Yelp page, but out of 13 total reviews, 12 are filtered, 12 reviews are 5-star, 1 review is 1-star. The 1-star review is somehow listed at the top of my filtered (now called "not recommended) reviews. Why should Yelp punish a business that asks its happy customers to provide a review for them? Unhappy customers are going to do it anyway. Since you punish them just for asking a customer for a review by filtering out those who have written only one review, they are actually encouraging businesses to pay professional reviewers for reviews.

  • Karen port

    As a very small business owner that can not afford to advertise…word of mouth and on line reviews are everything to me. I have one negative review from someone that talks about a brand we do not sell. Yelp said it they were unable to help me. So I asked my customers if they would be willing to write reviews for us on yelp. Several left comments and now those comments with the star ratings are gone. That speaks volumes to me as a business owner and a consumer. I had the same problem with the BBB and since I wouldn't become a member, my rating would not go up. I am a tiny business owner and can't do anything about either one. The BBB is losing its reputation and so will yelp. As a consumer, I will not use yelp because of the way they treat the small businesses. Yelp is stepping on the mom & pop businesses of America. I guess they have forgotten their roots, too bad because that usually comes back to haunt you.

  • Brenda Perez

    As a small business owner we also count on solid, honest reviews from our happy clients. It has been our experience with Yelp that our valid, credible reviews ( too many to count)are buried. Most consumers
    do not know where to look to find these reviews. I feel that the Yelp
    staff should not have the right to pick and choose which of my legitimate reviews should be filtered, after all my company has earned those reviews by our high level of customer service, great products and professional staff and it should not be the right of some person sitting behind a desk weeding out what they choose.
    I actually have a huge client that is the head maintenance person for a private school in Seattle go on Yelp and write me a great review that was pretty lengthy. Guess what? Yelp actually took the review off
    completely. I never received any responses after several tries to find out what the heck this was about. So rude. I would have given Yelp an
    F review in customer ( no service) I think they just avoid the issues.
    So Yelp not only will bury reviews but wipe them out completely. I am not a fan of Yelp and never ask a client to review on this cite. I hope all of you that have experienced this will shout out and maybe Yelp will finally listen to it's public, after all they wouldn't be in business if it weren't for our businesses!!

  • Robert D

    “We feel the most useful reviews come from active members of the Yelp community — those who regularly return to the site to share their opinions, who engage with other members of the community and share more information about themselves. After all, whose opinion would you trust more: a friend who you know is an expert in that given area, or a faceless stranger just shouting out a drive-by suggestion?”

    Sounds like pay to play to me…

    • Robert D

      Yelp learned from the BBB model it seems.

    • Donald Fenning

      Not true in our experience.. We have a couple of totally fabricated hateful reviews from folks with no other Yelp activity which they allow on our profile.. While we have many hidden positive reviews from folks with a Yelp history… Simply untrue.

      Furthermore, the Better Business Bureau will at least investigate a negative review and ask for a response. Yelp is nothing more than a bunch of mercenary a–holes, who hurt small businesses in their quest for advertising dollars.

    • Jackie Horvath

      I tried to hit like it's not letting me

    • Wise King

      It is a LIE. My Yelp bad reviews which stuck (punishment for me not adveritising) were posted by people with only 1 Yelp review, no friends, no check ins or comments. Clearly the filter rules they put out only apply in favor of those who have advertised.

  • Fred Flintstone

    "Has Yelp sufficiently proven that such accusations are unsubstantiated?"

    This is fundamentally backwards. Can you image if you were accused of child abuse, and someone said you needed to sufficiently prove that weren't abusing a child? That's why the law works exactly the opposite.

    Who has shown conclusive evidence that their reviews were held by Yelp for advertising considerations? Has anyone shown an email, or played a recording of a phone conversation, or even produce a credible corroborating witness?

    I'm not defending Yelp in this, just their right to due process.

  • Sam

    I have same problem. My positive review some times move down and old negative review show on Top even if they are old. I tried to complaint and the answer was they have some filter system they based reviews on . They people who answer the phone they have no idea how its work. They just read pre print script look like. Yelp called me many times and email me but I never called or email them back and I am glad did not. Yelp is like legal Mafia against restaurant business. I have people just go on site and trash us and than say go to our competition. They will trash you for no apparent reason. If you call yelp they will say contact customer and sometimes customer do not reply. If someone want to hurt your restaurant all they have to do is but negative reviews on these type of sites and nothing you can do ! There should be a check and balance system where people do not abused the. System.

  • Sean

    I agree with Jeff Koenig. The bigger issue to me is review sites that allow anonymous reviewers. It's too easy for a competitor, an angry person, or someone that you chose not to do business with to post a fake negative review.

    I know because this happened to me. I even know who the person is but I can't prove it because its behind an anonymous name.

    Online reviews have been made worthless. It amazes me that Google, Yelp, etc. put so much faith in such a flawed product. But they do so we business owners just need deal with it.

  • http://Yelpsucks Demetrios salpoglou

    Yelp sucks and they tried to extort me. I hope they go out of business. They are despicable human beings run by peopele with low morals.

    • Wise King

      Stoppelman is fully aware of the business model. The truth will eventually come out and all the harm and bad karma he has rained down on hard working small businesspeople will rain down on him.

  • http://Yelpsucks Demetrios salpoglou

    Yelp Sucks and filters good reviews and heavily weights negative reviews.

  • Donald Fenning

    Yelp is an atrocious abomination for small business owners. Yelp will publish virtually any negative review–even those from posters without an established record on Yelp.. We have a couple of ugly, anonymous reviews which are unsubstantiated and highly defamatory, which Yelp allows on our page, but we have a much larger group of legitimate customers who have posted nice reviews on Yelp and had these reviews hidden from view.. In fact,we have more than 18 hidden positive reviews…and no negative hidden reviews.

    Yelp is a heinous "for profit" site and I cannot believe that they can operate this way and allow defamation, lies and ugly reviews to be shown, while hiding legitimate good reviews.. I would love to join a class action suit against them

  • Demetrios salpoglou

    I spoke with a sales rep there and I said I could prove that every single one of our good filtered reviews was real and that I could get notarized letters from our customers and he told me “so what that doesn’t matter”. He said they can’t unfilter good reviews even with notarized letters from real customers. What a scam operation.

    The people that work at yelp are lowlifes. All businesses should sue them. Their algorithm is skewed towards filtering good reviews and only showing the bad ones . Every business person I know thinks yelp sucks. Yelp sucks. No small wonder there are websites out there that say yelp sucks.

  • Hillel

    I spent an hour on the phone with a Yelp representative, with the same complaints regarding my business that I see posted above. At the end of our conversation he told me that he had no power to change or correct anything. I asked if his job was really just to listen to people complain but do nothing? He said yes, that he had been doing this job for 2 years. Amazing!

    Our review scores actually went down after we started advertising with Yelp because we encouraged our customers to review us. All positive reviews by people who had a history of 5 or less reviews were sent to the filtered review area. Anything negative, even if it was the persons first review, was posted.

    I was also told that no review could ever be removed from my Yelp page, even though the review was for services that we do not provide. I wrote to the CEO, figuring he had the power to make a change but received no reply.

    • Jackie Horvath

      How did you get a rep to speak to you about complaints? I have had to trick them to get them to contact me!

  • Joel T.

    I think a lot of people have missed the point about why Yelp's review filter is so problematic. I personally don't believe it's as much about them removing positive reviews if you don't advertise with them. I have advertised with them for years, and I don't believe that has had any bearing on our reviews. I have even asked more than one rep about removing reviews, and they consistently claim they have nothing to do with that.

    There is a much bigger, more fundamental issue with Yelp, and I am always shocked that people do not boycott the company over it, and that publications do not constantly run negative stories about it. The issue is that the review filter is very inconsistent. The filter supposedly takes factors into consideration such as how many reviews you have written, how many Facebook friends you have, and whether you have a profile picture. The stronger you are in these factors, the less likely your reviews are to be filtered. But one person can have written 10 prior reviews, have numerous Facebook friends, and can have a profile picture, yet theirs will still not be displayed even though you would think that would qualify as a true reviewer. Another person can have 2 reviews, no profile picture, and a small handful of Facebook friends, yet theirs will be displayed, even after a long period of time. This capriciousness is maddening, especially because one day a review will disappear, then a few months later seems to reappear, then disappears again.

    In addition, if you click on the bottom of the page to display the filtered reviews (which most people would never notice), it displays all the one-star reviews first, with no ability to scroll past them to the positive ones. This is outrageous! This creates the illusion that you are a terrible company.

    In addition, a person could have written a one-star review five years ago, and it can still be prominently displayed in the "Yelp Sort", which is the default view. In my opinion, there should be a time limit for reviews, as a business can change and improve over time. Perhaps they should divide it like Angie's List: current and overall reviews.

    It's hard enough to have happy customers write reviews to begin with, and it is very discouraging when they disappear for no logical reason. As a business who advertises with Yelp, I think this is completely unacceptable and encourage publications like WebProNews to highlight these issues and help create a groundswell of support against these practices.

    • Peter


      I agree with EVERYTHING you said and I cry BS if Yelp or anyone defends their policy or even their whole business setup of having to advertise just to keep some other idiots banners running on your review. the list goes on and on of how shady this whole thing is. AND that is the reason I told the rep to go pound sand and I refuse to play ball with them. Don't advertise Joel with these guys. That is the biggest and loudest message you can send. Just make sure you say it on the way out. If the masses read this story and just pulled out of the advertising, then they would be forced to change their model and this shady practice. Screw them!

  • abe

    I have had actual paying guest at our hotel tell me how happy they were with their stay. they have told me they will write a nice review on our hotel. they do and I don't mean a 5 start they written 4 and 3 star but very positive reviews. guess what they got filtered. yet negative review written out of hate and extortion. I mean the type of review that the person only wrote once in their life on yelp does not get filtered. worst yet they mark your listing for do not search and then you don't show up when you ask siri to search your hotel by name or near by.

  • Donnell

    I have a competitor just down the road from me who placed pictures on my business profile of her and her clients – reviews about her business from her clients naming her business in the review and Yelp will not remove these items. The main picture on my business is of her. I have spent two years trying to get Yelp to remove these pictures and reviews with no luck. One positive review of MY business from one of MY clients was filtered. I can understand them not wanting to remove valid reviews from valid clients – but bogus info from competitors…?Yelp is a bad word in my household.

  • Bruce Bell

    The Yelp Scam is definitely real. However, I was not not aware of it until I became a target of Yelp last October. A local "Online Reputation Management" company was repeatedly calling my office to sell me a $300/month service to boost my online reputation through Yelp. I told them I already had good customer reviews on Yelp and declined. Within a couple of days they call again with an "Extremely Urgent Message", drawing my attention to a very bad one star review that happened to suddenly appear right after I chose not to pay for their monthly "service". I had not seen any activity on yelp for a couple of years prior to this event.

    In addition to this new singular bad review, I also notice all of my prior positive reviews had been hidden. I contacted the mysterious reviewer (no one by his name in our database) via Yelp's email system directly to hopefully resolve his complaint. He showed no interest in my efforts to help improve his experience with my company. When I googled this experience I was astounded to see that it was happening all over the country, and Yelp was getting away with it, calling it a "conspiracy meme".

    I asked Yelp to remove my listing on their site and they refused to remove it. I believe their behavior is criminal and it is only a matter of time before an undercover investigation will prove it beyond reasonable doubt. In the meantime, I would encourage all business owners to resist Yelp's attempts at extortion, boycott their site, share their own personal experiences with Yelp with the general public and media, and call out for justice to prevail against the unjust behavior of Yelp and it's affiliates. I believe the law of cause and effect, sowing and reaping, karma etc. will eventually take it's course.

    If Yelp has targeted you, do not be discouraged. Keep focusing your efforts on giving your customers the best services possible, and the truth about your company will prevail.

  • Jess

    I own a small buisness myself and I have in fact contacted YELP on many occasions to ask why my reviews were being filtered….they gave me plenty of the same answers I see here that really dont make any since. When someone uses your service and ask you where they can review you and you say Yelp and Tripadvisor that is NOT asking for a review….In fact I think all buisnesses should act like every job there ever do will always be reviewed online for all future customers to see . That way we know they are always striving to do the best they can do. I dont understand why almost all my reviews are being filtered because 1. I asked for them (which I did not) 2. THey are all GOOD reviews and no Yelp thinks that no business can have all good reviews. 3. They are new users to Yelp. (what does that have to do with anything?) I can tell you that I am so frustrated that I now exclusively will be using Tripadvisor until Yelp stops taking away all the good reviews that I earned! thanks.

  • Elie

    Worst ppl ever they wanted 450$ a month to advertise with them after big debait I ask her one question r you on google search or google on yelp search engine she said its deferent I said when you become like google yahoo or bing give a call she never called back I’m pretty sure she want

  • Flash

    My experience echoes most of the comments already made here. When I've raised the issue with Yelp representatives that there are some scathing reviews that appear not to be based on actual experiences or in truth but written either by a competitor, disgruntled former employee or someone simply mad (which some of the reviews clearly seem to be based on the reviewers' previous histories and use of inappropriate language, capital letters or excessive exclamation marks), the responses I've received have always been insulting and arrogant. Their sales tactics have been slick and conniving, with the promise that negative reviews can be removed if my business advertises with them. The incessant calls and emails from one Yelp representative mirror telemarketing tactics. If it were not for the fact that I believe Yelp has dropped from significance in the field of online review sites all of this would bother me, but I've grown to ignore it. What is upsetting, however, is that regular customers tell me they have had great experiences and have gone on Yelp to write about them but they get filtered off the site.

  • Phil

    You are making the wrong argument. Barking up the wrong tree. Yelp is now very wise to these accusations.

    What you need to prove is the unfairness of the filter. It is being manipulated. It is not an unbiased computer algorithm. The staff is purposely manipulating the results. There are just too many stories of good businesses being slammed by one or two whiners and disgruntled writers. All our good review are filtered … Every one … Now 21. And 3 slanderous remarks remain.

    You need to prove the unethical and capricious use of the filter. No other site uses this technology. Not amazon or any other reputable company.

    Every one of these Yelp articles is short of the mark. Dig deeper.

    Yelp is on a mission to dominate the web like google. Change your tactics. This should be a 60 Minutes story. Where is Elliott Ness when we need him most?

  • Amanda Houser

    Yelp hasn't 'extorted' us directly in the sense that they have not offered to publish our positive reviews if we advertise with them but we do have one negative review that was published and about 6 legitimate positive reviews over the course of a year that were not solicited by us and meet Yelp's guidelines that have all been filtered. We posted a response to the undeserved negative review and I am actually surprised that our response is visible but even that is kinda 'tucked' away and requires that the person reading the review to dig around to see it. I agree with Yelp's policy to prevent unscrupulous merchants from posting their own reviews or soliciting favorable reviews but the way they are going about it is unfair, keeps out legitimate positive reviews and can undeservedly hurt the online reputation of a small business. Basically, Yelp's aggressive filtering is preventing their purported purpose which is to provide accurate legitimate reviews. It would be interesting to see if Yelp publishes our positive reviews if we did advertise with them!

  • Sal Avilas

    I'm the proud owner of a popular Mexican Restaurant that caters to families in the Bakersfield, CA. area, at the end of year 2012, I started to received phone calls from companies some of them claiming association with Yelp about restoring reputation to my business name from online reviews for a monthly charge, to which I didnt not sign up, after paying more attention to Yelp and the reviews the review about my restaurant posted on their site I had a general meeting with my employees and started an extensive customer service inprovement program and suggested customer to go on Yelp to rate our service, many customers did and we could see their review for a day or two before they dissaper from the site, I noticed and printed maybe 10 or more positive reviews that later were removed from our business name, in my opinion Yelp does manipulation of the information in their site.

    Sal Avila

  • Bill Blinn

    As anybody with an IQ above 37 knows, proving a NEGATIVE is damned near impossible. For that reason, your question (Has Yelp sufficiently proven that such accusations are unsubstantiated?) is that of an imbecile.

  • Dan Nistorescu

    Unfortunately, there is not much to do about it! Yes, Yelp was keep pounding me with phone calls, regarding advertising. Since my reviews were 80% positive, I didn't care of spending any money with them. In no time, we start getting only negative reviews, most of them seem to be from people that probably never visited my business. I have as well people calling me and telling me, that they wrote reviews online, and they never been posted.

  • Jackie Horvath

    Honestly Yelp IS EXTORTING SMALL BUSINESSES, The reason why there is no Smoking Gun Is because yelp never puts anything in writing saying if you DONT ADVERTISE WE WILL HIDE YOUR Positive reviews!! When you try to reach a YELP REP VER THE PHONE ITS IMPOSSIBLE UNLESS YOU TRICK THEM BY SENDING AN EMAIL SAYING YOU WANT TO ADVERTISE & Guess what you get a call back!! It's like this they knew how to protect their rear ends before ever launching the SITE ! It goes without saying if you spend money the reviews are all there for the world to see if you don't POOF THEY R GONE , It's 100% Fact! They also come out with saying they are shutting down fake reviews Well Guess What When You Have A Company Ruining Your Business For Them To make Money of course you have to fight back dirty! , however Yelp manages somehow to make it seem like we are the bad guys they are the good! I wrote to them once & said its SIMPLE YELP PUT THE GOOD THE BAD & THE UGLY OUT THEREFOR ALL TO SEE AND JUDGE FOR THEMSELVES LIKE EVERY OTHER REVIEW SITE, Come on judges can't you see they are distorting the facts if they were on the up and up why would any reviews go into a teensiest tiny little filter that you need a magnifying Glass to find!! It's A JOKE ITS A SCAM & I CANT WAIT TILL THEY ARE BROUGHT TO JUSTICE

  • Pel Abbott

    Yelp sales reps used strong arm tactics and they were extremely nasty. One of our positive reviews was "hidden" for no reason at all. I do NOT recommend Yelp.

  • Kelly Cordovano

    We had 2 negative comments from unhappy clients of our drug rehab center and all the other positive comments have been filtered. We've been in business since 1986 with an outstanding reputation. So, we find it completely unfair to block all the positive ads and tried several times to contact Yelp & just got a boxed response. What in the world do you have to do to offset the negative? We removed the Yelp logo from all of our media materials & no longer suggest to our following to go onto Yelp. It is unfair and we will not be using/promoting Yelp.

  • gary watts

    I own z sport, inc., a top tear independent automotive operation in Everett Washington, 80,000 plus paying jobs over 33 years, 16 known complaints during that period, A+ Better Bbusiness Bureau, GSA certified, quality levels audited by dun and bradstreet, etc. The many many good yelp reviews we have that have been voluntarily submitted are suppressed in favor of a couple of false and misleading reviews. when thee Yelp salesman calls you must measure his/her words carefully because the "yelp advertising your preparing to buy will help you create more good reviews driven by active yelpers which will in turn help your overall yelp status and eventually override negative reviews" Probably not the exact words but you must read between the lines…at least i did and consider the "yelp situation" as fraudulent and detrimental to this very good business and will eventually end up in as class action law suite. gary watts 1/28/2014

  • Mm

    Really, Web Pro News? Can't you do better than another lame 'article' on Yelp for click bait?

    • doomedby2020

      Don’t you have to get back your job selling Yelp ads?

  • Michael

    We should stop complaining about Yelp and just do something about it like we did at OwnerListens. By using technology to allow businesses and consumers to connect directly, privately, and anonymously, we can avoid problems with Yelp all together!

  • Anna

    Yelp absolutely screws small businesses, and it's VERY hard to believe their actions are independent of whether or not the business advertises with them.

    The exact mechanism for how they accomplish the screwing is not obvious, particularly since they won't share how they filter reviews. Convenient, that. Makes it pretty easy to hide behind the "unproven!" banner. Yeah, it's unproven: you won't allow anybody the tools to prove it!!

    Two small businesses that I frequent have had trouble with this: a pilates studio and a cleaning company. I've submitted positive reviews to both, have a pic up, and lots of FB friends, and in both cases my positive reviews are filtered out. (And in both cases the filtering happened AFTER the owner declined to advertise with Yelp.) IT. Makes. Me. Crazy!

    I've written to Yelp about it, especially re: the cleaning business. I don't want to have to use a big chain, like Merry Maids, and I find it crazy-making that they filter out my comments! Oh, and they *don't* filter out one comment, in particular, from a person who NEVER USED the cleaning business's service! The owner responded about that, but the poor review sticks, year after year after year. Sigh. If anyone can explain to me why my experience with the cleaning company, over years, is less valuable than the jerk who complained about not being within this small business's coverage area, I'd like to hear it.

    Letting someone into your house, around all your stuff, is such a personal thing! I've never had any trouble with this company, after YEARS of using them, which I think is impressive. It's frustrating to not be able to get my voice heard on Yelp about that.

  • camilla barry

    My B&B is rated 5-star on trip-advisor; excellent reviews on and airbnb, 4- and 5-stars on the 19 filtered reviews by Yelp, and 1-star by their single unfiltered review. They are now calling my filtered reviews "non-recommended reviews" which is even worse than saying "filtered." I have sent them customer receipts from sites such as airbnb and to prove that my customers writing positive reviews are real, but Yelp refuses to respond. On the other hand, the single horrible review is from a woman who didn't even stay here but was livid because I wouldn't refund her money for a no-show. My husband, a lawyer, told me I should attack Yelp with the "Just Light" theory. That is, if an organization knowingly withholds good information when they have it available, only presenting the negative, they are not presenting a business in a just (fair) light. I plan to file a small claims action using this theory. I will add that I was taken aback by a phone call from a Yelp rep today who actually seemed to want to help me manage my listings, without asking for money. Perhaps this was because I was recently featured in an L.A. Times article about my poor experiences with Square. Who knows? Still, this agent kept telling me to NOT suggest to guests that they write a good review for me. He said it works against me in the algorithm. ??!!! I've been chewing over this advice all day. Did he mean that Yelp's algorithm only works for positive reviews that are written by Yelp's "hired, contracted-with" reviewers but that negative reviews can come from any source? Unfortunately, I had to leave this phone conversation unfinished because I was serving breakfast to guests. His suggestion as he let me go, "OK, start with these guests! Don't ask them to write a review. Just tell them to visit your site on yelp." But why would I do that when I know I'm negatively reviewed?

  • andy

    Yelp is a glorified blog that can ruin a business.
    Years after I closed my business the poor reviews were still left standing on Yelp.
    I was told by yelp that they would automatically drop off the site given enough time. How many years might that be?
    It even hampered my job search due to the fact that prospective employers would check my business reviews on Yelp. The negative always outweighs the positive on sites like Yelp.
    Yelp should be sued and driven off the web.

  • Joshua Guy

    I totally agree that they hold positive reviews hostage. I am an upaid yelp listed business and have had all but one review filtered out, all of which were 5 star reviews from legitimate customers. I contacted yelp about this and all they can tell me is we have no control over the filtering process. So obviously I want my 5 star reviews public and they are not. I would not be surprised at all if they filtered the one 5 star review that has not yet been filtered out yet.

  • Wise King

    Our medical practice was extorted by Yelp. Our Yelp presence was minor, consisting of only one 4 star review. My office manager kept informing me that Yelp, was calling to solicit advertising. I told her my usual "tell em I'm not interested" and within just a few months she pointed out negative reviews on the site. No problem I said. We have over 30,000 charts of happy patients, let em submit their own experiences. Lo and behold, since we declined to advertise, every positive review gets filtered even from those with an established Yelp presence (multiple reviews across the spectrum, lots of friends, check ins, compliments etc) while our 4 negative reviews (all from people with as few as just 1 review each and one we suspect from a non patient Yelp shill or competitor) are allowed to stand. Of course, we have chosen to ignore it and would never waste our money advertising at such exorbitant rates but it certainly upsets me that this sham is allowed to continue to operate while doing such great harm to small businesses.

  • Jeff

    I am completely frustrated as well. I have a cleint who has all negatives and a whole page of 5 stars that are current but now shown. Her business has been hurt by this process and we all suspect foul play. We have spend thousands of dollars to get them fixed and it is out of control. The algorithms is really just another word for “show me the money”!

    • doomedby2020

      How did you get yelp reviews “fixed”?

  • martinw392

    if you see a yelp advertiser shoot them a negative review, that will change their mind about supporting yelp with their advertising dollars, yelp hurts us we hurt them back fair is fair. The war is on.

    • doomedby2020

      Yelp is the mafia engaging in extortion and you suggest hurting the victims even more?

      Businesses cannot avoid a listing on yelp. And when yelp oppresses their business with bad listings, all the owners can do to survive is pay yelp for advertising so as to improve their yelp rating.. This is very real and it is happening.

      • martinw392

        yes I agree that businesses on line presence gets taken hostage by yelp, but businesses DO NOT have to support them with advertising dollars!! It does not matter weather you advertise or not yelp will let anyone slam your business with negative reviews, just look at the “yelp ads” they have lots of one star negative reviews in first place, don’t be fooled into thinking that yelp will help you if the reviews are hurting you,, and this, my friends, is their weakness, we need to exploit this. By giving advertisers negative reviews this will prompt them to close their accounts with yelp then if you don’t see them advertising any more you can delete your comments to not hurt them any more. I don’t want to hurt a fellow business owner either but by them supporting yelp it hurts me, then I will hurt back, If this happens often enough businesses will stay away from yelp…, people we NEED TO FIGHT BACK!! I can NOT take this crap sitting down!!! FUCK YELP!!

        • doomedby2020

          “…this will prompt them to close their accounts with yelp”

          Businesses cannot avoid Yelp. They cannot “close their account”

          In fact, they never asked to be listed. They had no choice.

          “”businesses DO NOT have to support them with advertising dollars!!””

          If yelp is driving their business into the ground, ruining their life, they will do anything to stay in business.

          What is your stake in this? Do you have a business? Have you been hurt by Yelp?

          • martinw392

            Fuck yelp!! Any Yelp advertisers will get hit with negative reviews, have some self respect and stop supporting and negotiating with the terrorist! Enough talk! time for action now!! FUCK YELP!!

  • doomedby2020

    “”Yelp denies it vehemently, citing a lack of evidence “”

    Plenty of evidence, no laws by which to prosecute Yelp.

    I had 9, five-star filtered reviews hidden on my listing. I can have all 9 of those clients give yelp proof they are the recipients of a bathroom remodel by me and that their reviews were genuine. Yelp is not interested in the truth, they have no appeals process.
    They took these reviews and left my only bad review. They did this in one day. They also did this after I declined to advertise with them for the sixth time.

  • nancy

    Yelp is unethical. I have 2 bad reviews for my small business from 2 neurotic women customers. I know that I have received at least 9 positive reviews from real customers. however yelp continues to erase 8 of them. so therefore my ratings are extremely low. i’m in a real quandary how to fix this problem. I have contacted yelp with no success to help solve this problem. thank goodness for all the other glowing reviews on other search engines! I am going to call the Minnesota attorney general today to see what them say my recourse is to this ongoing problem.

  • Dave M

    My “Spencer Recovery Review” was removed from yelp for no reason ! but all the bad ones are still there.

    My review of Spencer Recovery Florida

    Thought I would pipe in here and post my pics, I would hate to see
    someone miss out on treatment at a nice place cause some of the drama
    king and queen types like I was in treatment with wrote bad reviews.
    Try an institutional setting like I did a few times trying to get
    sober. Line up – shut up – take these pills… No thanks, I liked this

    Whats the problem with that yelp ?

  • CGS Computers

    I stopped using Yelp a couple years ago when reviews I posted for businesses were hidden/removed even though they were legitimate. I do follow the news when it comes to the flaws of online review sites in general because it affects every business out there. Our recent blog post about online reviews has additional information and also tells you how to see the hidden reviews that Yelp has filtered out.

  • DeAthWaGer

    I was called by Yelp twice this week about my guitar lesson business and did not answer. The voicemails were pretty obvious in subject that they wanted to sell me advertising, though they claimed they only had “questions about my account” (if so, why not email me?). The second voicemail was downright RUDE in tone (“HELLO. I’m STILL trying to get a hold of you to see if IN FACT YOU ARE A BUSINESS that offers MULTIPLE SERVICES… PLEASE GET BACK TO ME”). If they call again, I’ll be blocking their number. I’m not paying for a spam call to Arizona (I live in PA), and don’t want to risk angering them and see them tampering with my ad.

  • Rodingotx