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Yelp: We Don’t Extort Small Businesses

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Yelp has been accused of extorting businesses by burying positive reviews for businesses who won’t advertise with them, and surfacing those reviews if they do advertise. The company staunchly denies that this is happening, but there have been multiple reports and lawsuits alleging that this has been going on.

Do you think Yelp is extorting businesses or are businesses allegations simply false? Have you had negative experiences with Yelp? Let us know in the comments.

This is not a new story. Businesses have been accusing Yelp of extortion for quite some time. Back in September, for example, a restaurant in Connecticut told a local news station that Yelp had been taking down their positive reviews because they refused to buy advertising. Here’s that report:

WFSB Channel 3

Fast forward to this week, and similar stories are appearing. Here’s a report from Brook Silva-Braga at The Washington Post:

“A lot of business owners say what Yelp is really doing is extorting them for advertising money,” says Silva-Braga.

The piece discusses a business who lost all of its customers, and attributed this to a one-star rating and bad reviews on Yelp. Interestingly, it claims deals services like Groupon and LivingSocial will no longer work with the business either, due to the poor rating.

“I signed a contract with Groupon about a month ago to run a deal, and they’re not running a deal because of the reviews,” the business owner says in the interview.

Silva-Braga says in the piece that many business owners say Yelp wields its power unfairly. He goes on to point to the paid Yelp ads for competitors that appear above actual reviews on listings for specific businesses. He notes that when he clicks on a listing for one of the paid advertisers, there are no competitor ads.

“But that’s just a small example – one Yelp doesn’t debate,” he says. “It’s something else much harder to prove that gets business owners really upset with Yelp.”

The basic story, according to the report, is that a business gets a bunch of new customers because of the reviews, Yelp reaches out to the business to advertise, then after it doesn’t advertise, the positive reviews start disappearing, and only negative or indifferent reviews stay. The other reviews appear in the filtered section, which is accessed when a user clicks and enteres a CAPTCHA.

Yelp strongly denies that any of this is going on, which the report also mentions. It even includes footage of Yelp’s VP Communications & Public Affairs, Vince Sollitto, discussing how the filtering algorithm works. The review filter, he says, does not take into account advertiser status. The report then goes on, however to showcase a business owner claiming that a Yelp salesperson said they would unfilter filtered reviews if they advertised. The business reportedly did start some “small scale” advertising, and “magically,” five or six of the filtered reviews became unfiltered. Finally, the report notes that all “evidence” of the allegations at hand are circumstantial.

Sollitto took to the Yelp blog to discuss Yelp’s side of the story further, calling out the Washington Post report and an LA Times article as stories that rehash “sensational” allegations, which he says are not, and have never been true.

Sollitto points to research from Harvard Business School and Yale professors finding no connection between advertising and Yelp’s automated filtering, though the claim in the Washington Post piece indicates there was human intervention in the automated process. He then notes that courts have “rejected the conspiracy”.

“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,” he writes.

“A simple Google search debunks the conspiracy,” he adds. “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 [site:yelp.com/biz '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.”

I’m not sure what that says about the possibility that reviews could be hidden on Yelp in the “filtered” section rather than actually being deleted.

Sollitto goes on to note that you can also find many non-advertisers with good ratings.

“So why does this misbelief exist?” he asks. “Ironically, it stems from Yelp’s efforts to protect consumers from those who are constantly trying to game the system. Yelp uses automated software to showcase the most helpful and reliable reviews from among the millions submitted. Those that don’t make the grade — about 20 percent — are posted to a separate ‘Filtered Review’ page. So, in trying to prevent unethical wrongdoing on Yelp, Yelp gets accused of the same.”

Earlier this month, Yelp revealed that its average monthly unique visitors grew 43% year over year to 102 million, and revenue was up 68% year-over-year. Cumulative reviews grew 42% year over year to more than 39 million.

Do you think Yelp is wronging businesses? Let us know in the comments.

Yelp: We Don’t Extort Small Businesses
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  • SIMON

    Yelp is nothing but a hi-tech modern mafia. I have had a small business for many years and have had great customers who have been dazzled with my services, but if you read my reviews you will think I run a place out of my garage. Unless you can read my “faltered” reviews which will be difficult to find and only if you know what you are looking for. I have had “yelpers” who are the writers try to extort free services, and the company does nothing about fake negative reviews. But all my positive reviews get filtered. this is a scam YELP IS A SCAM. BEWARE

    • vinny

      Yelp is a scam of the highest. I would never use them. They are nothing but greedy money horders. They make you feel that their services will help you. Yes an internet mafia is what they are.

  • Sharon Moak

    Yes Yelp does extort small businesses. I have collected data for 704 businesses that proves it. Those that refuse to advertise lose 0.75 stars on average through the review filter. Those that do on average keep their ratings the same.

    My business has 2 1-star reviews from people with only one review and no profile pic. 6 good reviews are filtered out from experienced reviewers, some with profile pics. One even posted a pic of his receipt.

    Yelp has to keep saying over and over that it doesn’t extort…because otherwise nobody would know.

    • Milo Fassbinder

      May we please see your research? Could you publish it on a website or make it available?

      You can get a lot of publicity by debunking/ discrediting the study to be announced next week by researchers at Yale University and Harvard Business School. They just conducted a 3-year study in which they parsed many thousands of filtered reviews and found no connection whatsoever between advertising and reviews on Yelp. According Michael Luca, co-author of the study and a professor at Harvard Business School: “We looked through the data based on people who advertise, and people who don’t advertise at all, and we don’t really see any difference at all.”

      Does anyone know of any other “hard” evidence? Have any ex-salespeople come forward as whistle blowers? Since 2004 Yelp has employed many thousands of young, high turn-over sales people who would have knowledge, since it is they who’d have to call in or email to some Yelp IT Central to order the filtering of positive reviews of companies that won’t sign advertising
      contracts. There must be hundreds out after 9 years. Has anyone heard about any of this whistle blowers giving depositions?

      Does anyone know when prosecutors are going to file criminal charges under RICO statutes against senior Yelp executives for conspiracy in racketeering and extortion. I can’t wait for the arrests to be made.

      Mean time, I image Yelp executives laughing at these Yelp mafia stories. They must love them, because they get so much revenue from business owners too scarred NOT to advertise. If everyone was so ignorant as to believe there was no connection between reviews and advertising, companies would stop advertising. And Yelp would be out of business.

      • John

        You sound like you work for Yelp using the attack the accusers method. Is Harvard in the habit of giving you early notice on things they study? I give you NO STARS for your review.

      • Joseph M.

        Milo is simply a liar and not a very bright one. “Yale University and Harvard Business School.” Where is that located? I’ve heard of Harvard and Yale, but not the “Yale University and Harvard Business School.”

        Why would two universities simultaneously perform such a study? If there is any truth to this, Yelp funded the study so there is bias.

        • http://www.hunterdigitalmarketing.com Eric Lituchy

          Joseph, “Yale” is Yale University (www.yale.edu) and “Harvard” has a school called Harvard Business school (www.hbs.edu). It is not uncommon for professors from different universities to collaborate on studies.

          I do marketing for multiple Yelp reviewed companies and personally haven’t seen any negative response to our non-advertising businesses.

      • Mike

        You notice the guy said “NO noticeable difference of the number of filtered reviews between paid advertisers and unpaid”.

        Well, if you advertise, more bad reviews will be filtered.
        If you don’t pay, your good reviews get filtered.

      • http://cass-hacks.com Craig

        “We looked through the data based on people who advertise, and people who don’t advertise at all, and we don’t really see any difference at all.”

        That proves nothing.
        1). If two businesses averaged out, one paying and the other not, the one not paying could have just had more positive reviews to balance out, or vice versa, the one paying having more negative reviews not shown.
        2). To compare two different businesses is apples and oranges. To get a true comparison of paid vs non-paid one would have to look at an individual business’ reviews when both paying and not paying.

        Considering those two points, I doubt there is any real study such as you suggest because the two points mentioned would make any broad company comparison study moot.

      • Sharon Moak

        Don’t worry, Milo. You WILL be seeing my data published soon. I didn’t think 2 things through:

        1. You people at Yelp have bullied SOME business owners to the point of fear and they don’t want their names published. Never fear, I’m working on a new data set of those who are willing to face you without fear.

        2. You move reviews in and out of the filter so often that over 3 years there probably is no difference. I capture data snapshots at a fixed point in time. Now I get screen shots as evidence.

        The facts remain clear and the data is holding. You extort.

        I average in the filtered reviews for all businesses at one point in time for businesses that refuse advertising, then do the same for a paid competitor.

        Unfortunately I’m just one person but I’m angry and determined. And you’re a pathetic extortionist profiting from the pain of others.

    • Vladislav

      Yes!!! They DO extort.They hide positive reviews and surface negatives mostly.Looks like they do it especially for those who do not want to pay to Yelp.This is a very unfair.Promoting this they allows competitors eliminate their neighbors. I’ve seen identical negative reviews that has been copied and posted left by same reviewer for different business. What is that if not a VENDETTA or well planned competitor elimination? How come? Yelp should not filter positive reviews and give anyone equal opportunities.

    • http://francescopicardi.com FRANCESCO PICARDI

      I completely agree with you. If you need any help please let me know. I am sick tired of this extortion as well.

  • Dr. GG

    YELP is the Worst Company in the World for businesses. They only Care about their users and 100% not the business. Their stupid computer algorithm is ruining business reputations all over the world. Yelp needs to be shut down or have actual people approving all the comments consumers write.
    Yelp is 100% a hi tech modern Mafia. Yelp.

    • John

      Regardless it is way to easy for a business down the street to pay a few high school kids to make profiles and give bad reviews concerning their competition

    • Leeann

      I totally agree with Dr. GG. YELP is suck! In a way they are like terrorist if you don’t give them $$$ for advertise then you get screwed up by so called BAD REVIEWS. DO NOT GO WITH YELP REVIEWS PERIOD.

  • http://www.keratinSalon.com Mo Atabani (A Brazilian hair & Spa, Pompano beach FL

    join us to file criminal charges against Yelp by the US Attorney General & FTC & IC3, Yelp Destroyed us for refusing to be Extorted $300/Month Advertisement, but we captured the proof, we will be posting it on our new site YelpVictims.com, we invite all businesses who suffers to join us in a union against yelp,they held us hostage & refused to remove us despite our listed business closed, they removed 94 positive reviews after 24Hours of each posting, but kept the negative reviews,

    • http://woweyebrows.com Bill

      Was yelpvictims.com closed?

      • Lily White

        Google
        Yelp is a scam
        Yelp is extorting business owners
        Yelp is a Joke

  • http://Wredlich.com Warren Redlich

    Companies with good reviews are more likely to advertise. Same thing happens on Angie’s List.

    So it looks like advertisers get better reviews when the causation actually flows in the opposite direction.

  • Josh

    It is common knowlege with all SEO comapnies that you have to pay YELP to be shown in a good light.

  • http://www.localseosuccess.com Dominick Bianco

    Yelp is horrible. I have a number of clients that have complained about Yelp only showcasing bad reviews, because they canceled their advertising on Yelp. I had one customer who owns a hair salon in the Dallas Texas area almost in tears over the same situation. It is a shame because yelps service is actually pretty good, so I dont understand why a public company would jeopardize their business over such petty nonsense. Their actions are probably putting their investors ar risk.

  • http://www.serr.biz Michael Zittel

    All we ever hear from clients and other industry professionals is how bad yelp is. Given this, we advise all clients to simply stay away from Yelp. Additionally, we have one client who was a paid advertiser on yelp, and that didn’t help. Yelp has filtered ALL positive reviews and leaves only the negative reviews. Given this, the client no longer pays to advertise and encourages their clients to write reviews elsewhere (Google places). *Note: That client does respond to all negative reviews, which seems to help as people see there is a real person attached to the yelp business profile. They still get traffic from Yelp and no longer pay for it.

    *The only way a lawsuit is going to succeed with bringing down yelp is if a company insider will testify.

    *I was speaking with a lay person the other day you mentioned they took all reviews found online, whether Yelp or not, with a grain of salt and would still contact a local company if they needed their services. Their basic philosophy was that so much online is fake, and most of the review style sites are littered with people who just like to gripe and complain about the most inane and stupid things. Given this, they don’t really trust online reviews.

  • http://www.604painter.com Rick Anderson

    It’s too bad that some kids go ‘postal’ and decide to kill their classmates when they could simply go Yelp’s head office and really do society a favor.

  • http://www.paulleemagic.com Paul Lee

    I had 5 reviews at one time on Yelp, I recieved a call from them about advertising with them and I declined and next thing reviews VANISHED. I also know from clients that they told me they left me a review and it has not showed up yet.

    I know I have other reviews because they show up on a partner site with Yelp

    I sent this email to them on 4/28/13 and have not heard back from them yet.

    I have several reviews that don’t show up?

    I also have become “FREINDS” because you suggested the friendship & you note on my page (2 reviews from friends) why not put up the ones that aren’t my friends.

    Thanks for your time in resolving this matter.

    Magically,

    Paul Lee

    Watch my newest video!  Cutting a Girl in Half
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Yg1is99jKu0

    PS – I am truly sorry if this message has reached you in error. If this is the case, please reply and let me know.

  • Jeremy MacDonald

    Why hide reviews at al?? Also – and this is the part that other commenters have missed – They don;t list your reviews chronologically. Instead they grab onto a negative review and keep it at the top, while hiding lots of other reviews. As for this rat’s statement that “we onlyk filter about 20% of reviews” – that’s simply a bald-faced lie.
    This is how it really works: You operate a restaurant, famous for its wonderful soup. One day a customer finds a fly has landed in their soup. They proceed to trash your restaurant with a hate-filled review. Yelp will keep that fly-in-the-soup review near the top of the list for literally years! You have NO chance to recover, even if you serve 10,000 bowls of lfy-free soup after that. They’ll simply hide hundreds of the rave reviews people wrote afterwards.
    They’re lying, conniving scum and the word is out, yet they continue. We don;t want their outrageous, arrogant filtering – just let ALL reviews be listed in date order – simple as that.

    • Jan

      It’s not usually a customer with a real complaint. 9 times out of 10 it’s a competitor or just somebody mad at the owner that’s doing the review out of pure spite.

      Negative reviews should require login and identification and the business owner should be notified and allowed to respond.

  • Sarah

    Reviews from people who have never even been to the business or have no affiliation are able to have their negative reviews remain, even if they are racist, discriminatory, unfounded or obviously biased (written by a competitor or disgruntled employee). Reviews from actual clients who are able to describe their services, the people they met with and details about their visit are often filtered if 5 stars (4 stars or lower may have a chance of remaining).

    Our company has made it a policy of telling people who call in and let us know right away that they are asking for Practitioners based on Yelp Reviews that we do not operate our business based on subjective opinions on Yelp. We will discourage business from known “Yelpers”.

    So many of the supposed “Elite” Yelping community act as if posting their opinions is a part time job or community service. We would prefer not to have them in our establishment at all, regardless of what they have to say.

    Until Yelp follows their printed guidelines regarding reviews (no exaggerating, must have done business with an establishment, etc…), we have no use for them.

  • http://www.adhocmarketing.com/blog/bid/257505/Looking-for-social-media-marketing-plan-examples-Try-the-U-S-Navy Scott Salwolke

    I find it hard to believe that only 20% of reviews are filtered and I know from the businesses I work with, that the number is much much higher. For one client, there is one negative comment published and 25 positive reviews are filtered. They started advertising with Yelp just on the hope that some of the positive reviews would be published.

    • Lily White

      This is called extortion

      Owners who pay $300-$500 a month to “advertise” with Yelp ‘ is also known as “don’t break my leg” ” don’t kill my family” if I pay you, Mr Mafia man aka; Mr Yelp aka: Mr Jeremy Stoeppelman (spell check)

      This is exactly what business owners against Yelp want to stop Yelp from doing.

      Government intervention is much needed, since Yelp is a billion dollar business and small business owners are too small to fight a giant . It is an uphill battle and small business really just want to spend time taking care of their small business and making a good living because of their great idea and hard work.

  • Lily White

    Stop going on Yelp
    Most reviewers are fake anyway
    Positive reviews are taken down when owners don’t pay
    Negative reviews are put up when owners do pay
    Owners are contacted when the first few positive yelpers yelp. Look at the very first 5-10 yelps. These are the reviews BEFORE owners were contacted to advertise with Yelp
    Ex yelp sales people have probably signed a disclosure NOT to talk or else pay Yelp clause.
    Let’s call out the ex Yelp sales employees and ask their side. Best ones to ask are the ones higher up on the totem pole as they are the closers of the sale and are the ones hired to twist the owner’s (arms) decisions if they don’t want to advertise.
    Our business experienced this first hand but to win the lawsuit, you would have to prove that you’ve lost money from potential customers but that in itself is hard to prove; you would need to identify those potential customers and have an exact figure of how much money they would have actually spent. This is why lawsuits against yelp is not winning, not because they could t prove yelp was fake or extorting the business owners. You can’t win with a blank check and an unknown writer.
    I don’t think CEO’s of yelp have directly told their subordinates to extort businesses but they have developed that culture over the years.
    Hopefully someone will blow the whistle on yelp.
    Unlike BBB Better Business Bureau and other such more reputable companies who listen to all sides before making a decision to post reviews, Yelp is a paid internet gossip columnist who doesn’t have all their facts correct.

    • Jan

      Bravo.

  • http://www.allwinservices.com Robin Reynolds

    I know three business owners personally and heard of others who I know from personal experience always stand behind their products and services, had false negative reviews published and positive reviews from long-standing customers removed, because they couldn’t afford the advertising rates on Yelp.

  • http://www.webpronews.com Name Withheld

    I am protecting my business name and email information for consideration of reprisal. Great topic, but YELP is also reading and watching what we say here, even in this forum of comments. Whether they are paying for positive reviews and demanding payment/tribute to them for their good work, or not, what they are also doing is reprehensible: They allow anyone, even non-customers to post reviews. People who are essentially conducting drive-by business shoot-downs with their vitriolic reviews. When I could identify them and the specific incident of the two individuals, who were salespeople from another advertising company!!! (think “let your fingers do the walking”), posting negative reviews for only the reason of taking-a-crap in the middle of my Yelp account, Yelp defends themselves saying that their computer has control over what is published and what is restricted/filtered. Well then they want my business to advertise, and yet won’t/can’t do anything about the slanderous reviews left on my account by non-customers. Since the individuals lack the balls and professionalism to take a “No, I am not interested in your advertising” gracefully, they chose to spin their evil on Yelp. Yelp claims it’s helpless in the face of assaulting reviewers, so I say I won’t advertise and recommend that all businesses experiencing the same thing withdraw their advertising until Yelp becomes far more business friendly, and capable of monitering what they do. My negative reviewers purchased no items, there are no receipts to show, and their evil needs to be expunged from my account record.

    • Jan

      No service should allow any kind of negative review without full name and disclosure, and a way to trace the writer as well as respond to the complaint. People are always gung-ho to post a bad review, and forget to ever post a compliment. Even Amazon is getting a bad rep for this now. If you’ve got the mouth to hurt a business for all time by posting a negative review, then you ought to have the guts to stand by your mean words and own them.

  • Mindfix

    Yes, absolutely Yelp is an extortion scheme. We manage nearly 50 SMBs and they all see the same thing. Positive reviews from actual clients are “filtered” and one or two really bad reviews are left.

    We even have a situation where the client has a cease and desist against some cretin that is trying to harm their brand and Yelp runs that review and that review alone….the same account has 21 positive reviews in it and every single one is filtered.

    Yelp blows.

  • Carl

    Yelp has been frustrating me with very peculiar behavior as well for 6 months. I’m glad there is a theory and now lawsuits pertaining to this. I sincerely believe that my company has been singled out because we do not advertise. Why do I believe this?

    In the last 6 months I have started a campaign to ask clients to review us on Yelp, to build our business. What is happening all at the same time is Yelp will contact us to request us to buy advertising, and we deny because we legitimately don’t feel like there is value. Yelp will now only show my 1 negative (1-star) review, and I have 11 (4-5 star) reviews that are legitimate, but filtered. This leaves my company in a very bad position because when you search our business name in google, we have to deal with the yelp result popping up on google at the top, and all folks see is a 1-star review from yelp as part of the top 3 results. This is very damaging, and disgusting if true.

    • Jan

      Google should stop showing them in the results. I’d rather see Yahoo reviews than this kind of thing. I think “extortion” is quite accurate.

      If everyone would stop using Yelp, they might straighten up their act, too.

  • http://autoworxautoglass.com AutoWorx Auto Glass

    The truth is that Yelp definitely did try to get me to advertise and while they were trying my presence on their site was better and I had gotten a few leads from them, but I had not paid yet, and then when i did not sign up i noticed my presence disappeared and one of the only 2 5 star reviews at the time was also gone because of their auto filter…i think they are most definitely misrepresenting themselves in their supposed free unbiased are….i still use them though

  • T

    Better business bureau and dun & bradstreet are guilty of the same. and by the way, when the adds pop up on webpronews articles blocking the screen, the only thing I look for is the x-out button. I honestly don’t remember a single solitary ad or advertiser from these annyoying pop-ups!

    • David

      I agree. I have had serious problems with both BBB and D&B, but threats of lawsuits ended their puny attempts at blackmail very quickly.

      You can fight back!

      However, in the case of Amy’s the destruction of that business was well documented as being the fault of the owners themselves who treated their customers like crap and acted in a VERY derogatory manner.

      I have contributed reviews on many sites (Yahoo, tripadvisor, Yelp, etc) and my reviews have always shown up … negative OR positive! In fact, I contribute reviews on EVERY business I visit and almost always to ALL reviews sites at the same time. If I find a business that treats its customers less than in a positive manner, I WANT others to know about it…… And when I am treated exceptionally well I WANT them to be lauded!

      • ct

        I have posted several reviews on Yelp and have a good reputation on Yelp. A positive review for one particular business I have done business with got filtered. When I told the business, I discovered that they too have been through the exact same scenario of being extorted to advertise. They refused, of course, and hence most every positive review — even from legitimate, reputable reviewers — has been filtered. There was even a one star negative review (unfiltered of course) from a first-time poster from another city, whose review clearly revealed them to be a competitor or disgruntled ex-employee. When reviewing a travel agency, how many people would use the term “GDS” as part of their review? No one except a travel agent would even know what a “GDS” is!

        YELP IS A TOTAL SCAM! I hope they burn in hell.

  • Ray J

    Yelp is such a joke, but they harm so many businesses. Just as many comments above have said, they strongarm businesses to advertise with them or suffer the consequences. To advertise, it costs about $500/mo AND they lock you into a 1yr contract. THEY EVEN HAVE HORRIBLE REVIEWS OF YELP ON THEIR OWN WEBSITE. There needs to be a class action lawsuit filed against them.

    • Lily White

      Google
      Yelp lawsuits
      Or
      Lawsuits against Yelp

  • http://www.winecountrywelcome.com Jim Kelly

    This article is spot on. I live in the Wine Country of Northern California and more frequently than not visitors come to the popular mom and pop restaurants here and post bad reviews because “their food wasn’t hot enough or cold enough” or “they paid too much attention to the locals.”

    In every case the places attacked are consistently good with nice folks running them. Mombo’s Pizza is an example. It’s everyone’s favorite here but they one or two visitors who has some minor problem burned them and they were told they could have the bad reviews removed if they advertised or somehow paid their way out.

    I do my own reviews of these places and let folks know Yelp is only a collection of negative Nellies who would complain about the dip if they were taken to an orgy.

    This article was long overdue.

    • http://www,platypustours.com Chasmotion

      I just checked for pizza in Napa on Yelp and found Mambo’s has 127 reviews (in English) with the first ten ratings being 4,5,5,5,4,2,5,5,5,5, stars. Not sure I see outsider bias or extortion on this one. Has Yelp adjusted Mambo’s in the last 24 hours? Maybe, if you believe the poster that felt that Yelp was monitoring the comments here (and retaliating?).

      Overall Mambo’s has a 4 star average – good enough for me to consider if I’m hungry for pizza in Napa – but only after I read a half dozen reviews. Everyone using Yelp should be using their own filtering system – for, like, if like is used more than, like, once, in a review I know it’s probably, like, some twenty something vaporheaded writing it, ergo not my kind of place.

      Seems like the opinions are running pretty strongly here for the extortion conspiracy (an American favorite pastime it seems). Each mass reviewing system has flaws (especially Google). Angie’s list and Diamond Certified are serious play to pay review sites, but the reviews there I think are seemingly bullet proof to manipulation. Yelp, like eventually all online enterprises, has to have a viable revenue model. It’s buyer/user beware out there. You’re not paying to use Yelp, and usually you get what you pay for.

  • Goran

    I hate Yelp. Their advertising is a scam rip off and their cancellation fee another unjustified rip-off. I hope that businesses learn about it and stop or never start advertising there and Yelp to go out of business.

    They sell you this bullshit how their ads are highly effective, bla bla. Here is some math for you: you pay $300 for 600 impressions! Click through rate is 2%, which make it 12 clicks for $300, or $25/click! These are clicks to the Yelp business page, not your website which may be much better optimized to gain a customer. That’s insane! Depending on the type of business, most people don’t go directly to Yelp to search, but rather end up there through Google and not even knowing where they are.

    I advertised for 2 months and cancelled. Unfortunately I ended up paying the cancellation fee of $600 as I didn’t realize that changing the credit card will not stop them charging it (unless you call the CC company to block them).
    DON’T ADVERTISE WITH YELP !!!

    • Lily White

      Let me guess,
      So when you advertised with them for that short amount of time , your 4-5 star reviews was online and
      When you stopped advertising with them they took those reviews down.
      :(

  • Sharon Jackson

    As a webmaster and also a customer of a very reputable local butcher, I found a horrible review on Yelp describing numerous purchases of rotten meat. Every other review was overwhelmingly complimentary.

    I notified Yelp that this was obviously an attack comment and as such was against their terms of use. They promised to get back to me within a week, but never did.

    On the basis of this article, I just wrote them again!

  • Chris

    It becomes more apparent that we as the consumer do not hold ourselves responsible for our actions. Yelp is not extorting money. They make it clear as day that you will receive benefits and more views by giving them more money on a monthly basis. There are many companies who operate in a similar fashion. Take for instance Google. You can pay with Adwords and receive a lot more exposure than someone who does not. Go to bbb.org. Pay them a fee and your business rating will definitely increase. Take a look at ripoffreport.com. They run a customer relations management team who essentially call clients will bad reviews and charge a fee to have them removed. The list goes on and on.

    The fact is that these companies have generated enough attention. You as a business want advantage of their time and money. This is called advertising. Not much different than a newspaper or the yellowpages.

    My point is that if you don’t like the service, then don’t use it. If you don’t push Yelp as a sales funnel, you still have many options. To expect a huge return for free is what GREED is. So I think a lot of the small businesses who look to gain exposure through them and reap all the rewards are just as greedy. It’s called business.

    • Jan

      This would be true if they didn’t make such an issue out of the fact that their reviews are legitimate and unbiased. If they pursue MY time to go on there and review a restaurant, and then they block my review because the restaurant won’t advertise, that is using ME, not the other way around. If you’re going to waste my time trying to help a business, then specify “if they will advertise with us, we will print your review”. And I won’t bother.
      But hey, I don’t bother anymore anyhow.

    • Joseph M.

      The only problem with your theory is that Yelp doesn’t let businesses opt-out. If they did that, businesses that didn’t like being reviewed on Yelp would opt-out and these allegation would vanish. Obviously Yelp’s business model uses a carrot and stick, holding a business’s reputation hostage.

      • ct

        EXACTLY RIGHT! It is unbelievable that a company like Yelp can use a business’s “name and likeness” (so to speak) without permission. Why can’t a business choose not to be listed on Yelp at all? This is a case of criminals like Yelp hiding behind the First Amendment. It’s reprehensible.

    • Anti Yelp

      I would really love to NOT USE IT. So how do I get my business removed from the site so I don’t have to use it? Yelp extorts us by forcing us on. If it was so good for business we would be rushing to the site, not desperately trying to get off it.

  • Jan

    I work with Realtors and their websites, and we have tried numerous, and I mean numerous times to do a review for each other when they are friends. I have also tried many times to review restaurants. Have never seen one of my reviews printed, and they’ve disallowed all the Realtor reviews. None of the ones being reviewed are advertisers, and although I’ve never connected the two before, it makes perfect sense. I just tell everyone to ignore Yelp because it’s a waste of time to try.

  • sammy

    Yelp does not extort small Businesses or any Businesses. People are the ones that post the reviews on ALL Businesses. They hide some review if it a new person and they only do one review and never do one again

    • Lily White

      Obviously your head is in the sand
      Google
      Yelp lawsuits

      Do your own research
      The businesses with 4-5 stars on Yelp, ask them if they PAY YELP for advertising or if their business just got in Yelp
      Now
      Check the businesses with 1-2 stars and find out
      If they are PAYING yelp to advertise.
      Then look at the unfiltered reviews off these businesses . Lots of 4-5 stars you will see but not posted.

      This Yelp practice is suppose to be a legitimate & fair business practice ?

      Every business owners with one or two stars knows Yelp is extorting them to pay or else suffers the one or two star consequences.

      Tell your friends about this and tell them to tell their friends.

      Post it on Facebook and see the responses

      Yelp is a big lie and yea alot of people are following blindly because they don’t know.

    • Mark

      Let me guess Sammy, you either work for Yelp or own stock in Yelp. It’s either that or you have your head completely buried in the sand and don’t have a clue as to what’s really going on. Whether a person writes one or a million reviews, that doesn’t make one any more true ro false than another. There are tons of people that only write reviews for companies that are the best of the best. This means they may only write one review. To say their review is not a legit review is completely and utterly ridiculous! Yelp is the definitive definition of BS and everyone here, except you, knows that.

    • Anti Yelp

      Yelp absolutely DOES NOT filter reviews from one-time reviewers who never visit the site again. My business has TWO bad reviews from one-time reviewers that have been prominent for years. One doesn’t even have a profile picture. I have several good reviews from people who have written over 3 reviews. One even checked in and posted a picture of his receipt. Extortion, pure and simple.

  • Johan Wilches

    I agree 100% Yelp is extorting companies for not advertising with them. I am friends with couple of local business owners and some out of state and they’ve experienced this type of extortion with Yelp.

    If it was one company complaining then I would ignore this article but it’s hundreds if not thousands of businesses are been extorted. I hope this will be taken to the court of law and get rid off this online Mafia Yelp company.

    Thank you Web Pro News for this article to inform us about this mafia online scam and save honest business owners their hard earned money!

  • Larry

    Yelp its self may not extort businesses, however the way they allow members to post without verifying facts, they are an accessory to extortion!!!!!!!

  • William Koller

    Started to use yelp before I went to adwords and discovered they pick and choose the reviews they want to show. It was kind of pointless for me to continue to use yelp because I was not getting the traffic from them that I could have. Cancelled the service and they sent me a bill for $700.

  • Mark

    I have 10 total reviews on my Yelp page. 8 are 5-star, 2 are 1 & 2 stars. Yelp has hidden all 8 of the 5-stars reviews and after contacting them several times, they absolutely refuse to make them visible again. I then told them to remove my company page and they again absolutely refused.

    Yelp has been sued many times and unfortunately have won most of the lawsuits. However, they are being sued for the wrong things. They need to be sued for how reviews are “randomly” hidden. There is NO randomness to how reviews are hidden. Whoever wrote the program, wrote it to do exactly what it does. This is true about every single computer program ever written. The program will only do what it is told to do. People who don’t understand program don’t realize the programmer actually dictates the randomness of the program and thus, in this case, dictates exactly how reviews are hidden.

    Yelp has been allowed to claim they have absolutely no control over how reviews are hidden, but they are lying through their teeth. They know exactly how it’s done and the courts are allowing good honest companies to be destroyed by a bunch of con-artists. Yelp is are common criminals and the courts, who are supposed to be about justice and prosecuting criminals and letting them lie their way out of being charged with the crimes they commit.

  • http://www.belfast-architects.co.uk Alan

    Should review sites be liable for the reviews posted? It is so easy for a malcontent or competitor to engineer bad reviews from some anonymous identity. Why should this be allowed? The only reviews that should be allowed are those by real, traceable, people so that the businesses can seek direct legal redress if the content in malicious.

  • Mark

    PS: Yelp also needs to be sued for Defamation and Slander! They have absolutely no proof whatsoever whether the good or bad reviews are true. By only leaving bad reviews visible, they are committing Defamation of Character and in many cases, completely destroying companies. This is not ok and the courts need to stop allowing Yelp to lie their way out of being charged with the crimes they commit.

    This case could easily be won, just by asking Yelp to prove, with validated documentation, that every single review written on Yelp is 100% true. There is no way in the world they could do that and thus the courts would have no choice but to force Yelp to make “ALL REVIEWS” visible.

    • ct

      I’m not a lawyer, but my understanding is this case would certainly NOT be easily won. You would have to prove intent to defame.

      You’re talking about the First Amendment here. As it stands now, a website cannot be held responsible for the way it is being used by its users. Of course, a responsible company would do everything in its power to remove glaringly false reviews, since it only makes them look untrustworthy, but Yelp is not such a company.

      Someone would probably have to take this case all the way to the Supreme Court.

  • Brandy Brady

    multiple lawsuits against Yelp.com for extortion practices

    http://techcrunch.com/2010/02/24/yelp-class-action-lawsuit/

    http://blogs.wsj.com/digits/2010/03/17/small-businesses-join-lawsuit-against-yelp/

    http://www.eastbayexpress.com/eastbay/yelp-and-the-business-of-extortion-20/Content?oid=1176635

    http://www.reputation.com/press_room/negative-reviews-on-yelp-com-fuel-defamation-suits/

    http://www.foxnews.com/scitech/2010/02/26/reviews-site-yelp-hit-lawsuit-fraud/

    http://www.complaintsboard.com/complaints/yelpcom-c156716.html

    http://www.yelpscam.com

    In our experience, we use to have over 30 positive reviews on our busines, until Yelp.com reps started calling us to ask us if we wanted to advertise with them for $100 and we said No, thank you. Shortly thereafter, the positive reviews started disappearing and the negative reviews started popping up. Again, we get another phone call from Yelp.com asking if we wanted to advertise with them at $300 a month. We asked them where our positive reviews disappeared to, and they started telling us about their algorithms. Did that include an algorithm that says, it we didn’t subscribe, then the positive reviews would disappear, and these mysterious negative reviews start popping up?

    google “lawsuits against yelp.com ” and “yelp.com is a scam”

    who will make the money here. the lawyers, of course.
    who will lose either way. the business owners, maybe?

    Yelp.com is a scam

  • http://Mabuzi.com Kevin

    The only issue I had was their arrogance in communicating with me. They are like dealing with shopping centre management.

    There are sooo many heartless large corporations who dont care about customers and will do devious things to get more advertising spend.

    Who could that be?

  • Randy Fox

    That’s what the internet is, from SEO, to Yelp to Google to webmasters and on. You can’t just buy something they are like Chiropractors they want your money every month for the rest of your like. They should call it the extortion net.

  • http://solutionssalonaptos.com Kelli

    All I know is I had 12 great Yelp reviews after a pretty substantial opening of my new salon and Yelp hid all of them, I also get these high pressure calls from their sales rep Joey and he is abrasive and combative and I have tried to find a number for his boss. I can not stand Yelp and how they conduct business and I would be willing to bet that if I paid their ransom $350 a month they would miraculously release my hidden reviews and remove the adds from my competition from my yelp page.

    I love Angies List though, I give my clients a refund in service if they pay the yearly fee for Angies list

  • Dakota Davenport

    I do not want to use my real name here, but I have been a target of Yelp. Two things to report. First, my business was targeted by an ex-employee of a company that SELLS a service to improve your rankings on Yelp. She targeted me. When I called Yelp to complain things got worse and worse. I’m actually afraid to describe the real situation because it was so evil what happened, I’m terrified they would find out I’m reporting it here and target me again. I promise you this company is involved in extortion. Companies intentionally target businesses who have bad reviews (whether legit or not) and then sell their services to improve their reviews. All Yelp will say is that you have to spend money to SUE them. In addition, they won’t provide any information of the parties involved…so you have to spend thousands just to combat their system. What they are doing is illegal and I wish someone at 20/20 would target them

  • Dakota Davenport

    If these Yelp reviews were terror threats on America, these people would be in prison. But because our government is owned by Big Business, Yelps war on small business is all about their profiting off of potentially struggling businesses. It’s like the mafia, unless you pay us exactly what we want, we can’t help you.

  • http://elainequinn.com Elaine

    Sadly everything takes a backseat to maximizing shareholders wealth.

  • http://berkshire-hathaway.co BERKSHIRE HATHAWAY

    Berkshire Hathaway Inc. is a multinational company with ownership stock in 7 fortune 500 companies. The CEO of Berkshire Hathaway is Warren Buffett

  • http://none Biz Owner

    Four months ago i began advertising with yelp. I was very skeptical before I began. I wanted my “filtered” reviews to show finally. After signing up they still do not show.
    Yelp provides a dashboard so you can see the changes. I have had an account with yelp for 2 years. I started paying for yelp 4 months ago. I do not see the difference in Yelp viewers, or revenue. I asked yelp if i could please discontinue the agreement. They refuse.
    I am now paying approximately $4000.00 dollars to have my Yelp reviews “unfiltered” .
    Other advertising companies on several separate accounts have told me that i fell for the biggest scam their is. That I am now paying thousands of dollars to get what I already had for free.

    I do not plan on using Yelp ads in the future.

  • http://myhinditv.com Indian Drama

    yeah Yelp is a scam, never want to use, multiple lawsuits against it for extortion practices.

  • ct

    Proving that Yelp serves as an accessory to defamation requires proving intent — this is the real killer. Websites are generally protected from the actions of their users. But maybe people are going about the case the wrong way…

    Try to put a call-to-action like “Check out our filtered reviews!” in the Company Description… you will likely soon find your self-written business description removed. Yes, Yelp’s terms and conditions allow them to essentially remove anything for any reason. You can’t even prompt people to also consider your filtered reviews!

    But if Yelp really believed so strongly in its filtering algorithm, why not allow people to make up their own minds by making the filtered reviews more accessible — or AT LEAST allowing a business to ask people to read the filtered reviews as well as the unfiltered reviews? Why not? Because Yelp’s filtering algorithm is a joke, and they themselves know it!

    Anyone who reads the filtered reviews will see numerous examples of reviews that obviously should never have been filtered in the first place — including reviews from long-time Yelpers who have posted many legitimate reviews (case in point: ME). It kills Yelp’s credibility. So they intentionally make them hard to find.

    Now, it may not be easy to establish Yelp’s intent to extort as an accessory to defamation. But given the above example, it may be easier to establish an intent to obstruct the First Amendment right to free speech — that of legitimate reviewers.

    If THAT case could be won, the whole house of cards would crumble, since an inevitable judgement of the case would be to force Yelp to make filtered reviews more accessible. This would defeat the purpose of the so-called filtering algorithm — and hence, the whole foundation upon which this “protection racket” is built.

  • http://www.graciousstore.com Gracious Store

    It is a big shame if Yelp indeed stoops so low to extort advertising money from businesses but tampering with reviews from customers. How low can businesses go so as to make money off others. This is a big shame if indeed Yelp does this

  • http://francescopicardi.com FRANCESCO PICARDI

    I completely agree with you. If you need any help please let me know. I am sick tired of this extortion as well.
    EFFECTIVELY what yelp does is:
    1) To pay someone to write reviews.
    2) They then contact the business and ask to advertise with them.
    3) On refusal the business receive bad reviews.
    4) Another call is made were a proposal is to remove or bury the negative reviews.
    5) On refusal the business positive reviews are buried and the business locked out of the account log-in so that no changes can be made. Furthermore yelp will run a SEO campaign to display the negative reviews on Google as well as clatter your business page with all sort of competitor right next to your business.
    6) The calls still come in soliciting to change mind about the advertising contract in exchange for help at a tune of ÂŁÂŁÂŁÂŁ per year.
    7) Yelp also bought other companies in other countries of the likes of QYPE and repeited this process on my business from 3 different companies, acting like mobsters.
    P.S. I come from a country where mafia is existent from birth therefore I learned how to deal with it as I am an honest working business man. SO LISTEN TO ME!

    DO NOT PAY A PENNY OR DOLLAR.
    DO NOT BE INTIMIDATED!
    THEY WILL EVENTUALLY BAG OFF!

  • http://www.lonniehandonline.com LonnieHandOnline

    I have not had good experiences with yelp. One of my businesses is an event company. We just received a “BEST” rating for our region. This is our fourth straight year with that designation. I had positive reviews on yelp that seemingly disappeared about a week after Yelp had contacted me to advertise. The positive reviews (about seven) went to their filtered box which the average consumer would not know to access. Two negative reviews then became “showcased”. Not a thing can be done it seems. I did find a support forum here though http://yelp-sucks.com/

  • Ester

    This seems to be true. I work for a service based business that was previously owned and has numerous bad comments on Yelp. The new owners bought the place and turned the whole thing around completely. Excellent place to work and excellent new comments written to Yelp by happy customers but Yelp would NOT only not post them but would not put them by most recent chronological order, which seems most fair and true to date. Our new owners have been battling with them but they simply will not do anything until advertising is bought with them. Unethical company.

  • http://www.evanislam.com Evan Islam

    There is always a manual override somewhere. Even Google has it. Of course, Google will not use such a thing to maintain the integrity of the algorithm, but if they wanted to, they can do whatever they want.

    Same goes for yelp. I really think that for most part, yelp is good. If you are a company that gives bad service, you deserve to go out of business.

    I own two cigar stores and I did have yelp contact me to advertise. I refused but I sure hope that they don’t manually don’t mess with my reviews. That would suck!!!

    I am a very active yelper and I write reviews, check in, have lots of friend on yelp, earn badges, I was even KING of my city once and I have seen my reviews get filterd in certain businesses. Which leads me to believe that yelp is doing something funky.

    Come on yelp, all you have to do is look at my history and know that I’m not a fake user. If yelp’s filter is unbiased, I think it needs to be much smarter to be called an algorithm. Yelp’s engine gives algorithms bad name :(

  • http://www.gtsalon.com Todd Marshall

    Particularly in light of the story and the claims of others, I am convinced that Yelp does filter reviews for those who don’t pay them advertising $$$. I have confronted them on that very issue, only to get their standard response about their algorithm. As I write this, after declining to advertise with Yelp, our salon has 10 filtered reviews, all 5 star reviews. Showing are 3 reviews showing. Those showing include a 5 star review from a regular customer, a 2 star review from a customer who was very rude to the staff and it was politely suggested that she might be happier at a different salon, and a 1 start review from a customer who was a no show and no call for an appointment, and when she came by the salon the next day was politely asked if, in the future, she could let us know if she couldn’t make her appointment. The 1 star review references the 2 star review, supposedly a Yelp “no-no”.

    Besides the issue for the business, Yelp is choosing to censor those submitting reviews, deciding that some people should not be heard.

    Yelp says they are protecting consumers by filtering reviews, preventing people from gaming the system. Well, their filter algorithm is flawed. Then again, maybe it is working perfectly, for the result that Yelp desires.

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