This video attempts to demonstrate how harmful the Yelp business model is by showing what it looks like in real life at an actual business.   This is no different then what they are doing online. If this isn’t ok in real life, then why is yelp allowed to do this online?


Why yelp sucks – Yelp survival guide

I continually update this article based on new information. Check back or leave a comment to share your story.  UPDATED 1/30/2013

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I used to be a die hard Yelper. I was one of the people who jumped aboard early, and was quickly on my way to being a Yelp elite.

So why am I now anti-yelp?

This article lists all the reasons as well as gives you insight as to the problems and what you can do to protect yourself because the way YELP is set up now, it is damaging to businesses and people’s reputations.  Yelp has made the system impossible for businesses.   Bad reviews are bad for your business which is good for YELP.  This article goes into why.


The “Review Filter”.   The dreaded filter, that Yelp defends.   Reviews that reflect perfectly legitimate experiences getting filtered out by the “review filter’s algorithmic processes”.

This means as a reviewer you could write hundreds of reviews, and suddenly they are no longer showing because the filter decided, for whatever reason, you are no longer review worthy.

As a business you could suddenly be cheated out of your positive reviews,  leaving only negative ones or none at all.

As a YELPER you often don’t know you have been filtered because when you are logged in, you can see your reviews fine.  But log out and look at check and you may be surprised to find out that your reviews are not showing.  NO ONE but you is reading your reviews.   For those who haven’t figured it out, they continue to make reviews like jerks, thinking people can see it but lo and behold you are only talking to yourself!

This is what happened to me.  For no reason I could see, my reviews were not showing anymore.  It made the whole process of reviewing seemed pointless from then on out.

Yelp CEO, Jeremy Stoppelman, insists that it’s automated system filters out untrustworthy reviews (there’s a program that can determine that?).  But many find that this system is inconsistent.

I contacted YELP and also my local rep EMI about how I was being filtered.  How can I continue to promote YELP as a positive tool for businesses in my workshops if I can’t use my own account as an example?

I prepared for battle.  But when Emi contacted me, I was very annoyed at myself because I liked her.  I didn’t want to.  But it is hard not to.  She is beautiful, charming, talented…all the things Yelp looks for in a leader.  What is worse is I think she genuinely believes YELP is wonderful.  She defended YELP  not really addressing my concerns directly or about YELPS legal predicaments and seemed unconcerned that I was threatening to UN recommend YELP to the thousands of businesses I had previously convinced to join YELP in the first place.

You can hardly blame her, she has spent years building up her ELITE status and gets to go to all the parties.  Its pretty hard to see the truth, when you are basking in the YELP benefits.

At the end of the day, nothing happened, my complaints were for nothing just like my reviews.  But after that day my business listing could no longer be found in YELP searches.  It is still there….but only if you have a direct link.   And my positive reviews are all……well…..GONE.

Touche Yelp.  Touche.

SO what does YELP say about the filter problem?

“We agree this can be frustrating”.

Yep. Frustrating not only as the Yelper but the business, who suddenly and conveniently has their legitimate reviews filtered, just to be left with the negative ones, often by people who are competitors, or out to intentionally discredit your business.

But Yelp has the answer for you!

You can claim your listing as a business, and add your own information and images.  Of course, during the sign up process you are offered to create deals and advertise which allows you to control your account and in a sense, your reviews.  Businesses desperate to repair the damage these negative reviews are doing, often give in and pay for these upgrades and advertising.

As seen in this recent report,  advertising and deals is vital to YELP’s bottom line.

Yelp now denies that upgrading your account allows you to control your reviews, but upgrading your account does allow alter how listings appear on your page. (this has yet again changed, as time has gone by they have had to concede to public complaints)

Cats & Dogs owner Greg Perrault claims that Yelp offered to hide negative reviews if he advertised with them. He decided to not advertise with the company and a week later negative reviews that had disappeared mysteriously reappeared.

Yelp denies that they every offered to hide negative reviews because they got in trouble for it, but Currently Yelp is involved in a class action suit for extortion.  Those who have initiated the law suit have claimed they were told if they paid, that Yelp would remove their negative reviews.  Yelp did offer this at one time, and have since changed this service.  They now offer you the ability to control the reviews by featuring them or changing the order. (this has also recently changed)

Reports are still being made by companies who get calls from Yelp sales and imply that their reviews will be fixed or improve if they pay for advertising.  If you read the comments in this article you will see several people say that they received these calls and a couple of people who actually bought advertising and the agent restored their filtered positive reviews.

WHY YELP doesn’t want you to encourage people to write reviews.

Recently Harvard Business School assistant professor Michael Luca release this report that has some very interesting facts.  One I found particularly interesting was where he refers to Bayesian learning. He confirms through this model, that people are more influenced by Elite reviewers and he also find how significant a 1 star rating drop is.

A 2010 Nielson Report shows the huge influence reviews have on consumers.  They also said

“People are more likely to leave negative reviews than positive.”

In fact specifically 41%  were more likely to share a negative review online than a positive one.  So if businesses encourage satisfied customers to post positive reviews, the need to market their business via more traditional methods (advertising!) is reduced.

So with these facts we can run a scenario:

There is an open review site with no one controlling it.  Since we know Negative reviews would outweigh positives (based on statistics) a businesses would need to encourage satisfied customers to leave positive ones just to keep things balanced.

With balanced reviews, why would anyone need to advertise?

YELP knows this.

So YELP encourages mass reviewing to give their advertising dollar value.  They cultivate Elite who support advertisers, and let the negative review statistics work its magic and then by controlling the businesses from preventing them from any kind of balance on the review system, they are able to spin things in their favor for advertising and deal revenue.

If a business complains about their unfair reviews or tries to do anything to attempt to encourage customers to leave good reviews,  YELP will encourage the business to claim their listing (which promotes check in offers, advertising, and deals, all things that YELP benefits from) and here is my favorite…..”the best way to succeed on Yelp is by focusing on great customer service“.

Great customer service is commonly achieved by surveying customers and asking them for feedback.  This includes reviews!

But really, it annoys me to no end that YELP is telling us how to succeed.  As if somehow the fact that we are unhappy with our reviews means that we are lacking customer service skills.  Our issue is fairness and balance.  I think most businesses agree, they are fine with constructive negative reviews.

“Telling people this is all they need to do and the rest will take care of itself, is frankly, dangerous business advice.  I’m not sure if it was Google who started that lie or someone else, but it time for it to die a painful death.  It doesn’t matter how great your restaurant is or how awesome the experience you’re creating – if you don’t encourage people to SHARE the experience, if you don’t TELL them to share it, they very often won’t.”

Also inviting someone to try your business and leave a review (any review)  is not the same as asking for a good review…if you are willing to take the good with the bad, what is wrong with that??

My issues with The ELITE Squad

The ELITE squad.  These are Yelpers who have achieved ELITE status and whose reviews cannot be filtered.

There are ads on Craigslist from businesses offering to pay for reviews and even ads from the ELITE themselves who are offering to write reviews for your business….for a price.

Elites are not allowed to be business owners.  Why?  Because YELP knows that people who don’t own businesses can’t relate or care how damaging bad reviews are.  YELP also does not want businesses to have any control or understanding of the inner workings of YELP.

This blogger does a great job at explaining how it used to be before reviews sites, that when someone was upset they came to your face and told you so and you could offer to make it right and all was well.

Studies I reference earlier show how Elite impact a consumer’s decision to buy.  The Elite are the true driving force behind the Yelp empire.  And they are carefully programmed and cultivated to follow that program which supports advertisers.

Yelp is hypocritical

  • Yelp tells business to NOT encourage reviews.  You are allowed to place one of their authorized YELP stickers on your business window, but they do not want you asking for customers to leave reviews or offer any kind of freebies or incentives as thank yous for reviews.  Recently I got a popup asking for me to review the YELP app.  I thought that was quote funny because YELP is a business…..and they are asking for a review….on their own site that tells me I am not allowed to?
  • Businesses are discouraged from trading services for reviews.  YELP does not condone this and its a violation of their policy.  HOWEVER,  Businesses sponsor YELP Elite parties where everything is FREE and the Elite review the business.  Obviously the only reason the business does this is to get reviews.  So isn’t that considered trading services for reviews?
  • Yelp’s terms of service say  that as a reviewer you are liable for your Content. If it contains material that is “false, intentionally misleading, or defamatory; violates any third-party right, including any copyright, trademark, patent, trade secret, moral right, privacy right, right of publicity, or any other intellectual property or proprietary right”.  But if you complain to YELP about a review that is false the often don’t remove it and wont provide assistance in identifying the reviewer, so how can anyone hold a review liable?

And they continue to find more ways to destroy your business

Businesses seeing the impact of  bad reviews on their business, have become desperate.

As I mentioned earlier, it is not a balanced system and businesses have been trying anything they can do to get a fair balanced profile for their business online.  And Yelp continues to cut businesses off at the knees by changing the system to prevent this from happening.

So it comes as no surprise when ABC recently reported that Yelp is now playing private detective to find businesses paying for reviews and outing them publicly.  By using a computer filter (yes , they are trusting your image to yet another computer filter!!)  they are uncovering companies that purchase fake positive reviews,  then showing the world its evidence.  (full article here)

Yelp now found a way to scare businesses from planting or paying for reviews.

“One jewelry store was paying someone $200 [to write a positive review],” said Vince Sollitto, Yelp’s vice president of corporate communications. “It kind of shows that this is an ongoing cat-and-mouse game. People are always going to try to game the system.”

The computer filter that Yelp uses is so top secret the company will not talk about it for fear of giving away too many clues to businesses looking to post phony reviews.

“This is not acceptable behavior,” Sollitto said. “Frankly, it’s not just unethical, but it’s probably illegal. And we think we need to let business owners know you can’t go out there and try to mislead your consumers.”

Who gave YELP the right to police your business and report to your customers?  They are not trained, approved government or state run organizations without agendas.  This is a business, making money on this system and even worse, they are trusting these decisions to filters that they admit aren’t perfect.  They create an unfair environment then call out people for trying to avoid the damage it creates.

He says there are a couple of ways to help spot the real reviews from the fake. Truthful reviews talk about physical space and use specific details like “floor” and “small,” while fake reviewers tend to talk about themselves and their companions more than the actual business. Words like “husband” can be red flags.

Really?  This makes NO sense to me whatsover.  Most reviews I read and write all discuss who we were with and what they did.  “I want with my husband to so and so, or my mother had the hamburger and I had the steak”.  Yet this is a red flag?

Below is an example of what will popup on businesses who are caught.  Doesn’t the wording on this just seem immature and unprofessional?

This article that goes more into the  companies who were busted.



Competitors can manipulate reviews to their advantage

Black Hat SEO people know how to manipulate the YELP reviews to benefit their clients in both Yelp and SEO and YELP is doing nothing about it.

Say their client is XYZ so they go to the competitors of XYZ and plant a negative review.   They say something like “this person did a terrible job so I went to XYZ of XYZ company and they helped fix my issue”.

Then they go to their client’s page and say “Bob Smith of Bob Smiths Designs LLC did a terrible job so I went to XYZ and they fixed it”

What this does is manipulate the searches for both YELP and google, so when people search for Bob Smith, lo and behold XYZ comes up first in the YELP search. And if someone searches BOB Smith on google, XYZs yelp page comes up showing the negative comment.

How do you make it so that your competitors name doesn’t show on your yelp page?  You guessed it.  Advertising!

This is a big problem and Yelp needs to make a rule to prevent people from mentioning competitors in their reviews.  Since we can’t control the YELP rankings its impossible for us to do anything about it.

YELP tips

For me, all this is just too much.  As for someone who advises clients on ways to leverage their business online, I no longer felt right supporting YELP and I have since made sure to provide information to them, and of course warn them.

Unfortunately because YELP can affect your business,  Yelp isn’t just an option  you can ignore — it’s a necessity at the very least to control damage reviews can do to your business.

So if your business is local, you need to curate  and carefully monitor your Yelp page.

If your business has been around long, you probably already have a page; you’re just not holding the reins yet. You’ll want to step in and take control of it as soon as possible to prevent any negative word of mouth from hindering your growth and success.

Claiming or creating your Yelp business page is easy; just fill out a couple of online forms and answer a quick, automated phone call. It takes less than five minutes. Once you’re signed up, you’ll have access to tools.  Add a photo, your link, some information about your business, a special, whatever you want.  The important thing is that you control your listing.  Anyone can add a business to YELP and you don’t want a listing that has negative or incorrect information.

You also will be able to respond directly (Privately or publicly) to any reviews that may already be on your page.  I advocate responding publicly, in a positive and helpful manner to any negative reviews.

You can also report any reviews you think are in violation of the review policy or that you suspect could be planted.

After you have your business account under control, you can make the choice how involved you want to be with the YELP community.  I personally have boycotted any further activity until they make some serious changes to their business practices, and get rid of that dreaded CENSOR, I mean REVIEW FILTER.

But that is just me.

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