Is Yelp.com Paying for Positive Comments?

Nov 18, 2008 • 9:32 am | comments (42) by twitter | Filed Under Social Search Engines & Optimization
 

Yelp.com, the review site, is reported to have been engaging in some shady activity with business owners. In one example quoted by the linked article, a business owner was told by telemarketers that if she paid $300, reviews can be rearranged where the negative reviews would be essentially placed "below the fold." However, Yelp doesn't actually allow that.

At Cre8asite Forums, it's suspected that Yelp.com's employees may even have a hand in writing bad reviews for local businesses to encourage them to purchase into the paid program. If this is true, that would make for a pretty shady operation, don't you think?

In fact, if telemarkers engage in a practice that Yelp obviously approves of (they're reading from a script, after all) and Yelp gets a negative review by business owners for actually engaging in these shady operations, is it legitimate for Yelp to remove those negative reviews? In another article, a business owner states that her negative review about Yelp itself was removed by Yelp.com. (But wait, she can't remove her own negative reviews, so why doesn't it work both ways?)

Is this practice extortion? Is Yelp.com legit? Is it time for a new company to take over and do it better and ethically without greed of money being on the mind?

Forum discussion continues at Cre8asite Forums.

Update: We received an update from Yelp saying that reviews are purely algorithmic and that only one positive review can be emphasized. Reviews can come down if the person writing the review closed his/her account or the account was terminated due to violations. A third reason why reviews would be hidden is due to suspect behavior; the review is removed from the actual business but not from the reviewer's profile page.

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Comments:

Rob Brown

11/25/2008 08:36 pm

There is more yelp news if you google "yelp mess" or "yelp sucks." Yelp sure has managed to make a lot of people mad. My personal dealings with them have found them to be highly unethical and willing to do anything to sustain there business model. Yelp needs to get yelped. Here are links for more stories: http://phillips.blogs.com/goc/2008/07/the-yelp-mess.html San Francisco Chronicle articles - two different pieces run http://cbs5.com/consumer/yelp.business.complaints.2.820867.html UK Register http://www.theregister.co.uk/2008/08/13/yelp_sales_pitch/page4.html http://cbs5.com/wrapper_consumer/seenon/Yelp.Internet.ratings.2.787400.html

John

12/05/2008 04:24 pm

Yelp is personally and legally responsible for its actions. I think it is a matter of time until everyone figures out that yelp is not immune to being sued for third party comments. This extortion model of advertisong alone is enough to hang the administration of yelp.com. Now that the cat is out of the box, it's going to be hard to get it back in. Yelp does control the algorithms in which the ads appear. They also manipulate SEO so that when someone googles a business they suck them in. They are purposefully using business names and brands to lure them in. They also show competitors on the same page and everything is very controlled by yelp.com. Yelp.com may be the first major company to lose the immunity provided by the law because yelp.com actively engaged in misconduct by manipulating reviews, deleting reviews, and adding reviews by paid staffers. All it will take is a large litigation firm and the whole yelp.com website and infrastructure will come down. Once a sub poena is issued many misconducts, unethical behavior, and manipulations will be found. The best thing for the administration is to remove libelous content that is reported by the businesses and cut out the mean and personal reviews. They should sell yelp.com before more people catch wind of this.

Nick L

12/06/2008 01:07 am

Lately I've been hearing a lot of yelp gripes. The obvious solution is to allow customers and business owners engage and resolve issues. A great example is getsatifaction.com. Customers can leave a feedback thread for a company and the company can reply back on the same thread. This inspired us to create a site that was more directed to local businesses instead of corporations.

Tiffany

12/06/2008 06:11 pm

Unfortunately, the owners of yelp.com ,Jeremy Stoppelman and company are too immature and inexperienced to run a business that requires maturity and a sense of righteousness. This company is begging to be sold to a more ethical company like google. It's a shame that they have ruined the spirit of web 2.0. Yelp will not become mainstream until the likes of Jeremy Stoppelman and Nish Nadaraja are eliminated from this company. BTW, the founders also were part of paypal and they created the same kind of misconduct before paypal was sold.

James

12/22/2008 08:20 pm

I've been using yelp for over 3 years and have come to notice that unscrupulous business owners, and their relatives tend to use fraudulent accounts, or enlist friends, to enter pie-in-the-sky reviews to skew their business ratings toward a more favorable rating (4 to 5 star). The site was a great idea at first, but now it seems that yelp openly encourages this kind of fraudulent voting, resulting in the promotion of exceptionally poor quality businesses/restaurants. I've also noticed that many "sponsored" businesses have suspiciously high ratings, though the businesses themselves are far from quality.

lala

12/26/2008 09:29 pm

yelp.com is a joke. Most reviews are ONLY positive. There are TONS of negatives one, That are true but the site terminates the negative reviews and the users account, EVEN IF THEY ARE IN THE GUIDE LINES. They favour businesses and not the consumer. I myself had experienced bad service and when I gave the place a bad reviewed.* I found a cooked roach in my food* The YELP site had it removed. I even went to places that had great reviews and had bad service and yes the owner and workers wrote the reviews. So, its a joke basically. They say trust the site that the consumers rate for you but its a joke. I dont trust yelp and many dont. They wouldnt be on the ripoff report if they werent a rip off to begin with.

Janine Moralez

02/04/2009 06:09 pm

Below's a thread about someone giving a company a bad review, and then a Yelp employee going out of their way to contact and eventually harass the reviewer. When the reviewer blocks the employee's communications to avoid further harassment, the employee then opens a public thread, and divulges private emails. The employee at first vehemently denies being paid by Yelp, but later gets caught confessing to the whole thing: "yelps pays me a lot of money to protect its sponsors. its a good racket. dont blow it for me." The fact that this same employee who began the harassment has also given the other company a glowing review, is completely unethical to say the least. See for yourself, and quickly, before Yelp pulls the thread down to cover up their tracks: http://www.yelp.com/topic/san-francisco-calling-you-out-atlas-plumbing-review

Stephanie

02/20/2009 12:42 am

I am all for freedom of speech! I am, however, against the way Yelp manipulates the reviews posted by its users. Business owners beware!!! In every business you're going to get mixed reviews, its simply impossible to satisfy everybody. I search Yelp to help me find good places to take my business and I have noticed that on some sites that I have revisited the GOOD comments have been DELETED!!!(or arent there) What happened to two sides of one story. Is Yelp trying help business owners and consumers or is it trying to degrade them? For those of us that would like to recommend a business I wouldn't go to yelp because its likely that your comment will never be read!!! Frankly, this absolutely DISGUSTS me I will never use yelp again and would never recommend this site to anyone that is looking for factual information!!!

Sandra

02/27/2009 01:33 am

they should just fess up...real isn't real. at least chow is moderated.... Might as well get paid if i'm going to give content: http://answers.yahoo.com/question/index?qid=20090225162712AAoCqYF

r.contreras

02/27/2009 01:48 am

When I first stumbled on too Yelp, my small business had already received a few great reviews and only one bad one by someone I am almost positive is my competitor since they gave me such a harsh and unfounded review saying that they gave me one star because they didn't like the colors on my building blah, blah, blah and gave the two stores that they own shinning reviews. I just basically ignored it thinking "Who looks at Yelp.com anyway?" Then a few weeks later when I was searching for my website on google I noticed that yelp was the number 4 post and all of the good reviews were gone! Then I had numerous customers coming into my store asking why their good review was taken off Yelp.com. Seriously, this is absurd, my only hope is that more people get the word out about how unethical and basically slanderous yelp.com is and they are shut down for good.

anna

03/03/2009 01:55 pm

Yelp definitely manipulates the reviews. A phone representative offered my father $350 to remove a negative review he'd received. After he declined, the positive reviews mysteriously disappeared. Yelp used its algorithm excuse to defend itself. But the one negative reviewer had no picture on her profile, and no other reviews. The positive reviewers had legitimate profiles and were active yelpers. Go figure.

drbone

07/14/2009 06:59 pm

I really think yelp sucks, and some of these accusations would not surprise me in the least. Has anyone ever tried their internal search? Good luck with that because their own internal search engine doesn't work very well. It's probably best for people to stick with the established sites like citysearch, and there are a lot of new business review sites cropping up all the time like fairplayreviews.com

John

08/15/2009 12:51 am

My company was offered an "advertising opportunity" - pay $299/mo and we will minimize the placement of negative reviews of your business. Curiously, at the time of the "generous" offer, our business DIDN'T EVEN EXIST ON YELP. This outrageous sum is way out of our budget... We declined. Sure enough, Yelp added our company's listing shortly after the offer was made - and the next thing we know BAD REVIEWS are showing up. Illegal? Can it destroy a business? Probably not. But can it make a business' competitors lives easier? You betcha. They probably paid the extortion money. In every normal country in the world Yelp.com's true name would be Shakedown.com

Art

08/15/2009 09:35 am

if a business doesn't agree to pay their fees, yelp removes your good reviews also! Countless good reviews have disappeared while competitors seem stacked with them still. check out the businesses with 100's of good reviews versus those with only a few. Undoubtedly, the numerous reviews are for the business that succumbed to paying fees for enhanced listing services. So not only are there no or few bad reviews now, but also only a few good ones allowed to remain on some of the business listings. How can yelp.com have any credibility left as a "review" site?

Dan

09/04/2009 11:42 pm

Yelp is constantly deleting positive reviews adn keeping negative reviews. Many people write ridiculous comments and thse are left for years where other clients write positve comments only to be taken down because of some mysterious "algorithm" that appararently Yelp has no power to control. Of course this is nothing but blackmail in an attempt to get more paid advertisers. If yelp is about free speech then why not leave all the reviews up? If yelp is taking down reviews they should have good reason to do so and should be able to back up their decision with evidence. Yelp should be sued by a class action suit. Yelp is very unethical.

Anonymous

09/12/2009 10:41 pm

Yelp.com does not care about providing useful or correct information. Many Laotian restaurants (including Vientian Cafe, Champa Garden, Green Papaya Deli, Sabai Dee) on Yelp are incorrectly categorized as Thai or Chinese, but Yelp's CEO and product manager do not care to fix that mistake. They're unwillingly to add Laotian as a restaurant category. Considering that Yelp is based in SF, you'd think that they'd be more open-minded as far as ethnic cuisines are concerned. I guess the only way to get Yelp's management to expand its cuisine categories is by paying them???

Stefan

09/21/2009 04:45 am

I am a small business, and built my yelp account up to 8 great reviews, during which time I've been in discussion with a rep to pay for more advertising...I haven't yet committed, and I'm now down to 1 review! It seems that the only reviewers thich aren't taken off are those who yelp a lot, and the only way to get such yelper reviews is to advertise with them to get more yelper customers! Now that's a way to get businesses to sign up!

Marie

09/27/2009 06:13 am

Yelp.com is totally bogus. I started a Yelp.com review for a friend whom is also my hair stylist. Ok so she's my friend, but I drive 30 miles to get my hair done & will wait rather than go closer to home(i tried & had my hair butchered). Since my review, she started to get more reviews & Yelp contacted her to advertise. She declined. She is not web savvy and was not sure if it would benefit her. Since then, she has had over 50 reviews in 5 months yet only 3 show! Mine does not even show in my yelp account as if I never wrote it. These reviews were honest customers that were told at the shop to post their review no matter if positive or negative. Yelp's response is that these reviewers are not constant active reviewers so they are removed. Wait! Are the reviews supposed to help businesses or is it just a ploy? Seems that yelp wants a smaller # of constantly active reviewers, and lots of paid advertisers. You can not punish a business & remove reviews because the reviewer doesn't review other businesses. Where's the honesty in this? My friend received a lot of business from Yelp. What a shame, she is now considering advertising with them. Guess Yelp know what their doing & does or can have businesses by the balls. Too bad CitySearch isn't a real presence on the web.

Janet

10/21/2009 03:32 pm

Yelp is a complete racket! I have had eight 5 star reviews removed but one disgruntled associate loses her job and spends the next two months becoming an elite yelper just so she can post a fake negative review about my business. And, it will never be removed. Now they call weekly to get me to advertise on their site. They want me to pay them money to facilitate a blank bitching board for any peon to write any biased review about my business without any verification or recourse? Oh Yes, now businesses can respond but that doesn't affect the star rating which is what clients see when they do a search. I am astonished that there is no legal recourse. I am so looking forward to Yelp going down. They are greedy bastards and deserve to be sued into oblivion.

Anupam

10/24/2009 05:14 pm

I have posted negative reviews about a restaurant called Zyggyz in Champaign Urbana. Curiously, they have disappeared. Zyggyz advertizes on their site that they have “4 stars” from Yelp!! So Yelp helps them by removing negative reviews. Sorry yelp and Sorry Zyggyz, this shady business would just not do !

Frances

01/02/2010 09:27 pm

I was on Yelp from March 2009 until July 2009 and honestly it was the worst thing in the world. It wasn't the deleting reviews that turned me off. I didn't have any deleted reviews. But it was the threads. I gave what I thought was good advice to the people that needed it on the thread and the next thing I know I'm being called a robot, someone who believes what people dictate, having no sense of humor and being told go to barefoot and pregnant. The thing that got me was these frequent yelpers decided to take my answers and copy them because one yelper had an ROTC rejection and found out that a review of the day was selected at random. After that I decided to close my account. Then a month later these people discovered that I closed my account and decided to create a thread, "Peace-Out Frances" and took all my answers and copied them onto the thread. And then they complained that I just didn't know how to really talk and was from another planet. As far as these yelpers were concered I didn't belong in this generation but I belonged two generations from now, which by this time I would be dead. I put in complaints to the BBB and sent letters and their answer is they don't do any monitoring on the threads and that I should just avoid them.

David Le

01/17/2010 07:25 am

HAHAHA. I heard YELP was being sued so I thought I search the web to see what it is about. I think they SHOULD be sued for running a SHADY business. I am a salon owner in Vallejo, CA. I was contacted back in early 2008 by a lady, by the the name of Sarah (not sure of the name, I had so many people calling me) harassed me about paying $400 a month to have my business name be priority when customers do a search for salon in the area. I was told "discretely" that the positive reviews will appear ALL at the top. I told them I would think about it. I'm just a small time operator and that $400 is a lot of money to pay every month and I don't want to be in a long term contract. I had to sign a 12 month contract at this price. She then told me she can ask her boss to reduce the contract term to 6 months and the price would be ONLY $500 a month. I told her I would think about it. A few days later I went on yelp to check out my review, I was like WOW, the two negative comments was pushed towards the bottom of the list. And the third that appeared that same week was also at the bottom of the list. What made me think REALLY hard was, where did this 3rd negative review came from and who is this person. In my mind, this so called 3rd negative review was make belief. (We didn't do any hair color service that day????)So to make a long story short, I was given a call literally once a week, and each time I told her I would think about it. I did thought about signing up at one point but I thought I just wait out a little bit to see if there was an increase in new customers because of the yelp rating. Six months had gone by, I finally said NO I cannot afford it.......GUESS WHAT HAPPENED??? ALL the negative reviews APPEARED at the very top of my list. If anyone needs help with there lawsuit to sue YELP. I am willing to help. I think they NEED to change the way they do business.

SL

01/19/2010 06:28 pm

Funny… Yelp is getting bad reviews all over the world.

LS

01/19/2010 06:30 pm

Their advertising offers are also can be seen as an upfront uninformed or fraud. I was offered 700 impressions per month for my business on Yelp. But according to Google search data, there is only 400 total monthly searches for my key words. I asked the sales person, how can they provide me with more views then total amount of searches and he said that people who are looking for related services will also see my ad. Silly…. Ha?

Bryan

04/29/2010 02:04 am

Yelp.com is a pathetic joke. They purport to have a computer system that can "intelligently determine the trustworthiness of someone's opinion and guage bias or predict if one has ulterior motives". HOGWASH! Otherwise, we'd be using such a system to determine the motives and trustworthiness of political candidates or competition juries or for awards. Their system is completely baseless and has no intelligence about it - artificial or real. The system seems to have been designed as a means of pandering to businesses wanting good reviews and ensuring that people keep coming back to Yelp to post reviews. Here's an example of where their system is sketchy. I just noticed that one of my reviews was blocked for this bar called Milltown. I gave a restaurant/bar a score of 1 because they not only provided poor service and prepared my order completely wrong (which put me and my other colleagues in danger of becoming ill), they also fraudulently charged my credit card and apparently forged a signature when I refused to sign for the charges for the order I had sent back. I even have witnesses and documentation to show the accuracy of my story, but nooooo... Yelps amazingly intelligent "filter" has determined me to have an untrustworthy opinion because I've only posted twice to the site? HOGWASH... AGAIN! I found their heavily greyed out "Filtered Reviews" link waaaaaay at the bottom of the page in small print. And surprise surprise, this same business has 8 of 51 reviews that have been blocked because they are all 1s or 2s and explain independent experiences of horror in their visit to this establishment. The 3's and 2's that actually appear on the page also give rather low remarks about the business. Had I had more immediate access to those reviews, without having to squint my eyes, see the grey between the white, fill in some ridiculous code just to access the bad reviews, I likely would have never visited the establishment altogether to beginwith. So Yep, Yelp is a joke. If a place is bad, it's just bad, and Yelp is playing an active role in distorting the truth. When 52% of the reviewers say an establishment is a dump, a ripoff and waste of a visit, and you only show ones that are 3 stars or more and filtering out with positive info ... that's ... just ... wrong. Nice concept, the "filter" thingy, but it's totally bogus.

Valery

01/12/2011 02:39 am

Yelp.com is totally irresponsible. I am a business owner who had a consumer trying to extort from me, after being unsuccessful, they threatened to post totally fabricated reviews for our business on yelp. A month later, long-time customer called me, informing of the bad review written by the customer who threaten to do it (as I figured out by the username)... I flagged the review and wrote details of the event to yelp.com, asking them to take this review down, particularly because I am pursuing legal action against the customer in question... So in response, yelp ignores my request and actually takes down the positive review that our loyal customer has posted in response to the negative one... Unbelievable! Can't believe they facilitate this type of behavior without any investigation... I hope this isn't a tactic of getting us to advertise!

Alexisavila

03/26/2011 01:16 pm

We had the SAME thing happen to me and my wife. I am done with yelp.

Jjhardin

06/09/2011 02:43 am

Yelp deletes negative comments if a business pays them off.

Davidfrost

06/11/2011 03:01 pm

These folks are charging $300.00 protection money. If you you don't pay the bullies in the school yard of business, they let other people slander your name. Sound familiar. Value Star and the Better business bureau are much the same with this kind of practice. You pay them to say your great. Typical of the dishonesty in this country. It's all organized crime, from government on down. Building industry is the same with permits and licenses to keep lawyers and insurance companies pockets full. Stooping so low to reach so high. When you have this kind of example teaching and in your face about it. What do you expect. 

Lisa

07/11/2011 06:32 am

I have also had the same problem.  A lot of reivews have completely disappeared (the positives) others filtered, and about 10 negatives showed up...people who we have never seen at our company.  It is my wish that yelp go under and stop harrassing the small business owners who have worked so hard to make a viable living serving others.  

L

08/28/2011 11:40 pm

Yelp is a joke, i have written a handful of reviews, some good, some bad, and most of my reviews so not show up. I have left positive feedback for one restaurant that had a few negative when the first opened, I left an update review to say how they are progressing and that it was good and that didn't show up. It hurts new businesses , if they were not awesome when their doors opened. It is not a good site to rely on. I have gone to places based on the reviews that said they were good, and they are clearly I did not get the whole lot of reviews. Yelp should not be trusted. I took a lot of my time to contribute , and they say they have some wacked out "algorithm", I don't think so, yelp go away! Yelp is full of crap, Yelp is BAD, Yelp reviews are censored!

Ana kolombi

09/23/2011 05:20 pm

this is happening to my new business as soon someone writes a good review is gone and an old negative comes up....

Lynn

12/30/2011 01:41 am

I had positive reviews up while advertising...  When I stopped, the positive reviews went to the filter. They were up for almost a year! They want to say a computer removed them... No way... they lie...  I went from 5 star to 2 star... they are hurting my business very bad. I am looking into a law suit for sure. It's very serious fraud. This company is a joke. They allow people who have not even been customers to post fake reviews. When I flag that they are not even a customer. They do nothing.  Lynn

Eaautorepair

01/29/2012 11:01 am

I never add my business, on yelp one day I have a customer call and come to my business for car repair when I am done with his car I ask him how did he found about us he said online you have a some good reviews on yelp I have no Idea about that any way I was very happy about that I went and to see yes they was ten good review and two bad ones , two weeks later I get a call from yep sales lady she was trying to give me a deal on advertising my business and she was telling me how they can add more good reviews for my business and she show me a sponsor local business how they have allot of review any way the price was over my limit they keept calling me every day i told her I am not buying it she hangup the phone and two days later all my 5star reviews is filtered and my free account is cloasd I can't accses it any more.

Jeaninekk

04/25/2012 12:57 am

 "the review is removed from the actual business but not from the reviewer's profile page."  This statement is NOT true.  my comment on Yelp is no longer there nor is it on my profile.  It was a negative comment regarding Princess Cruizes. 

Chew-191

04/29/2012 06:48 pm

Yelp team kept calling me for advertising with them but the price is too hight for me and I say no and after that one day yelp team take my 7 good review out of my restaurant

Rveguez

05/03/2012 04:09 pm

I made a positive review on a place that I intended to use for business meeting  due to it's location and sevice, my review was posted and shortly taken down (3days), I wrote to Yelp to find out the reason, I identify my self to make it easy for Yelp to contact me and the next day my account was close by Yelp, I did not close the account, so now they have a reason to errase my comments but they don't say that they close the account.  They appear to have  an agenda that require to manupulate the comments to fit the business model that they are controling. Raul

chef chris

05/27/2012 02:29 pm

I own a small bistro - have a total of 16 legit reviews (one from my sister doesnt count). out of the 16 - a total of 12 are 4 or 5 stars; however only 2 of those reviews appear before the fold. The first two that appear when you go on yelp are a 3 star and one of only 2, 2 star reviews...I have spoken with them when they call to advertise and asked how they can justify filtering 80 percent of my 4 and 5 star ratings and they fall back on the algorithm nonsense...if any human looked at these its clear they are absolutly legitimate reviews.....at least i am not the only one experiencing this - guess misery does love company......and no i dont advertise with them - wish i could but we cant afford their ransom

Proemed

07/05/2012 05:24 pm

What Jjhardin said is true. Yelp will remove bad honest reviews if the business pays a fee. I know this form personnel exp. It also seems that Yelp removes pos reviews and creates artificial bad reviews if a company refuses to pay a shake down fee. The point is whats on yelp id not unbiased at all! A consumer can not trust that any review is legit. So why use it?

Tina

07/17/2012 01:55 pm

Yelp is nothing but a scam; positive reviews don't stay for long. Only the negatives whether the comment is legit or someone like your competition trying to put a stain on your business. They only care about the bad reviews hoping that you will agreed to pay in order to remove the negative comments, this is extortion and back mail.

Cynthia S

05/08/2013 07:37 pm

Yelp is a scam... they have twice removed a truthful negative review....seems unethical to me and that a clear picture of businesses is not obtained on Yelp. I will never use them in the future.

Eileen

07/13/2014 11:23 am

Went o a local resturant that got wonderful reviews on Yelp. Turned out it was horrible and it was not only my group complaining. All the tables around us had the same issues. Food was burnt , having to pay $1.00 for one slice of pita bread and rude staff.

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