The Yelp Scam: Is Yelp The New BBB?

Yelp is one of the few websites on the Internet that has the power to make or break small businesses. 78 million users per month visit the site to read reviews on products and services ranging from hair salons to restaurants to repair shops.

Unfortunately, Yelp understands better than anybody how critical these reviews are to the success of local businesses, and in our opinion they are abusing their power to create an unlevel playing field that adds more zeros to their own bottom line.

Review Suppressing

A quick Google search using the words “Yelp scam” brings back a million results detailing the frustrations of small businesses when it comes to how Yelp displays reviews.

One of our clients in particular, RYCO Plumbing, has had an especially difficult time with this. Of the 10 reviews RYCO has received, only the two most negative reviews are prominently displayed. The other 8 reviews, which tend to be very positive, have been suppressed.


How could Yelp possibly suppress all of these?

Wait—that’s right—Yelp has an algorithm that helps them “recommend” reviews to users, so apparently none of the more positive reviews were legitimate enough to be displayed.

It’s not even worth trying to reach out to a Yelp rep about this, because you’ll probably just receive a condescending comment about how their algorithm is too complicated for you to understand. Then they’ll mention they could move those reviews so users wouldn’t see them . . . for a monthly fee.

Pay to Play

Unless you pay to play, Yelp suppresses the reviews they want to suppress, and they feature the views they want to feature.

Back in 2009, Kathleen Richards put together a 4,000 word article investigating Yelp’s extortion of small businesses. In the article, Richards explains how Yelp exchanges real, honest reviews with paid advertisements, which is exactly what is happening to RYCO Plumbing.

If you search the keywords “RYCO Plumbing,” you would expect RYCO to be first in line, but they’re not.

Instead of being at the top, where they should be, Yelp has put a different plumbing service there with an overall 5-star rating. RYCO’s overall 1-star rating (a result of suppressed positive reviews) doesn’t seem to stand up to the other service, but if you look closer, you’ll notice that the other service has 23 5-star reviews . . . 23! Not a single 4-star mixed into the bunch.

Does that seem right to you?

Yelp spokesperson Kristen Whisenand claims that, “There is no amount of money you can pay Yelp to manipulate your reviews, and we do not punish people who don’t advertise.”

But our experiences and research have taught us differently.

A study done by the Harvard Business School suggests that 16% of all Yelp restaurant reviews in the metropolitan Boston area are fake. Another study done by MarketWatch reports that up to 20% of reviews are fake and that many of these fraudulent reviews are written by freelance writers from the Philippines, Bangladesh, and Eastern Europe for $1-10 per review.

While Yelp claims that these statistics only show the importance of having an advanced filtering system in place, how can they explain a 5-star rating resulting from 23 perfect reviews? That just doesn’t happen organically.

And are we supposed to just look past the fact that this same company is paying Yelp to feature their service?

Final Thoughts

Thousands of business owners AND customers have taken to sites like Yelp Sucks to voice their opinions about how unfairly many reviews are being suppressed and sometimes even deleted.

We’re tired of seeing our clients like RYCO Plumbing get bullied around by a website that extorts small businesses into either paying for advertisements or living with an undeserved 1-star overall rating.

We want to know your thoughts on all this. What are your experiences with Yelp? Has stuff like this been happening to you too or to a business you know?

Share your experiences in the comments area below.

site by wedgie media