WARNING: Yelp May Be Scamming You

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Yelp has changed the local search landscape and is a fantastic resource for promoting local businesses. In fact, 90% of Yelp users say positive reviews affect their purchase behavior. However, their reviews filter has been the bane of many local businesses.

The algorithm was created with good intentions. It is meant to put a stop to spammy reviews, such as owners creating profiles with the sole intention of astroturfing positive reviews to their business, by filtering out reviews from users with incomplete or barely active profiles.

This seems to work fairly well, but the nature of the algorithm gives added weight to negative reviews. Their thought process is that users are more likely to create an account after having a negative experience at a business. Obviously, this can cause issues for many local businesses that rely on positive reviews for customers. Take Shafran Construction, for instance. Many of the unfiltered negative reviews violate one or more of their best practices, but some positive reviews that meet every criteria are still buried:

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Many people claim that after positive reviews have been filtered on their business page, a Yelp representative has contacted them about buying ads to increase their visibility. This has given many business owners the impression that Yelp is asking them to pay up in order to have their positive reviews unfiltered, and has resulted in multiple lawsuits.

Most interestingly, DailyKos wrote a scathing article about how Yelp was extorting their mechanic by only unfiltering  two one-star reviews and burying the positive ones. A few months after the article was published, High Tech Automotive Center had a 4.5 star rating with 12 unfiltered reviews, and has only increased since. It’s interesting that the second a large blog like DailyKos gives a write up the page turns around months later, when other, lesser-known sites haven’t had the same impact.

There are also multiple examples of Reddit users reporting that they’ve received a call from Yelp representatives about buying ads to stop their positive reviews from being filtered. This taxi cab owner has detailed his experience in great depth and even posted the multiple voicemails left for him. Another user reports, “After my sister refused to pay their ‘advertising fees’ Yelp dropped her rating by filtering most of her 4 and 5 star reviews. They claim this is the work of their algorithm to filter out biased reviewers, but the filter includes established food critics and otherwise highly-rated Yelp posters.”

This issue appears to be a constant struggle from Yelp. They’ve been dealing with this kind of press for years now, and are still addressing it as recently as May, 2013. Here’s what they had to say.

On a personal level, I haven’t taken a stance on this issue. Yelp has won every case brought against them but, then again, it’s hard to ignore the huge number of business owners that have reported experiencing this very issue. I know I’ve received my fair share of voicemails from Yelp regarding a negative review when I was running my own small business…