Yelp’s Extortion and Strong-arming Business Practice

A documented experiment on one business revealing how Yelp selectively published only the negative (1 to 2 star) reviews and withheld at least 3 positive (4 to 5 start) reviews. This was followed by multiple calls from Yelp to this business offering to help “Improve it’s reach and ratings” through a paid advertisement program offer.

We have all heard about allegation about Yelp’s not so ethical business practices. There were complaints, articles and even lawsuits brought up in regards to this issue. I always wanted to get the opportunity to see, in person, if any of those claims and allegations were true. A couple of months ago I came across that opportunity and here is what I found.

Recently a friend of mine was very upset about how Yelp has been treating his business with one negative review from someone who was not even a client of his business. (The reviewer does state that he was not a client of the party reviewed.) This business tracks and keeps a record of all calls coming to the office with notes about the callers needs, issues and questions. The business further makes notes about why they decline to sign with the given caller. The reviewer called with an issue that the business in question does not deal with and was told to find another entity that could better help him. Since my friend’s business has established itself as a premiere entity that deals with certain consumer issues, the caller insisted that the business should sign him up. When he was told to go elsewhere, the mad caller wrote a nasty review with false information added.

A week or two after the negative review was “approved” and posted on the website, the business in question receives a phone call from Yelp promoting an advertisement program that will help the business “gain more exposure and better reviews”. The monthly paid programmed promised to give the given business listing a better positioning, faster review and approval of the submitted reviews among many other benefits. My friend declined to sign up for the program.

Following this event, for about 6 months my friend and his employees had asked as many of its clients as possible to go onto and leave a review, any review they find accurate. During these 6 months at least 4 clients have left 4 or 5-star reviews, none of which was approved by Yelp. When these clients were asked to log back into Yelp, their review did show up in their account, but the general public did not see them and their reviews did not could in the overall rating presented by Yelp for my friend’s business.

The business received more sales calls from promoting paid promotions that would “help” the business. When asked why the positive reviews were not published, the sales people who called did confirm about their presence but stated that they are still “in the review” process and “may be” approved later on. The paid program that they were trying to sell was hinted to “accelerate” the review approval process.

Essentially, looks like they are holding up the positive reviews for this business and trying to sell a paid marketing program that will allow for the business to have all their reviews show up. It has been almost 8 months and the company is actively asking its clients to post reviews on Yelp, none of which show up on the website.

So does Yelp bully businesses into paying for better reviews and other benefits? From my personal experience I will say YES. It looks like Yelp is holding back some reviews and publishes others – overall this approach reveals mostly the negative reviews for the businesses that do not buy paid advertisement and promotional services from the company.

EDIT: During the past 2 months there have been 4 firms that have called my friend offering services that range from $150 to $400 per months that will submit fake 5-star reviews on Yelp from fake clients. 2 of them have claimed to have “inside” connections with Yelp. They have shown businesses with 40+ excellent reviews that they take credit for. 

Now I wonder how good anything on Yelp really is!

  1. It is sad how people trust these bastards – I stopped using the site when I realized there are HUGE companies that make money just by placing FAKE reviews on Yelp.

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