Yelp: The Billion Dollar Bully
June 6, 2019 2:23 PM   Subscribe

Billion Dollar Bully Highlights Why Yelp Feels Unfair The overall argument of Billion Dollar Bully, the new documentary about Yelp released on Amazon and iTunes in May, is that Yelp extorts small business owners for advertising fees in return for helping to manage and improve reviews on their platform. posted by Homo neanderthalensis (57 comments total) 33 users marked this as a favorite
 
I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: yelp could be such a valuable resource if it wasn’t a platform for entitlement. And extortion.
posted by Betty_effn_White at 2:26 PM on June 6 [14 favorites]


Funny you posted this I just read the article in slate before coming to Metafilter!

I'm not sure how to fix this other than the slightly more difficult task of fixing capitalism. People who love yelp reviews love them, and taking yelp away means another similar company will spring up in it's place. And there's definitely a lot of reasons to enjoy the service, relying on professional critics has it's own shortcomings, not every place has their own Jonathan Gold, and even then not every group has the same experience, so it can be important to capture that.
posted by Carillon at 2:28 PM on June 6 [4 favorites]


This makes me thing of a Thai restaurant in my neighborhood in San Francisco, Bai Thong Thai, that used to have signs in the window saying "Stop the Bully! - Boycott Yelp". Unfortunately, they recently closed.
posted by larrybob at 2:43 PM on June 6 [2 favorites]




I liked Bai Thong, but they had been in "vestige" territory for a long time.

Yelp is trying to conquer the CitySearch problem, wherein after you complete a directory of businesses, there's really nowhere else to go. In fact, I wonder if a Yelp without social networking nor commenting could be run by just one or a few people, Pinboard style. Search rank gaming? Don't have search for anything but names and addresses.

But add commenting and it turns into a shitshow. Every time. How do you make money off a shitshow? I'm no MBA, but I'm pretty sure "fuck everybody" is a strong strategy for this.
posted by rhizome at 3:04 PM on June 6 [8 favorites]


I recently - like today or yesterday - learned about this from a thread of businesspeople's stories about Yelp's business model which basically means, "you gots a lotta positive reviews? It'd be a...cryin shame if theys got marked as fake reviews, but leave a paper bag with a cut of today's take at the counter and we'll make sure yous is taken care of good."

But, ultimately the problem is that people care what Yelp reviews says; the best benefit of the documentary is to discredit Yelp so customers stop using it, not that Yelp needs to change anything. Sure, they may walk the line of legality, but they only have leverage if they've got a product people want.

Personally, I avoid those rating sites in general because I've always had the inkling that the ranking isn't actually what real humans think, but some combination of paid promotions and gaming algorithms, which appears to be 100% of Yelp's business model.
posted by AzraelBrown at 3:05 PM on June 6 [5 favorites]


I use yelp for making reservations that's about the only thing it's useful for.

I've said it before and I'll say it again: Sort Algorithms need to be regulated.
posted by nikaspark at 3:10 PM on June 6 [15 favorites]


Much smaller scale bullying, but I stopped using Yelp once they redesigned the web page so you couldn’t read reviews on mobile without downloading their app.
posted by sallybrown at 3:27 PM on June 6 [38 favorites]


Yelp periodically phones my small business and tells us that they have several positive reviews they would like to release, but we'll need to create an owner account and approve them - and then they do a really hard sell on advertising, which I listened to one time for (seriously) an hour before he finally got around to pricing, which was just crazy high!

I said it's super outside of our nearly non-existent advertising budget, and he was like "what if it generates $8000 more per month in revenue? and I said that was completely outside of the amount of work that we could even handle in my shop, and no thanks, and he said we could just hire more people to handle the new work, and then I told him I have no time to train new hires, this is a skilled trade. Not interested, thanks.

And then he told me I didn't have the authority to say no to him and he would need to speak to the owner.

I hung up on him and have so far blocked EIGHT different yelp numbers as he tries to go over my head.
posted by euphoria066 at 3:40 PM on June 6 [105 favorites]


Yelp is worthless.

Around here gas station hot dog warmers get 4 star reviews.
posted by Max Power at 3:48 PM on June 6 [8 favorites]


I'm not sure how to fix this other than the slightly more difficult task of fixing capitalism. People who love yelp reviews love them, and taking yelp away means another similar company will spring up in it's place.

This. I'm one of the Yelp lovers. Maybe that shapes my ambivalence about whether Yelp's practices can turn to abuse or whether half the problem is that some businesses don't want to be held accountable or whether half the problem is that some people take the saying "Customer Is King" waaay too seriously. But it's been hugely useful in navigating business choices in California metro areas and I've found wonderful food and services through it.

It's possible they have a business model with some bad incentives in it. Ideally, I think that both businesses and patrons would pay a little bit when a useful exchange of feedback occurs, but I don't know how to make that happen. Maybe if I understood blockchain tech better I could check out my hunch that it could be actually useful here, or at least convince investors that it is.
posted by wildblueyonder at 3:50 PM on June 6 [1 favorite]


You can't have verified patronization of a business without owning the entire universe in which it occurs. This is why Amazon can have verified purchase reviews, because you buy from Amazon, then leave a review on Amazon, and Amazon knows that you've actually bought the thing. Out in the real world? You gotta take the word of the least of us.
posted by rhizome at 4:12 PM on June 6 [1 favorite]


I used Yelp a bunch when I was just starting my business, and I felt like getting connected in my neighborhood (and leaving positive reviews for the food carts just next door to my office) would come back to me karmically in the form of new clients. It worked to a small extent - the food cart workers came in for massages periodically, plus I got a bunch of free food - but after that my motivation kinda fizzled.

Also, echoing euphoria066's point, Yelp continually called and harassed me about buying ads. I remember one of them asking outright, "DON'T YOU WANT YOUR COMPANY TO SUCCEED???!" - I'm pretty sure I told them to never, ever, ever call me again after that interaction.
posted by hopeless romantique at 4:27 PM on June 6 [5 favorites]


Oh, do I hate Yelp.

I used to own a record store and one of my competitors was making false claims on their website. I emailed them on it and asked them to correct the situation. Instead, their owner came into my store during business hours and threw a swearing fit. Within hours, negative reviews of my store started appearing on Yelp, accompanied by a photo of a shit-filled toilet, a pseudonym, and a stock photo of a white dude. In all the years I ran record stores up until that point, all my stores had gotten 5 star reviews everywhere and numerous "Best of the City" awards.

I contacted Yelp and explained the situation. I told them who the competitor was and suggested they compare the fake review IP address to my competitor's IP. The competitor was a Yelp advertiser and I, emphatically, was not.

Yelp's solution after "investigation"? They removed the shit-photo and left the review.

2 days later, I get a call from "Eric from Yelp" asking if I want to reconsider running ads. "Will you remove that review?" "I'm just the advertising guy, but after we get you set up, I can flag your ticket. It's obviously a false review."

I of course refused to run ads and told them to go fuck themselves.

I sold that store and now own a new company selling records again. However, in order to avoid Yelp, I've refused to provide an address on my website. This prevents Yelp from having an entry for my business as it breaks their terms of service. My new store is invite / appointment only, and I am doing just fine without Yelp's bullshit entry. I implore customers not to share the address and they don't; they like the exclusivity.
posted by dobbs at 4:34 PM on June 6 [93 favorites]


I don't use Yelp. There's a service business in Hong Kong which is run by a con artist. I mean, him stealing money from new expats is practically a rite of passage. But he's paid up as a Yelp advertiser so they bury all the genuine negative reviews. Why would I read reviews if I can't trust them?
posted by frumiousb at 4:47 PM on June 6 [15 favorites]


Yelp will do its utmost to ensure you get a search result for any query, no matter how inappropriate the result is. That's really not helpful.
posted by ardgedee at 4:51 PM on June 6 [8 favorites]


Yelp: What if Karen was a website?
posted by tobascodagama at 4:53 PM on June 6 [13 favorites]


Tangentially, there have been periodic spates of incorrect open hours being posted for various restaurants where I live. I have no idea whether competing businesses are fucking with each other's listings, or it's yet another way Yelp blackmails businesses, but it's fucking noise and seems to me proof in its own right of Yelp's corruption, because that sort of bad data is very easy to fix and verify.
posted by ardgedee at 4:53 PM on June 6 [5 favorites]


In almost every online discussion of the Yelp protection racket I've seen -- including this very thread -- there's a fascinating cognitive dissonance between the "Yelp is great and any claims to the contrary are just sour grapes from companies with bad customer relations" and the arbitrarily-large number of people providing detailed and (frequently) substantiated information to the contrary. It really doesn't seem that there's any level of evidence that can break through the elaborate illusion of authenticity that Yelp has developed.

Apart from the obvious parallels to various authoritarian regimes and the like, there must be some really fascinating UX lessons to be drawn from Yelp's success in this area.
posted by shenderson at 5:05 PM on June 6 [14 favorites]


I find that if you hang around in the 3 star reviews, you can get a pretty good idea of what a business or restaurant is actually like.
1 star reviews are usually just people venting because they didn't get a free meal or USPS delivered their package late and 5 star reviews are usually shills or people who have "the best meal ever!" at every place they visit.

Of course there are problems with Yelp's business model, but if you're in a new city looking for a place to eat or searching for a one off in a particular retail sector, what are the alternatives?

I wonder if there is a way for Square or one of the other "Ipad and a card reader" suppliers to get into the game, though then you'd probably just get a bunch of 5 star and 1 star reviews with no nuance.
posted by madajb at 5:19 PM on June 6 [1 favorite]



Yelp is trying to conquer the CitySearch problem, wherein after you complete a directory of businesses, there's really nowhere else to go. In fact, I wonder if a Yelp without social networking nor commenting could be run by just one or a few people, Pinboard style.


This is what the weeklies/specialty papers/neighborhood news blogs are doing 'round me. Lots of restaurant reviews, by a (small) choice of organizations, and organizations with longevity so they have reputations to preserve. It even pays for some reporting on City Hall! Since they all run restaurant ads, they're polite about unfavorable reviews, but not unclear.
posted by clew at 5:26 PM on June 6 [4 favorites]


It really doesn't seem that there's any level of evidence that can break through the elaborate illusion of authenticity that Yelp has developed.

Not that I'm capable of changing many views on this, but one day I'll write a page up documenting my experience (above) with screengrabs and, if I still have them, recordings of the phone calls I had with Yelp.

Since I don't know when that will be, here's some more of my evidence: since Yelp has an "algorithm" which buries reviews from people new to the site, the competitor who left my review (mine was the first he wrote and his account was created that day) went and wrote a 5 star review of every other record store in the city except his own, which he didn't review. This made his review of my store appear.

You may ask, if the shit review was really from one of my competitors, why would he give his other competitors 5 stars? Doesn't make sense, right?

But here's the thing: once Yelp does an "investigation," there is no appeals process. Their decision is final. In addition, when I filed the complaint ticket, they informed the reviewer each step of the way. Once the case was decided in his favor, he went back to Yelp and deleted all the reviews he wrote except the one of my store.

When I contacted Yelp after he did that... "Sorry, that case is closed."

Two days later... "Hi, it's Eric from Yelp. We're wondering if you've reconsidered advertising..."

Cocks.
posted by dobbs at 5:27 PM on June 6 [30 favorites]


A friend occasionally calls someone a "1-star Eiffel Tower Yelp-reviewer". They never get it.

Speaking as a bartender in San Francisco, that's roughly our consensus view on the whole lot.
posted by hototogisu at 5:51 PM on June 6 [1 favorite]


I kind of like the fuck-the-man approach of demanding customers write 1-star reviews, but that's also self-sabotaging if you're a new business trying to get traction in a competitive area.
posted by ardgedee at 5:56 PM on June 6 [1 favorite]


It's so funny (as in dark as fuck) that the halcyon days of the net were purely a product of capitalism requiring 20 years to fully monetize and consume it for its own ends. My symbolic exit ramp was several years ago looking for magnesium supplements on amazon when I can across a year old "verified purchase" review of this particular supplement imploring people to avoid it because it gave this particular reviewer sores all over his body....complete with photo.
posted by MillMan at 6:04 PM on June 6 [7 favorites]


I find that if you hang around in the 3 star reviews, you can get a pretty good idea of what a business or restaurant is actually like.

I only use Google Maps these days (I've been traveling to places where Yelp largely doesn't exist), but I almost exclusively use it to compare the number of five star reviews to the number of 4 star reviews. If two restaurants have the same average rating, I'm much more likely to go to the one with a bunch of five stars that also has a few One-Off Bad Times, than a place where the majority of reviews say it's good-but-not-great.
posted by hopeless romantique at 7:21 PM on June 6 [4 favorites]


It says something about the age we live in that the company you can go to get your "Yelp is a big bully" documentary is Amazon, the company that shakes down major manufacturers and publishers and routinely has little guys groveling to Bezos to please relist them back in the search results.
posted by mark k at 7:37 PM on June 6 [9 favorites]


I have first hand experience of laughing at them over the phone at their SHOCKING ad pricing and finding a bunch of 5 star reviews of my bakery going away. Fuck them and if you rely on yelp for all your outings, you are undoubtedly missing out on the true gems of your city. And christ just go try new places without needing 900 people to hold your hand.
posted by Stonestock Relentless at 7:38 PM on June 6 [36 favorites]


I'm deeply skeptical of any critique of yelp, because it's the only way for patients to warn other innocent people about unethical, harmful, negligent doctors. And I know for a fact those doctors want nothing more than to be able to sue their victims who speak out. In some places, the doctors have been able to sue.

The ability to speak out about on yelp about abusive doctors is something I'm willing to fight for, and if someone's mediocre gastropub loses a few customers here and there, then so be it.

I'm sure the doctor who ruined my foot is a big fan of this documentary.
posted by panama joe at 7:48 PM on June 6 [5 favorites]


Yelp is *extorting* businesses for positive reviews. That means the doctor that ruined your foot could just pony up money to Yelp and BOOP all bad reviews gone. How many doctors have 5 star reviews because they had the money to pay yelp to remove the bad ones?
posted by Homo neanderthalensis at 7:55 PM on June 6 [37 favorites]


The ability to speak out about on yelp about abusive doctors is something I'm willing to fight for, and if someone's mediocre gastropub loses a few customers here and there, then so be it.

It’s not like it’s just restaurants that have the fake review problem. There was an article recently about fake negative doctor reviews being used as a tactic by anti-vaxxers to discredit pediatricians who actively promote vaccinations.

Your valid negative reviews mean nothing if I can’t trust them because of fake reviews. Regardless if it’s doctors or electricians or restaurants. The whole things is broken.
posted by greermahoney at 7:56 PM on June 6 [26 favorites]


how is this not a violation of something?
posted by kokaku at 8:34 PM on June 6 [4 favorites]


Seriously. Aren’t protection rackets actually illegal? Didn’t we already go through this?
posted by schadenfrau at 9:12 PM on June 6 [7 favorites]


I was once a heavy Yelp user, but I'm not anymore. The one thing I find it useful for is when I'm looking for something really specific. I can search the reviews to find out if there are vegetarian items available, for example. Google Maps isn't there yet (and I'm sure they'll pull something similar eventually).
posted by rednikki at 9:24 PM on June 6


I'm pretty close with my manicurist and the things she's told me about what yelp employees have said to her would make you cry. They particular try to exploit her because she is an immigrant and doesn't speak English well. Fuck yelp.
posted by k8t at 9:35 PM on June 6 [15 favorites]


Your valid negative reviews mean nothing if I can’t trust them because of fake reviews.

A hojillion years ago, Slashdot used to have a disclaimer on their polls "These things are easily manipulated, if you are using them for anything important, you're an idiot".

I never understood why anyone used yelp at all. Yelp has all of the downsides of your local newspaper comment section and none of the upsides. Why would you ever use it as a basis for anything ?
posted by Pogo_Fuzzybutt at 9:40 PM on June 6 [6 favorites]


I've mentioned here before how valuable I've found Yelp as an anti-recommendation aggregator. When I first moved to [current area] from the Bay Area a decade ago, the service was still in its infancy in many ways. I hated DC, but I knew there were things I liked. Then I read a Yelp review lambasting one of the few places I quite liked.

It was a sort of revelation - I could simply find other places this person hated, and I could reduce my chances of running into precisely that sort of shithead.

A not-insignificant chunk of my current social sphere exists because of that moment.

So . . . I guess that's why I use Yelp?
posted by aspersioncast at 9:57 PM on June 6 [19 favorites]


I'm deeply skeptical of any critique of yelp, because it's the only way for patients to warn other innocent people about unethical, harmful, negligent doctors.

In addition to what everyone else has said about the service not working like this at all (because the doctor, not you, is the paying customer here), don't you think the fact that you think people shouldn't criticize Yelp because you're trying to use it to punish someone exactly highlights the core problem with Yelp?
posted by IAmUnaware at 9:57 PM on June 6 [8 favorites]


Also I hope someone recorded some of my drunken rants about how we were inevitably sliding toward a Yelp of everything, because they were on point.
posted by aspersioncast at 10:00 PM on June 6 [2 favorites]


how is this not a violation of something?

It probably is. I'm a lawyer and a member of NACA, and in my opinion the more egregious stories we're hearing are indeed violations of, for instance in Massachusetts, the business-to-business provision of the state's Consumer Protection Act. But the aggrieved business-owner would need to jump through the hoops of initiating and litigating a lawsuit—which, even if you can find a lawyer who'll take the case on contingency, requires time and effort that most small-business owners can't spare—and then you have the question of, "Okay so they wronged you, now what can you show for damages?"

The other side of the coin is civil enforcement. A state attorney general's office can prosecute Yelp. Several of them can team up. The FTC can get into the game. Those actions typically happen when you have one of two elements: media attention, which maybe this documentary will create; or a critical mass of detailed, factual complaints by separate individuals who took the time to file reports even though there wasn't any benefit and their respective complaints were all, individually, certain to be met with silence.

I dealt with a town that had been frustrated by an illegal puppy mill whose pups kept escaping and attacking neighbors. This went on for ten years. The neighbors felt terrorized and they hated the property owner, but no one ever filed a police report and no one ever filed a civil suit. If someone is harming people but the people are choosing to quietly accept it, well, then that's society choosing to let the condition persist. That's how that works.
posted by cribcage at 10:57 PM on June 6 [12 favorites]


I used to follow (mefi's own) jwz's blog about setting up the DNA Lounge, and he would occasionally post a long eye-rolling screed about the naked extortion of Yelp's model. He explicitly refused to pay the fees to them, and actively mocked them in public, and they responded by posting more and worse reviews as time went on.

Fortunately they were extremely clumsy at this, and the result was often indistinguishable from satire. For a couple years there would be semi-regular "best of my bad yelp reviews" posts, some of which would have me giggling uncontrollably at the incongruous earnestness of these things.

I am still astonished when I see anyone looking things up on Yelp. Surely they've been extensively debunked by now?
posted by rum-soaked space hobo at 2:14 AM on June 7 [6 favorites]


I've been visiting in the hospital all week, and I looked up the hospital cafeteria on my phone to find out its hours: and.....bad Yelp reviews! I was amused: what did people expect? It's not really a foodie destination, it's a place to get something to eat when you are too hungry to continue. Now I wonder if maybe they just didn't advertise.
posted by thelonius at 4:57 AM on June 7 [5 favorites]


I am still astonished when I see anyone looking things up on Yelp. Surely they've been extensively debunked by now?

Sometimes bad information is better than no information. Maybe the ratings are corrupt, but the locations and names and types of food and opening hours are correct. (Or maybe they aren’t all correct, but the percent wrong is still low enough to work).

I don’t think admonishing individuals to not use Yelp will work, especially in the absence of good suggestions for replacement. The answer is better regulation; when Yelp is being extortionate, they should be prosecuted.

Yeah, that’s a difficult collective action problem. But isn’t that the point of various small business groups, like a chamber of commerce or the better business bureau? Especially BBB, you would think they’d be annoyed at Yelp for taking over precedence as far as business raters.
posted by nat at 10:05 AM on June 7 [2 favorites]


don't you think the fact that you think people shouldn't criticize Yelp because you're trying to use it to punish someone exactly highlights the core problem with Yelp?

Ummm I think warning potential victims about an unethical doctor is precisely the best possible use of Yelp. It's yelp's "on-label" use, if you will.
posted by panama joe at 10:35 AM on June 7 [1 favorite]


For finding restaurants, Yelp is great. Use its map to zoom into your desired area, sort the search results by rating, and then use common sense. Happy Cafe is #1 with five stars but only ten reviews that read like they were written by the owner, so ehh. Don's Diner is #4 but it has more than two hundred reviews, and the low-rating reviews are about drinks that I won't order or they're from two years ago before new management took over. Town Lunchroom is #5 with only six reviews, but it just opened and there are ten more "hidden" reviews (which you can reveal) that all seem legit. Et cetera.

Yelp's treatment of business owners is a separate issue—connected maybe, but separate—from whether Yelp is a useful tool for consumers. It is, and that's a big part of why there's no replacement for it. From consumers' perspective, the market doesn't need one. It's sad that I'll never read about Mike's Coffee because Yelp hid it, but small-town people don't need Yelp to discover new places and big-city people only need Yelp to help them narrow an already overwhelming number of options. Unfortunately Mike's legitimate complaint about Yelp doesn't translate to a significant problem for consumers.
posted by cribcage at 10:42 AM on June 7 [4 favorites]


That's just it - at the point where you're relying on your ability to discern fake reviews and also counting on Yelp to act in good faith - you're essentially guessing.

And at that point, why bother with the app as an intermediate step ?
posted by Pogo_Fuzzybutt at 12:06 PM on June 7 [3 favorites]


The root problem is that we have a business that's best described as "a well-designed restaurant reviews website" with a current market valuation around ~$2 billion. It's just not a 2 billion dollar idea. Thus the constant sales and marketing to squeeze dollars from something that's not hard to replicate.

That of course and the fact that there's no way to tell which reviews are real/fake/promoted, how the sorting algorithm works, whether the reviewers even like the kind of food I like, etc. That said, I do look at Yelp sometimes but I'm not sure it's led me to better choices than I could find other ways. A couple of my own mental review translators:

* "Service was horrible ... blah blah blah" = I am a prick and was rude and entitled to the staff.
* "Not bad for pizza outside NYC/seafood outside the west coast/etc" = I am a prick from a big city.
* "They couldn't meet the needs of my 3 kids" = I don't understand what sorts of restaurants are appropriate for small children.
* "Portions were too small" = I consume triple the caloric intake of a normal human.

This is honestly the most fun part. My go-to restaurant selection process goes like:

* I have eaten meals out with friends who had similar reactions to the food I did, so we have similar tastes.
* They go somewhere and tell me it's good.
* I go there.
posted by freecellwizard at 12:34 PM on June 7 [4 favorites]


I meant to add that if restaurant-goers are meant to be the customers, Yelp should offer Yelp subscriptions for $5/month and fund themselves that way. Except the whole Web economy is shenanigans, so that will never happen.
posted by freecellwizard at 12:40 PM on June 7


Best restaurant review site is definitely the one provided by the county health department. It's all got all the restaurant quality info I really need to know about.
posted by asperity at 1:03 PM on June 7 [4 favorites]


The value of online reviews (and I use Google Maps far more then Yelp these days) for the consumer is that it is a reasonable assurance that a restaurant will not be particularly bad. That doesn't mean it will be great, and you do have to adjust for grade inflation. It's not ideal, and there are definitely better ways to find places to eat, but sometimes you don't have much else go on and a place with 4.5 stars, say, is probably going to be at least decent.

The extortion thing seems like it's worse than I realized, but purely from a consumer POV online reviews are more about limiting the downside than capturing the upside. If you really want to discover the best restaurants, personal recommendations and websites specializing in food/travel/local interest are better guides than reviews on Yelp or Google.
posted by breakin' the law at 2:35 PM on June 7 [1 favorite]


How many of the issues associated with yelp are also associated with google maps reviews?

Or, more to the point, any recommendations for alternatives to Yelp when you’re somewhere where personal recommendations aren’t an option? For an example from my own history, what if you have a couple hours in an airport you don’t know well and you want to find out if they have any particularly good lunch options? I haven’t personally found things like newspaper best-of lists particularly helpful (or tailored to my particular interests) in the past but maybe I’ll give them another shot.
posted by mosst at 4:15 PM on June 7 [1 favorite]


And at that point, why bother with the app as an intermediate step ?

Do you have a better way to search/filter restaurants by criteria? I don't bother much with reviews on Yelp, but for finding restaurants I don't know of a better tool. Being able to filter on various dimensions is very useful, and Google doesn't come anywhere near it.

If there is a better tool I'm curious to know what it is.
posted by thefoxgod at 4:44 PM on June 7 [2 favorites]


I own a non-restaurant/non-service business, which seems to mean my experience with Yelp isn’t as fraught as those other types of businesses. We have paid for Yelp ads before, but stopped because their ad platform is comically bad. (We are in a couple of categories, but really are only interested in advertising in one of them, but our feeling was that we were getting the most impressions in the wrong and more expensive category.)

Right now, we are signed up for a $75 monthly plan that keeps competitor ads off our page and enables a couple of other features we don’t care much about.
posted by jimw at 9:39 PM on June 7


God, this brings back traumatic memories of the experience I and my ex-business-partner had when launching a massage business.

Our very first review was a 1-star eviscerating our business. We were confused because it went up literally before we had even seen one client at that office. From looking at the account that posted it, I eventually figured out that this was a massage therapist, in another county, apparently trying to eliminate the competition.

Yelp wouldn't remove it, even though we explained that we had never seen a client with that name.

Our next two reviews were valid 5-star reviews by a mother and daughter who had both come in for massages back to back on the same day. Yelp removed their reviews and justified it by saying that they were posted too close to one another by accounts that were connected. They didn't care when we explained why that was.

The fourth review was by a real client who gave us 3 stars and complained about the quality of the sheets. This woman was apparently used to expensive spa massages. We literally charged her half of what most spas in the area would have, and our focus was medical massage, yet she expected a high-end salon experience complete with silk sheets and hot hand towels. Knocking yourself out and giving a customer superior service, only to have them comment zero on the massage and mostly on the effing sheets (which were absolutely bog standard) was--disheartening to say the least.

At that point we "closed" our business listing on Yelp, thinking it would actually be more harmful than helpful to leave it up with a completely unfair 2-star rating. It was occasionally confusing for people to see our business listed as closed on Yelp, but that was less of a hassle than putting up with the constant stress.

I can't remember if Yelp tried to sell us services. We got so many spam emails and calls, especially after our opening was announced in the local paper. So I don't know if our experience was in part due to our not having paid extortion money. But I know that whatever the reason, Yelp's handling of our business was unfair in the extreme.
posted by nirblegee at 6:56 PM on June 8 [6 favorites]


I'd rather not do business with Yelp. I've had a small business, and any company that screw small businesses is Nope. As a customer, I find their ads to be mostly Push, i.e., Go to this place that we want to recommend. I'd prefer Pull, where I can specify what I want more reliably. What are your preferred alternatives?
posted by theora55 at 6:42 AM on June 11


don't you think the fact that you think people shouldn't criticize Yelp because you're trying to use it to punish someone exactly highlights the core problem with Yelp?

Ummm I think warning potential victims about an unethical doctor is precisely the best possible use of Yelp. It's yelp's "on-label" use, if you will.


I think he was saying it's ironic that you're telling us not to punish Yelp with public criticism of their evil deeds, because you want to use it to punish someone with public criticism of their evil deeds.
posted by straight at 5:11 PM on June 11 [3 favorites]


"But isn’t that the point of various small business groups, like a chamber of commerce or the better business bureau? Especially BBB, you would think they’d be annoyed at Yelp for taking over precedence as far as business raters."

I mean, the BBB is basically the same business model as Yelp. You pay dues, you get to be BBB accredited, and they hand out better grades to dues-paying companies. If you go to them with a dispute and say "that company stole all my money and burned my house down, here's the police and insurance reports!" they'll go to the company and say, "Hey, did you burn this guy's house down?" and the company says, "Nope!" and BBB says, "Well, there's a factual dispute so we'll consider this case closed."

The Chamber of Commerce is a lobbying organization that also engages in local boosterism but they don't give a rat's ass whether local businesses are ripping you off, and they are deeeeeeeeeeep in the can for the ownership class, for capital, and for Republicans. Somehow a good climate for local business never includes anything that helps employees or customers, only employers.

My Yelp horror story is, there was this woman in my aunt's neighborhood who had a problem with my aunt (it may have been a property line dispute, I don't recall exactly what started it), so started posting 1-star reviews about her veterinary practice on Yelp, repeatedly accusing my aunt of killing cats! My aunt was like, "This woman is not our client, you can audit our death statistics that the state looks at for our licensing, this is a person who has a personal dispute with me and is trying to tank my business," and Yelp said, "sorry, but you killed her cat, she's entitled to complain about it" and she protested repeatedly and even went to them with a lawyer and they basically said "if you pay us, we'll remove it or at least nerf it so only your good reviews appear." She threatened to sue for libel and they said they weren't responsible for any of the content on their platform so there was nothing they could do ... unless she wanted to pay them. And she was like, "I am not PAYING you, that's extortion!" And Yelp was like, well, quit killing this lady's cats then, can't help you.

(Eventually she shrugged and gave up, STILL FURIOUS ABOUT THE WHOLE THING, but her practice was the best-regarded one in the region and she had waiting lists for new pets to get in with her because she was the vet everyone wanted to see, so her two-star Yelp rating owing entirely to this one lady repeatedly attacking her via Yelp reviews didn't really matter. She is now retired but STILL MAD and gets furious if anyone tries to look up a restaurant on Yelp because it's full of liars and crazy people and the company sucks.)
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 4:31 PM on June 26 [3 favorites]


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