A recent article from the LA Times reports the growing dissatisfaction with Yelp, a popular review site for restaurants, tradesmen, and local businesses. Yelp, Inc. held a panel of three reviewers and two business owners at the Pantages Theatre on Tuesday in Los Angeles, California. The meeting was held in an effort to explore misconceptions surrounding the company and to build relationships with business owners. However, the discussion quickly degenerated into an emotionally ridden criticism of the website’s aggressive advertising practices.
One business owner, Craig Martin of Cafe 50’s in West Los Angeles, told the panel, “I have one-star reviews for my diner from people that have never walked into the place. They’ve never stepped foot, they’ve never tried the food, but they give me one-star reviews. That’s insane. Why would you let someone like that stay on the site? I spoke to your office, I called your guys, I emailed, I talked to your salespeople.”
Some in the crowd even went so far as to accuse Yelp of extortion. Even high paying Yelp advertisers believe that paying for advertising on Yelp affects the placement of positive and negative reviews. Steve Voss of FlateRateMoversLA reports that he pays $500 a month to advertise with Yelp. Although he acknowledges that the strategy helps his company bring in $30,000 to $60,000 a month, he does notice that those who pay less don’t receive the same treatment. “People who don’t pay the $500 a month, they get a lot more reviews filtered,” he commented.
Yelp defends their tactics and points out that out of the 42 million reviews on the site, 80% of the websites listed receive an overall 3 or more stars out of 5. Business owners who choose to opt out of Yelp’s advertising initiatives can still access their business page, respond to reviews and use the revenue estimation tool.