Yelp = Fail


It was around 2009 when the review website ‘Yelp’ was first brought to my attention. I thought it looked interesting, so I signed up for an account and began to make reviews here and there. My first posts were mostly negative reviews of places where I’d had bad experiences. But, as I read more reviews posted by other people, my own reviews changed… I found myself enjoying giving praise to places where I’d had good experiences. I was beginning to enjoy Yelp, and I even started a profile for my own business. Yet, as much as I held Yelp in high regard, and as much as I saw (and still see) so much promise in the website, it took Yelp itself to ruin that experience and the promise turned to reproach.

In March of 2012 I received a call from Jill, a Yelp salesperson, offering me an ‘opportunity’ to advertise with Yelp. At first the opportunity seemed interesting to me. As the owner of a DJ Entertainment Company, I had already been advertising with WeddingWire and TheKnot for several years now. Both of those wedding-focused websites offer brides the opportunity to write reviews about their experience with our company and services. So my thought was that Yelp might be a great way to extend that same opportunity to our Bar and Bat Mitzvah, Sweet Sixteen and Corporate event clients. Even better, Yelp came up very high in the search engines for reviews; so again, it ‘seemed’ to be an interesting opportunity.

I told Jill I would need some time to think about things, and would take a closer look at Yelp over the next few weeks, and she ‘seemed’ to understand. That’s when things started to go downhill.

I did my due diligence, and researched Yelp online, and what I found was discouraging. What I found was article after article and news story after news story about how Yelp used extortion tactics to sell advertising, and all sorts of class action lawsuits against Yelp for doing so. Here are just a few…

Yelp on CBS News

Yelp on G4 (class action lawsuit)

Yelp on CBS News (again)

Yelp on CBS News (yet again)

Yelp on ABC News

Yelp Scam – a website dedicated to Yelp’s antics


Since most of these articles centered on Yelp filtering out bad reviews in connection with purchased advertising, and I had a stellar five-star rating, I felt – foolishly – that this scenario did not apply to me or my business. I also felt – again foolishly – that it made no sense for Yelp to engage in such suspect activity, as it would only damage their online reputation. So I went ahead and began to ask our past clients to review us on Yelp, which they were more than happy to do. Jill, the Yelp salesperson, even went so far as to send emails congratulating me on the new reviews we received, again asking if I was ready to become an advertiser.

It was when I said I needed more time that the real trouble began…

Suddenly, my five-star reviews began to be filtered… eight of them in the course of one week.

I promptly picked up the phone, asking Jill why this was happening, and her response was both weak and unapologetic. “Well, we don’t encourage our users to solicit reviews”. She went on to say that the Yelp filter was arbitrary, and she was incredibly vague on how it all worked, and would only say that she could do nothing about the filtered reviews. She then continued to push the sales tactic – going so far as to suggest I would be foolish not to advertise – as if I would spend money advertising with a review website that penalized me for getting good reviews!

So for the record; Yelp is a ‘review website’, that wants me to spend money advertising, while they ‘filter’ my good reviews.

After expressing my disappointment with Yelp, both to Jill and on Twitter, I was contacted via email by someone named Darnell, who identified himself as Yelp’s Manager of Local Business Outreach. Here is what Darnell had to say:

Hi Craig,
I’m Yelp’s Manager of Local Business Outreach. I saw your tweets, and if you have the time tomorrow, I would like to discuss your experience with our sales team and any suggestions you have on how we can improve. We train our sales staff to always respect the local businesses we work with, and so are disappointed that our sales process rubbed you the wrong way. Beyond that it’s important to point out that reviews and advertising are completely separate on Yelp, and whether or not a business decides to buy advertising has no correlation with how reviews are displayed on that businesses page. Please let me know several times you have available tomorrow for a quick call.

Yes, my experience does suggest that reviews and advertising are separate… so separate that they are actually working at cross-purposes.

I clicked on the link in Darnell’s email, and was put off immediately by the first paragraph, which read:

As a part of our ongoing efforts to educate the business community…

Wow, really? Sort of pretentious don’t you think? I then clicked on the video, which went on to explain that their filters were in place to prevent businesses from creating reviews about their own companies. That’s a fair enough goal I suppose… but not only does Yelp’s filter system unfairly mark some reviews as suspect (a significant problem in its own right) but it also marks the business’s page with the blemish of a link declaring the number of reviews that have been filtered.

So in effect, Yelp’s ‘filter’ is actually a flagging system. It tells anyone that happens upon our profile that our business has been flagged as being suspect of unscrupulously reviewing ourselves. And that is simply not the case.

Clearly, and simply, Yelp’s filter does not work.

If the Yelp ‘filter’ did work, it would employ an IP filter – like so many other review websites use. An IP Address or ‘Internet Protocol Address’ is a numerical label assigned to each device (computer, printer, etc) to identify it, therefore preventing a business from reviewing itself. But, as Jill had told me, Yelp’s filter is arbitrary… which by definition means “determined by chance, whim, or impulse, and not by reason or principle”.

I will say it again… Yelp’s filter system does not work.

In the meantime, other than hiding behind links to text explanations and cute little videos, Darnell – the Yelp representative – has not responded to my emails in over a week. Darnell and I have never spoken on the phone.

And the irony of it all is that while Yelp struggles to defend their own online reputation against claims of unethical practices, they ‘arbitrarily’ damage the online reputation of my own business by incorrectly flagging legitimate reviews and making my business appear suspect.

If Yelp is a review website, and a legitimate customer cannot review us without having their review flagged, Yelp does not work. Yelp is broken.

Oddly enough, one cannot review Yelp on Yelp.

Former Yelper

7 Responses

  1. Yelp is the biggest scam that is currently effecting people’s businesses. Anyone can post anything they want to Yelp. Yelp also could care less whether or not the review is true as they are simply the third party publishing the review. They are SCUM.

    With the amount of media that has condemned YELP, I can’t understand how they are in business.

  2. I too had the solicitation phone call. It stopped after I went to inquire with Yelp, “How is it ‘fair’ to let anyone post a review if they haven’t even used the business service.” “How is that quality or reasonable review of one’s business?” And, “How can Yelp allow someone to keep making negative reviews every six months?” Can’t they see that it’s the same person, same name and email?” How is that fair to the business? —Same result, they stopped calling or soliciting me.
    There is no merit system to Yelp. It’s all catch as catch can, free for all, no rules apply. Come and give us your words and fill up our garbage. We don’t care if we hurt some good people along the way, it’s just roadkill along our yellow brick road. Nothing deteriorates as quickly as a badly laid road. Yelp is a bad road, folks. Stay off of it!!

  3. Similar problem here but it gets worse. ANYONE can post a review. I have one very bad review that is stuffed full of lies. If I respond with the truth I just look argumentative. “He said, she said”. The FILTER had removed all 27 5 star reviews and then the ONE bad review magically reappeared after about 2 months. It sat there like a huge wart on the cheek and, now has magically gone back into filter-land. All 26 five star reviews are still in the filter. Not ONE shows up when my site is viewed. Some of these are people who post yelp reviews regularly too! It’s a broken system with no recourse! and NO way to fix anything.

  4. I think that it is even more amusing and pathetic that Yelp doesn’t allow anyone to review Yelp on their own website. Why is it that every business owner in the world has to take on both the good reviews that is if they ever get published, as well as all of the nasty possibly untruthful things that people can say about the business. It seems rather hypocrytical of Yelp to a do as we say not as we do company.

  5. Craig, you are truly one of the most stand-up guys I know, as well as a leader in our industry. It took a lot of guts posting this, especially knowing that it’s pretty much Yelp’s M.O. to punish anyone who doesn’t pay them, more so I’d assume if you speak out against them.


  6. Steve,

    I think I have been punished. I had a bride who reviewed me on Yelp with 5 stars, the minute I posted my comments, my positive review was filtered leaving only 2 bogus reviews about my company both of which were not even from the client who hired me. I have now had 2 positive reviews filtered and Yelp has yet to give me a true explanation as to why. They default to their computer generated system but my positive review was up there until this post. Yelp is either broken or unethical.

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