6/20/13 Update: Yelp has filtered five out of six of my reviews. Whether as a response to this posting or to increase pressure on me to pay advertising dollars or just coincidence, I leave you to decide. Whatever the case, I am taking my advertising dollars and using them anywhere but yelp, where I have six reviews that are five stars each, all written by real people, and almost none of them visible.
Many people don’t know, but there have been a lot of bad reviews of yelp, the review site. The reason? Yelp has been accused of extorting money out of people to have their ads appear higher in yelp’s search results. It has actually been shown that yelp will hide good reviews and promote bad reviews of people who don’t pay for yelp advertising. As soon as they do start paying for yelp advertising, they promote good reviews and hide bad reviews, and don’t put competitor’s ads on your “page”. Think about that for a second.
The reputation of a website that deals in reviews should be like that of a locksmith: you need to have trust in that company. I lost my trust in yelp when I decided that today I would look into advertising on yelp but came to realize that yelp was actually hiding me in search results for locksmiths. They have been asking me to start paying for advertising over the last few months and I suspect this is related. Following is documentation featuring screen captures of yelp search results sorted in different ways. I have five reviews that are each five stars, but when I sort locksmiths in North Seattle by “Highest Rated” I don’t even appear on the first page. Who does appear? A lot of locksmiths who only have one star reviews.
For the first picture, we have:This clearly shows that number 17 is “Bill’s Locksmith Service who only has 3.5 stars with three reviews. I have 5 stars from five reviews. Anybody who graduated from high school knows that I should be above Bill. I have better ratings and more ratings.
Second, we have this picture which shows the top results for North Seattle and my neighborhood. As you can see, when listed by “Highest Rated” Maple Leaf Locksmith LLC does not show up. 24 Hour Locksmith does, even though they only have 1 star out of 4 reviews. That means every single reviewer left them 1 star. That means that Yelp is probably trying to pressure me to buy advertising, so that I might be reinstated to my rightful place in the search results. Search results that you rightfully assume are unbiased.
Third is this picture showing where I actually show up. “Shay” is the woman who is representing yelp and asking me to pay for advertising with them. I have notified her numerous times of fallacious listings in the locksmith category of yelp as well, yet here they all still are, coming in above me with one star reviews when the results are specifically sorted by average stars per review.
yelp has built a very good database of businesses built for free by people like you and me. They are using data we edited and collected to make money. They need to make sure that this data is presented is used to going to yelp and using it. I have been using yelp for restaurant reviews as well as everything else under the sun for years, but now that I know their business practices I am reluctant to believe what I read on yelp. I think I am going to try using Google Local instead. I emailed yelp to let them know that they would receive no advertising money until they changed how search results are displayed. If I have five stars, I want my business listed above somebody with four stars and it better be listed above a business with only one star. My email to Shay@yelp.com follows:
Shay, this is Bjorn the locksmith with Maple Leaf Locksmith LLC in Seattle. I looked at the advertising prices today and was impressed enough that I set up an advertising campaign but then when I went to preview the ad, my business didn’t even show up in the locksmith listings. I have five reviews and they are all five stars so I expect when I sort businesses by how well they are rated, my business will come in above a locksmith business that only has one star.
This is unfortunately not the case. I have attached a screenshot of the results I see when searching Seattle for a locksmith. I don’t even come up on the list. I have to zoom in to my own neighborhood before i come up, and my business is underneath businesses with only one star reviews. If yelp wants my money they had better fix this issue because I am not about to pay a lot of money for ads if your service isn’t going to even put me in search results. I have five reviews that are each five stars. I should be very high on the list of locksmiths when the list is sorted by rating.
The second picture I have attached is a list of locksmiths in the Green Lake area. There are only two legit locksmiths here. I have the results sorted by “most highly rated”. I am rated more highly than all but two locksmiths in the area, yet I come in as number 8. Why is that?
If yelp wants their website to continue being useful, yelp will sort results correctly. I get the impression that yelp is making me appear lower in search results because they are hoping that I will pay for ads. If I feel this kind of pressure I will just take my business to Angie’s List and google.
I will close by saying that I would be happy to enter an advertising agreement with yelp but only on the condition that my business appears where it should when locksmiths are sorted by “highest rated”. I have worked hard for these ratings and I feel cheated to not see my business ranked third where it belongs in the ratings. I look forward to hearing back from Yelp about this serious matter and seeing it rectified.
An additional letter to yelp:
Now I notice that yelp has filtered five out of the six reviews that I had. These were all written by real people who are customers. I feel strongly that yelp is attempting to extort money out of me for advertising and is punishing me for not buying in. I will not pay yelp for advertising after witnessing this. I will take my advertising dollars to the local newspaper and other forms of media instead. I will also no longer ask people to leave me reviews on yelp. If yelp continues this sort of thing they will find more and more people will start using google maps instead and yelp will fade into obscurity, just like citysearch did five years before.
Following is an interesting parable about a customer dealing with yelp extortion from the other side. He pulled his bad review from a business’s page because he felt bad for the business, and how they were being extorted. As soon as his review was removed, the ranking shot up three points!
I’ve seen this happen first-hand. I once submitted a 2 star review due to awful service at a business in town. It happened to be the first review.
A year later, the business owner called me, begging me to take down my review. It turns out they had gotten their act together, and had *22* 4/5 and 5/5 star reviews on Yelp after mine. However, Yelp’s “filtering” algorithm only took my review into account, so it showed a 2/5 star rating for the business and hid the other 22 reviews from site (you would have to click a link to see “more reviews”).
The business owner told me Yelp would “unlock” the hidden reviews if he advertised with them.
I realized how damaging this could be to businesses and decided to take down my review. His rating shot to 4.5/5. If Yelp hadn’t so clearly been trying to extort cash from small businesses, I would have left my review up, and told the owner to deal with it.”
In regards to their filter I would like to share my experience. Initiallly, I, like many of my colleagues, had no presence on Yelp. Suddenly, an equivocal review oddly appeared on their site which seemed somehow……….fake. Next, after a series of unsuccesful phone solicitations for advertising I noticed a couple negative reviews, interestingly written by reviewers without an established record of having previously reviewed and without any significant connections/communications on their site. One of them was the one and only review ever written by that person. It is the conjecture of many that the Yelp filter removes reviews as potentially fake which lack those characterisitics however, in my case, they were made prominent. We then tested the filter by asking known highly satisfied customers who had reviewed us about their experience and every single one of those reviews was filtered! These were filtered even when the reviewers were established Yelpers who had written many other reviews and made other connections. When I surveyed other businesses in my area who had advertised, their positive reviews were NOT filtered in this way. Positive reviews, even when written by first timers were prominently displayed. NOt surprisingly, all of these businesses ultimately grew dissatisfied with Yelp. They all complained they were overpaying for advertising which failed to yield expected results and were way overpaying for page views. In summary: Yelp is an extortion fraud and a seriously flawed business which fails to deliver on its advertising promises.