Why Yelp Is A Business Biased Towards Its Own Interests
Businesses exists to make a profit. How they use those profits varies; to invest, grow, distribute, or even help a social cause. A business should not necessarily be called into question just because it seeks to make a profit, but whether a particular business does so through unfair practices is often the subject of lawsuits.
A good example can be seen in the insurance company industry. Insurance companies are businesses, something many people only first begin to realize then they file a claim and it gets denied. The insurer has a right to deny claims to protect their profits, but they must adhere to certain standards and may not deny a claim without cause. The reason insurance companies are so frequently sued in insurance bad faith cases is over the question of whether or not they have a right to position their business in such a way that it intentionally disadvantages policyholders by denying claims without a valid reason. That is, can an insurance company simply fail to honor promises made or implied in good faith to protect their own profits?
Yelp is a business and making huge profits is one sign they are good at what they do. But is what they do fair? Does Yelp position itself in such a way that disadvantages or misleads people, or fails to deliver on its promises?
The trouble is, Yelp really only makes one implied promise, that of offering "Real people. Real reviews."
Yelp Positions Itself As King And Exploits Business Owners
Business owners cannot opt out of Yelp. Once your business is listed (even against your wishes) you are the mercy of Yelp algorithms.
Yelp tells business owner they are not allowed to ask people to post reviews, or reward them in any way for doing so. Yelp considers this an unfair business practice because presumably you will only ask people who will post positive reviews and therefore, you create an artificial bias in your favor.
If you are even suspected of soliciting your own reviews, Yelp will filter your positive reviews. To make things even more challenging, Yelp has added "better" algorithms that will automatically calculate the liklihood a post is fake and will filter or remove reviews. Adding insult to inury, Yelp will not publcly flag "suspicious" business owners for all to see.
Even when a consumers goes to post a review a shadowy text message appears in the review entry field that says, "Your review helps others learn about great local businesses. Please don't review this business if you received a freebie for writing this review, or if you're connect in any way to the owner or employees." This puts a subtle message in the minds of consumers that if your business has offered a discount for a review on Yelp, or thanks you with a follow-up discount, they are doing something wrong.
And that is not at all true.
Countless businesses post "Like" us or "Share" for a chance to win, discount, follow-back, etc.? Retweets for chances to win something are all over Twitter. If Twitter and Facebook have no problem with this, why does Yelp?
Simple. Facebook and Twitter do not decide what people see or do not see on their social networks -- you, and those who subscribe of follow do. For the most part the power of Twitter and Facebook still remains with its users. Yelp is different. It maintains complete control over reviewers and business owners.
Asking patrons to post reviews, and even rewarding loyal patrons for taking the time to offer their opinions is not illegal, unethical, or unfair in any way. Hiring an outside company to go in and spam a profile with dozens of fake reviews is unethical, and I fully support Yelp in wanting to ensure that does not happen. But completely relying on computer algorithms -- without an appeals process -- means technology is making human decisions about what is real and what is not.
Telling people not to post if they have been asked to, or are somehow connected to a business, is in direct contradiction to Yelp's position on why they are allowed to list your business and hold your profile hostage in the first place:
"Consumers have the right to talk about what they like (and don't like) about a meal they ate, a plumber they hired, or a car wash they visited. We don't remove business listings, so your best bet is to engage with your fans and critics alike, and hear what they have to say."
The above excludes the rights of employees, friends, family, colleagues, and people who were given a discount. Do we forfeit our rights as a consumer if we get free bread with a meal?
The truth is, the majority of all reviewers are biased in some way. As long as you are honest does it matter who posts the review? I love Ben & Jerry's and if I worked there how could I not rave about their ice cream? Everyone, even people who have jobs, are entitled to speak their minds. It is in the U.S. Constitution even if not in Yelp's terms of service.
Despite discouraging (even cautioning) business owners from asking customers to offer their opinions on Yelp, Yelp does encourage business owners to use their "free tools" to sell services and deals through Yelp -- all of which Yelp collects anywhere from ten to thirty percent from the transactions. In other words, offers and solicitations outside of Yelp's control are unacceptable, and by control, I mean, their ability to directly profit from deals, but are acceptable when done within Yelp's system. Yelp also aggressively persues business owners to buy expensive, year-long advertising packages to "help" them achieve greater success on Yelp. Again, I remind you, what if a business owner does not even want to be listed on Yelp? To bad.
Yelp Has The Final Say
Yelp removes reviews deemed to violate its Terms of Service or Content Guidelines which basically amount to using racial slurs or are malicious in nature. But many reviews on Yelp include name calling, threats, accuse people of crimes, or personally make fun of employees (by name) and business professionals. Is that not malicious? Reviews (good and bad) are supposed toeducate, share and inform other consumers -- angry personal rants are more likely posted to offend and hurt. Yelp does not distinguish between the two.
Flagging reviews that violate terms is not enough to get Yelp to take action and "violations" continue to be seen in Yelp reviews. What constitutes "malicious" clearly is subjective in nature. For the record, Yelp, the legal definition of "malicious" involves the intent to do harm to someone else. Many reviewers who are angry post comments and thoughts and even directives "stay away from this doctor" that are specifically intended to drive customers away from a business.
Yelp's (Flawed) Review Filtering System
Yelp chooses what reviews to show or to filter -- reviewers and business owners have no control over reviews. Reviews that are "filtered" can still be seen -- but users must enter in a code to get them to display. "Filtered Reviews" are not factor into a business's overall star rating, but since the vast majority of filtered reviews are positive, filtering good reviews has an indirect negative impact for business owners.
Yelp creates a situation where business owners are forced to participate -- they are not allowed the option of being removed from Yelp, nor an appeals process when reviews go crazy. But business owners are subjected to the whims of the review filter -- allowing Yelp one hundred percent control over how any given business is rated.
Consumers do not control the overall rating -- Yelp does. And call Yelp for help, and they will offer you their advertising services (about $300 a month with a one-year commitment -- a buyout fee may also be offered, usually about $700 to cancel). If only you buy their services, you will see, your reviews will improve.
Unfortunately, if you have been given this spiel you have been duped. Yelp may have made you such promises (pay and we will manipulate your reviews), but to deliver them would be illegal. In fact, it is called protection racketeering.
Learn More About the Review Filter
- Why does Yelp have a review filter?
- Why were these reviews filtered?
- Can I ask my customers for reviews?
- What are Yelp's review guidelines?
Want To Vent About Yelp And Post Your Own Bad Reviews?
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