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Yelp Accused Of Hiding Positive Reviews For Non-Advertiser (cbslocal.com) 156

A Dallas business owner is accusing Yelp of hiding good reviews of his coffee shop after he refused to pay them for advertising. From a report on CBS Local: Bob Sinnott owns Toasted Coffee + Kitchen in Lower Greenville. He said after months of non-stop phone calls from Yelp, he claims his favorable rating dropped after he finally told the company he would not pay for advertising. "What I would compare it to, the mafia," said Sinnott. "You know, you do business with me or there's retaliation." Sinnott feels Yelp is hiding many of his 5-star reviews in the "not recommended" section because he chose not to pay for Yelp services. "The sales pitch is, pay us a monthly fee and we'll your help page," said Sinnott. He claims there were constant phone calls and emails from Yelp pitching the company's services. "It became what I would call borderline harassment," said Sinnott. After posting on Facebook about his experience, Sinnott said his rating went from a 4-star to a 3.5-star rating. Google rates Toasted at 4.1 and Facebook has the business at a 4.6 rating.
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Yelp Accused Of Hiding Positive Reviews For Non-Advertiser

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  • by xxxJonBoyxxx ( 565205 ) on Wednesday January 10, 2018 @02:45PM (#55902577)
    Is Yelp still a thing? I mean, didn't we all pretty much move on to Google ratings on Google maps?
    • by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday January 10, 2018 @02:50PM (#55902621)

      Of course they are! Itâ(TM)s the number one resource for people searching for local businesses. And they are and have been hurting small businesses who donâ(TM)t submit to their extortion tactics FOR YEARS.
      As an admin for two small business, I have a ton of first hand experience.

      • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

        by Anonymous Coward

        Of course they are! Itâ(TM)s the number one resource for people searching for local businesses. And they are and have been hurting small businesses who donâ(TM)t submit to their extortion tactics FOR YEARS.
        As an admin for two small business, I have a ton of first hand experience.

        OK, we live & learn.

        I'll be skipping yelp henceforth.

      • by mjwx ( 966435 )
        Outside the US, Yelp has never really been a thing.

        Of course they are! Itâ(TM)s the number one resource for people searching for local businesses. And they are and have been hurting small businesses who donâ(TM)t submit to their extortion tactics FOR YEARS.
        As an admin for two small business, I have a ton of first hand experience.

        Why are people still shocked to learn this? All review sites who use advertising use standover tactics like this, Yelp, Trip Adviser, the lot. I've never heard anything nice about review sites from hoteliers but they're completely dependent on these con men (con sites?) for business.

    • by SB5407 ( 4372273 )
      I think so. My mechanic said to me that reviews on Google have much more of an impact on his business. That said, some people won't change and still use Yelp, just like someone I know won't change and still uses Yahoo Mail, and to those people, your Yelp rating matters.
    • Did we ever do that? (Score:5, Informative)

      by SuperKendall ( 25149 ) on Wednesday January 10, 2018 @02:51PM (#55902639)

      Google reviews are a wasteland anywhere I've ever looked. Yelp is still what people actually use if they want real info. Google Maps, for example, claims a local comedy club that has been closed for a year is still open... Yelp knows.

      • by grasshoppa ( 657393 ) <skennedy@COLAtpno-co.org minus caffeine> on Wednesday January 10, 2018 @03:04PM (#55902747) Homepage

        The reviews themselves are worthless. It's the rating tie in with google maps which makes them better than Yelp. It's at a glance information and extremely persuasive.

      • If you don't like the lack of data on Google Maps, submit. Be the change you want to see in the world. I've done it for places I've been that had nothing and amazingly, next thing you know other people review or submit photos. I've notified them about places being closed. I've told them about new places being open.
        • If you don't like the lack of data on Google Maps, submit

          I do submit reports of issues to maps, I've done so many times.

          But, come on - a YEAR closed and Google cannot figure that out without user input (or maybe they did have user input, I know I've submitted changes to Google that never took effect)?

          We are not talking OpenStreetMaps here! Yelp knew (as I said) even Apple Maps simply didn't have a listing anymore. It's not like it is hard to make sure business listings are correct every year.

          • Okay, I'll grant you that. I've seen issues for all kinds of things. I have had to submit things like pronunciation changes because... well, who comes up with these pronunciations? I don't even live in an obscure area (fourth largest city in the US), but it has no clue on certain things!

            I guess it depends on what sources of information they can use. I would even think changes to the signs collected during a Streetmaps run would help, or information on a business at an address and possibly suite number fo

          • It's not like it is hard to make sure business listings are correct every year.

            Now that's funny.

          • In fairness, Apple Maps did still have the listing, it was just in the wrong place.
          • Yelp knew when they quit paying Yelp to show the reviews accurately.

        • by gfxguy ( 98788 )

          As I mentioned in another post, my problem is when I'm travelling and only have my phone to look stuff up with, and it seems like Google gives me different results on my mobile than it does on my laptop. What I mean is that searching for "something near me" when I'm travelling often doesn't give me what I want from Google. I don't know why.... I'd give more details, but it's been a while because I started using Yelp more because of the problem.

          I think in both cases you might get more sponsored results, bu

        • I've edited the map so often that Google now *trusts* me. The last few edits were accepted immediately, apparently without human review. I'm really not sure how I feel about that.

          I'd feel a lot better if the law made all user-contributed data public domain. I am very happy to contribute to the common patrimony, to the general expansion of human knowledge. I don't particularly mind that Google makes money off that information. But I really hate that Google has the right to exclude the public from data the p

      • Yelp is still what people actually use if they want real info.

        I've never gotten much useful information from Yelp. Yes there are reviews but I've never found the to have a strong correlation with my own experiences at the locations being reviewed. Basically I no longer waste any time looking at Yelp for opinions.

    • by mysidia ( 191772 ) on Wednesday January 10, 2018 @02:52PM (#55902657)

      Sort of..... I suggest watching Louis Rossman's Yelp-related videos; I saw a few years ago --- they were an eye opener regarding their Salespeoples' practices, to say the least.

      SPOILER: There's a really aggressive sales person involved who was happy to violate users' privacy AND there are fake negative reviews involved that were posted against the business after the Yelp salesperson was told NO.

      • >I suggest watching Louis Rossman's Yelp-related videos

        I don't have the time. Is there a version of the Louis Rossman videos where he doesn't spent 45 minutes talking about a 2 minute topic?

        • by SQLGuru ( 980662 )

          I'm a big fan of the Chrome plugin called Video Speed Controller. You can bump the playback speed of HTML5 video all the way up to 10x. Just be warned that sound cuts out around 4x. But for those videos that you want to breeze through to find the meat, it's really handy to jump up to a multiple and then back off that speed when you find what you want. [There are hotkeys for jumping around speeds.....as long as the video player widget has focus.]

          It's also handy for speeding up commercials in your online

        • by sjbe ( 173966 )

          I don't have the time. Is there a version of the Louis Rossman videos where he doesn't spent 45 minutes talking about a 2 minute topic?

          You are posting to slashdot so obviously you do have the time and are just being lazy.

          • by gfxguy ( 98788 )
            You're calling him lazy for posting something rather than sitting back and mindlessly watching a 45 minute video that's 43 minutes too long? Maybe he just values his time. I rarely watch youtube videos anymore because the people waste too much of my time stretching the content in order to make more money.
          • I don't have the time. Is there a version of the Louis Rossman videos where he doesn't spent 45 minutes talking about a 2 minute topic?

            You are posting to slashdot so obviously you do have the time and are just being lazy.

            No and yes.

        • by mysidia ( 191772 )

          It seems like you're basically asking for someone to have done 14 hours of editing work so you could avoid focusing on something significant for an hour or so .

          I already gave you a TL;DW summary; the case history is essentially yet more evidence against Yelp sales team practices though.

          • by gfxguy ( 98788 )
            I get it, but what's the alternative? As I mentioned in other posts, the Google search results seem like crap when I'm using my cellphone when I'm travelling. I don't know why. I swear I get different (better) results on a "real" computer.
    • I don't know anybody who still uses Yelp. There have been so many of these stories over the years that the ratings just seem meaningless. Sort of like the BBB. Google Maps just seems more trustworthy, and I get very fast responses from owners if I leave negative feedback. Also, there are a lot more people using Google to leave reviews now, so people must see some value in expressing their opinion there.
      • I don't know anybody who DOESN'T use yelp. Despite its supposed problems you can feel safe knowing that a 4.5 star restaurant is way the fuck better than a 2.5 star review.

        Google reviews has way less reviews than yelp. Here in the Bay Area Yelp has twice as many reviews as Google Maps (looking at a couple of restaurants that opened in the past few years). I'm sure they ultimately reach about the same conclusions, and for most restaurants with dozens of reviews it just comes down to personal preference.

      • by AmiMoJo ( 196126 )

        Some digital assistants use Yelp to make recommendations I think.

    • didn't we all pretty much move on to Google ratings on Google maps?

      No, the number of ratings (and quality as well) on Yelp are much higher than on Google maps. If you search a place in Google search, often Yelp is the first thing to come up.

    • by Albanach ( 527650 ) on Wednesday January 10, 2018 @03:24PM (#55902957) Homepage

      Is Yelp still a thing? I mean, didn't we all pretty much move on to Google ratings on Google maps?

      I'm now eagerly awaiting the submission for "Yelp rebrands itself YelpCoin"

    • Yelp is integrated into Apple Maps, which probably brings them some traffic if you're using Siri to search for stuff.

      But, yeah, Google has stolen a lot of market share from them.

    • No because you have to have a Google+ profile crammed down your throat to post or edit reviews.
    • by gfxguy ( 98788 )
      My problem is that, when I'm traveling, Googling things like "something near me" using the mobile version of chrome seemed to give different results than if I were on a desktop, an the results are not as useful. Things may have changed recently - I don't travel all that much, but a couple of times a year for work and the last few trips I had much better success finding good local restaurants than when I tried using Google.
  • by UdoKeir ( 239957 ) on Wednesday January 10, 2018 @02:53PM (#55902663)
    I had the same thing happen with a negative review I posted for Whole Foods. It stayed up a couple of days, got a lot of positive feedback and then was hidden by Yelp. Presumably Whole Foods is a paying Yelp customer.
  • by Carcass666 ( 539381 ) on Wednesday January 10, 2018 @02:53PM (#55902667)

    If you poke around Yelp's site, they talk about how paying them can result in better placement, targeted advertising, etc. That seems expected and fair behavior.

    I can't find anywhere that it would infer that your aggregate rating will be affected by whether you pay them or not. In fact, on their About page [yelp.com], they state "Paying advertisers can never change or re-order their reviews." (which, I guess, does not exclude Yelp themselves from doing it). The perception is that the ratings are organized and aggregated based upon algorithms. If the reality is that it's also based upon whether Yelp is getting paid by the business in question, that seems shady. It certainly should have an impact on consumers' confidence in Yelp aggregate ratings.

    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      by Anonymous Coward

      >the mafia don doesn't explicitly say your shop will be spared/burned to the ground
      >in writing

      you don't say

    • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

      by Anonymous Coward

      In the bar/restaurant industry, this is pretty common knowledge. Its a protection racket.... "It would be a shame if you didn't pay us and then something terrible happened to your reputation." To be clear, no one thinks they overall score is affected, but which reviews people see. I've worked several places that have been threatened like this. Yelp can burn in hell.

    • These sites are prejudicial just in who is listed and who isn't to begin with. Maybe it's easy to get stuff onto Yelp, but I found for example that Tripadvisor neglected to add restaurants I suggested and provided full information and photographs for, probably because they neglected to buy any advertising.

  • by Anonymous Coward

    Remove Everything. The page about your business, the lot. You don't want your business on such a site.

    Otherwise you'll sue for defamation.

    Do you have an archive.org of the original page? That'll make suing easier. Phone records, copies of emails, etc, etc.

    Yelp isn't a thing anymore. It should have dinosaured a long time ago.

  • by orgelspieler ( 865795 ) <w0lfie@ma c . com> on Wednesday January 10, 2018 @03:04PM (#55902755) Journal

    Just check out this gem from Google Maps:

    Response from the owner 4 years ago:

    This is the fat slob.

    I wanted to put some context around Mr Scaccia's review.

    First, no disputting it, I'm fat. I take issue with the rude and slob parts. I shower every day. I say please and thank you. But, fat, unfortunately I can't dispute that.

    OK, let's talk about our interaction yesterday.

    It goes on from there to explain to this bozo how a line in a Texas BBQ joint works. You place your order, then you sit down. It's common courtesy.

    • Just check out this gem from Google Maps:

      Response from the owner 4 years ago:

      This is the fat slob.

      I wanted to put some context around Mr Scaccia's review.

      First, no disputting it, I'm fat. I take issue with the rude and slob parts. I shower every day. I say please and thank you. But, fat, unfortunately I can't dispute that.

      OK, let's talk about our interaction yesterday.

      That's awesome. That's how you handle all this social media carp today.

    • by sconeu ( 64226 )

      Got a link? I'd like to see the whole thread.

      • I think this [goo.gl] should work. There are a lot of reviews for this place, and nearly any time there's a negative, the owner or manager has reached out to apologize (if it's a food issue), or explain why the complainer is wrong (if it's a "I didn't want to wait in line like everybody else" issue).
  • by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday January 10, 2018 @03:18PM (#55902907)

    I had a multitude of 5 star ratings and daily calls from Yelp, congratulating me on my reviews and suggesting advertising was the best way forward, nearly all went to voicemail. One day after I did actually speak to someone and indicated I was not interested, nearly all my top reviews, which had been up for months beforehand, disappeared. Yelps 'automated' AI system, according to them, had deemed them non-trustworthy - remarkable that the AI should have, after all this time, suddenly decided that those reviews which were up just 24 hrs previously, were no longer valid.

    At that point I shifted focus, left a placeholder in my business description indicating what had happened and removed all reference to Yelp from my web site, email and marketing. I moved over to Google Business, which, despite some hiccups (no 'by appointment only' option, no easy URL to direct clients to for leaving reviews...) has worked very well for me with a good 80% or more clients indicating that they had chosen me as a result of my web site, portfolio (I'm in a creative field) and reviews that showed up. Ironically, I have spent money on adwords and would probably have done the same with Yelp had their 'AI' system not treated me in such a grossly unfair manner.

    • by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday January 10, 2018 @06:54PM (#55904457)

      Same here. I owned a martial arts studio and as the school grew, our yelp reviews started trickling in, positively. Soon, I got a call from Yelp saying how great it was my business was growing and they were there to take it to the next level. I found the pricing quite expensive and declined. Within a few days, 50% of the positive reviews disappeared, pushed off to "not recommended" land. This process repeated over the next 2 years. Every 6 months or so, they would allow the positive reviews to accumulate, I'd decline, then those positives would be pushed to "not recommended".

  • by Anonymous Coward

    "pay us a monthly fee and we'll your help page"

    You some words out.

    • by Anonymous Coward

      No, they just two swapped words.

  • by 140Mandak262Jamuna ( 970587 ) on Wednesday January 10, 2018 @03:33PM (#55903063) Journal
    It is called yarr

    The yarr stands for yet another reviewer reviewer, modeled after yacc yet another compiler compiler.

    It is meta reviewer site where we review the reviewer. Users look at all the reviews from many reviewers, yelp, trip advisor, google maps... Then compares the expected experience, expected price to actual price and actual experience.

    Now the owner of yarr will become yaee, yet another exhorter exhorter.

  • they do this. I seem to remember a judge ruling it was legal too. Maybe the exact specific practice of hiding the reviews wasn't proven though, but they were definitely promoting good reviews if you gave them money and bad reviews if you didn't. The entire thing felt sketchy, like a mob shake down or something. It's why I don't bother with yelp reviews.
    • by Anonymous Coward

      The trick is to READ the review content, specifically the bad ones. Then determine if the business sucks or person leaving the review is the idiot.

    • Like a decade ago, Yelp was accused of taking bribes-for-reviews and vigorously denied it, and it seems more likely some Yelp salesmen said it when it wasn't true. Whether you believe that or not, Yelp made their invisible reviews visible and of course if salesmen start openly claiming buying ads will help their reviews then customers would distrust Yelp. Somebody would be sure to record the interaction as well. It would kill Yelp's credibility and I really don't think they would do this except perhaps w

      • A friend of mine used to work for Yelp back in those days. What he told me was that the sales types absolutely did not have the ability to change anyone's reviews or score in exchange for ad purchases. There were no tools to allow them to do so. And they did not have write access to the data in any other capacity. And part of his job was to keep any unauthorized access, external or internal, from said data from happening.

        He also told me that Yelp's sales people were the "slimiest pack of lying shit-weas

      • In fact one of the comments makes the point that the 9th circuit did not say that it's legal for Yelp to manipulate reviews based on payment:

        JoelKatz Rank 72644

        This is some really poor legal reporting. You have to wonder if the author read the ruling. The court did not rule that "Yelp can manipulate ratings" nor did it rule "there's nothing illegal about that". In fact, the court went to the effort to make it explicitly clear that it was not saying that -- "We emphasize that we are not holding that no caus

  • Totally true (Score:2, Informative)

    by Anonymous Coward

    We've experienced the exact same thing, persistent badgering by a sales person, had over 30 positive reviews... Finally told sales person no, suddenly all reviews are filtered. They claim their algorithm determines review placement exclusively, but it's utter bullshit.

  • What we need is an honest, non-profit version of Yelp that helps you know if the business is good at what it does and customer service... Oh wait, we do have that, its called the BBB.

    I refuse to use Yelp or Google because both are easily gamed by businesses and damaged by one or two unhappy asshole customers.

    • by Anonymous Coward

      There is no profit margin in an honest review service. It will be replaced by a dishonest review service as soon as business school trained middle management gets involved in any company that provides this.

  • "The sales pitch is, pay us a monthly fee and we'll your help page," said Sinnott.

    Well I can see why he wouldn't agree to pay. Yelp wont even tell him what they are going to do!

  • Too bad Yelp didn't think of it first! :-D
  • by M0j0_j0j0 ( 1250800 ) on Wednesday January 10, 2018 @03:53PM (#55903253)

    Guess what, i run a couple webshops for third parties, and I can clearly relate this, the companies that spend on adwords are the only ones with decent rankings on google.

  • by roc97007 ( 608802 ) on Wednesday January 10, 2018 @04:02PM (#55903317) Journal

    I regret ever trying to do business with Yelp. In my case it was trying to close my account when I realized it wasn't driving enough business my way to justify the cost. One of several problems is that your reviews don't go away when you terminate your account, and Yelp then has all the leverage of what reviews they want to display.

    Part of the leverage is that Yelp controls the first several listings you get when you google a particular type of business. So people have to scroll way down before they get to my own professional website. It really does seem like the game is, you pay Yelp or, "you know, it's a terrible thing that can happen to a business. Just terrible. You wouldn't want that to happen, would you?"

  • Any service that exists primarily to accumulate reviews of businesses or people aims to shake down said entities eventually. Either because that's a nice set of reviews there, and it would be a shame if anything happened to them (as in this case), or because you'll eventually get yourself into an unfortunate situation and they know somebody who could make it go away.

  • Obligatory Monty Python [youtube.com], showing how it works.

  • by Optic7 ( 688717 ) on Wednesday January 10, 2018 @04:49PM (#55903643)

    This mafia-like behavior from Yelp has already been through the courts, and they've won so far (circuit court level): http://www.sfgate.com/news/art... [sfgate.com]

  • Use foodaroo! lol
  • ... just for the halibut.

  • I had never been to slashdot before but I had heard about it from others, so I decided to give it a try. It was last Tuesday on my lunch break and I had finished my stewed pickles a little quicker than usual which left me with a couple possibilities. My first option (and it was a pretty solid option had I gone with it) was to download the asset depreciation schedule for facility 27 and cross check it against the running tally in the GL projection report. But, I also had another option: try out this
  • But it seems that good old fashion protection rackets just move online. Yelp keeps emailing me to “claim” my business listing. So far I am ignoring them.
  • How this extortionist company is still in business, and how its senior executives have not been jailed or fined $100's of Millions, is beyond me. Yelp = fail! 2-3 years ago I spoke with a small business owner who claimed that they moved negative review to the top of her review stream, after she refused several offers to advertise. I think Yelp has been brought to court for its abuse, and won. Sad!

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