SMBs Say Yuck To Yelp’s Telemarketers

Many thanks to my friend, Donna Swain, for pointing out the continuing story of Yelp’s confusing pitch to Small Business Owners, as featured in Sonoma County’s Press Democrat.

Back in August 2008, Greg Sterling brought my attention to the controversy surrounding Yelp’s negative review policy when a business owner claimed he was falsely led to believe that he could pay money to Yelp to have his negative reviews moved to the bottom of his profile. I blogged about this and the business owner featured in the CBS news coverage of this story showed up to leave a comment here at the SEOigloo, to explain what had happened to him:

Yelp’s sales reps use negative postings as a “lead source” to call the owner and attempt to sell Business Owner Accounts. I received a phone call from a sales rep named Summer who stated that negative reviews could be moved to the bottom of the page and possibly removed in the future if I purchased a Business Owner Account.

Having begun paying Yelp $350/month, the business owner was dismayed to discover that, not only could he not make his negative review recede into the background, but Yelp removed his positive reviews and continued to let the negative ones flow in. Yelp responded to the business owner’s furor and confusion by saying that the IP addresses of his positive reviews were ‘suspect’ and the story just continued to get murkier from there on out.

My esteemed friend, David Mihm, commented on my coverage of this subject by saying:

I think given all the flak Yelp is taking, it’s going to make dramatic steps to improve its review / reviewspam system. It would be too easy to continue to get negative publicity and lose customers otherwise…

Unfortunately, there don’t seem to be any David Mihms working at Yelp, and as today’s Press Democrat piece details:

Condra Easley, co-owner of Patisserie Angelica in Sebastopol, said she was told that for $300 a month she could rearrange the reviews about her pastry shop so the bad ones would drop to the bottom.

“If you went with them, then you could put your favorite reviews on top,” Easley said. “Now that I know that people can pay to switch things around, I’ll go to the bottom to read reviews.”

But it is not true. Businesses cannot pay to rearrange reviews, according to Yelp’s Web site. If Easley had paid the $300 a month, she would not have been able to rearrange the reviews…

An aggressive telemarketing campaign has evidently been launched in Sonoma County, and while it looks like Yelp has lowered their price by $50, their pitch is continuing to bewilder business owners. Are the telemarketers being trained to intentionally mislead the people they call, promising control over a business profile for a handsome fee, fully aware that as soon as the SMB tries to shove their negative reviews out of sight, that promised power will be denied them? Or, are the telemarketers woefully ignorant of Yelp’s policies and are promising the moon to people in order to get a signature on the dotted line? Either way, no one has taken David Mihm’s good advice of getting this nonsense cleaned up by creating a clear, transparent Yelp policy that is strictly adhered to in all company communications with business owners and the general public.

You might have thought that the negative coverage during the summer would have been enough for Yelp to get real about this, but they’ve obviously failed to do so and the end result is a lengthening queue of angry local business owners who could have been happy customers. An ironic outcome of Yelp’s confusing tactics is that at least one business owner who has been promised total control of their listings has come away with this conclusion:

“Now that I know that people can pay to switch things around, I’ll go to the bottom to read reviews.”

While Yelp is certainly not the only review-oriented site that has been accused of misleading business owners, this is the second time in the course of a couple of months that this story has made headlines and with trust and public reputation hanging in the balance, Yelp needs to re-examine its tactics which, intentionally or not, are leading to genuine bad feelings in local business communities.

14 Responses to “SMBs Say Yuck To Yelp’s Telemarketers”

  1. […] Ellis of Solas Design has a related post on deceptive marketing practices on Yelp in the SF area: SMBs Say Yuck To Yelp’s Telemarketers « Will Mashups be threatened by Google’s Map API […]

  2. on 17 Nov 2008 at 3:43 pm Max Diamond

    I don’t get it. Yelp is now the same as Merchant Circle. Anyway, we all know the real value of Yelp and MC is the Link Juice. No body really goes direct to either site but the links show up on Google when you update your profile. As soon as Google. Changes there trusted sources, bye bye Yelp and MC

  3. on 17 Nov 2008 at 5:25 pm Donna

    Even if Yelp and MC are using dishonest tatics, it reflects badly on all reviews as far as I’m concerned. I won’t trust reviews at this point. They have shot themselves in the foot and damaged other companies invovled in reviews also – the ripple effect.

    How do we know these companies aren’t placing the “bad” reviews themselves so they can drum up business?

  4. on 17 Nov 2008 at 5:26 pm admin

    Welcome Max,
    Yes, the name of Merchant Circle is coming up very quickly in this examination of Yelp’s policies. Really disappointing to see similar business practices by Yelp.

    I’m not sure that people don’t use Yelp directly. I would say that they are one of the better-known review sites, and that the public is more likely to have heard of them than any of the other review entities, but trust is everything and if Yelp doesn’t get this right, they may lose the trust of the public – a large percentage of which is likely just getting to know the Yelp brand.

    Thank you for taking the time to comment.

  5. on 17 Nov 2008 at 5:29 pm David Mihm

    Interesting that no one at Yelp seems to have realized THEIR OWN reputation management problem… :)

    …the only good long-term strategy )which $350/mo. could certainly help with!) is to actually ENGAGE these customers who are leaving negative reviews, let them know you understand their problem, and remedy it. And if that doesn’t work, hire a professional reputation management company to combat the ones that refuse to change.

  6. on 18 Nov 2008 at 1:47 pm admin

    Hi Donna,
    Unfortunately, there have been accusations of review entities doing exactly that…creating false negative reviews and demanding protection money from the victimized business owners in order to have the reviews removed. This isn’t Yelp I’m talking about, but another company who shall remain nameless because I don’t want to start ranting about them.

    I don’t know of a foolproof review entity that you can implicitly trust, at this point. I continue to look at reviews with interest, and generally ask myself whether the contents I find feel legitimate or not. It’s hard to know.

    The loss of your trust is exactly what Yelp should be thinking about right now. Thanks, again, for showing this article to me, my friend!

  7. on 18 Nov 2008 at 1:49 pm admin

    Yet again, I think Yelp should listen to you!

    And yes, apparently Yelp doesn’t allow bad reviews of Yelp. Even Google permits bad press about Google to be included in their index.

    Thanks for stopping by, David!

  8. […] think</em> she said $195.00 a month!  Really though, it’s a bargain compared to $300.00 for Yelp!  I’m not 100% sure that was the quoted amount and I may call back just […]

  9. […] Miriam Ellis/SEO Igloo: SMBs Say Yuck To Yelp’s Telemarketers […]

  10. on 10 Dec 2008 at 2:27 am Nick

    The problem with review sites is that it doesn’t give the small business any justice when it comes to negative reviews. Wouldn’t it be more effective for the both customers and businesses to communicate with each other to resolve an issue first?
    This led us to create We allow the customer to post a question, suggestion, issue, discussion, or praise for the business. The business owner can sort by these categories and reply back on the same thread.

  11. […] Google bought YouTube, right? How about buying Yelp or Merchant Circle? Goodness knows, they love phoning small business owners. On second thought, how about buying some lesser known local directory company with a more savory […]

  12. […] quite a strong user base so will Yelp be able to set foot into this continent? If they use the same pro-active approach (by calling people) as in the United States we might be […]

  13. […] The Express’s Kathleen Richards interviewed a handful of business owners who claimed that Yelp sales reps had offered to take down negative reviews in exchange for advertising, and some who were even threatened with negative reviews if they did not advertise.  Naturally, Yelp decried the report and defended its practices.  And despite a follow-up story in the New York Times about Yelp’s “power to make or break a restaurant or small shop,” it remained unclear exactly what had happened.  This wasn’t the first story that suggested Yelp’s sales reps were pursuing some questionable tactics. […]

  14. on 05 Mar 2010 at 2:13 pm AJ

    I have a client who is being assassinated on Yelp, no matter how many good reviews they receive. Once a good review goes up, it mysteriously disappears. Having been their customer for over thirty years, I put up a good review of my own only to discover that it posted, another good review was immediately removed. Other clients attempting to post favorable reviews have experienced the same thing. While good reviews seem to hit a round file, the three nasty reviews they have remain the same and are often the only ones left standing at the end of any given day.

    Yelp’s practices seem shady to say the least. At worst, there is absolutely no way to contact them as either a business owner or a user. It’s truly frightening and, needless to say, I no longer believe they are fair or impartial. They’re just creepy.

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