Business owner shares details of Yelp’s alleged ratings manipulation

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Yelp has long faced allegations that it extorts businesses into paying to display good reviews. Now one of our forum users is stepping forth with details of his brush with a Yelp salesperson.

Read more: How to post a hotel review online without getting any blowback

Talking to Yelp sales rep is like ‘speaking to the mafia’

In a post titled Yelp Extortion! on our Clark Stinks messageboard, user ryant posted the following message:

‘Hi Clark, You mentioned in a previous episode that you rely on Yelp for recommendations to restaurants and other venues when you travel. I wonder if you understand their corrupt and inaccurate their method of displaying reviews.’

‘I’m a general manager for a small home services company in Atlanta. We have hundreds of legitimate 5-star reviews on other review websites (Kudzu, Angie’s List etc), however Yelp has my company rated at 1.5 stars (3 reviews from 2012 & 2013).’

‘We never gave Yelp much thought until it started appearing at the top of every Google search. Since we do not pay Yelp for any advertising, Yelp hides our more recent 35+ 4-star & 5-star reviews under the ‘other reviews not recommended’ section of our Yelp page.’

‘This hyperlinked lettering is grayed out and difficult for a consumer to find. Another problem is that these good reviews are not reflected in the ‘star rating’ that shows under our name in a Google search. So, it looks like we are a horrible service provider.’

‘I contacted a Yelp sales rep to discuss advertising and felt like I was speaking to the mafia. If I pay $600/mo (1 year contract, so actually $7,200), our reviews will begin to be ‘recommended’ and will reflect on our ‘star rating.’ Please search ‘Yelp Extortion’ on the web to find more info’

‘Please reconsider the way you search for good restaurants and other businesses while you travel as you may be missing out on wonderful experiences simply because a business refuses to pay to play.’

Business owner shares details of Yelp's alleged extortion


Yelp has vigorously defended itself in court anytime an allegation of extortion has come up. One of the most recent instances was last year when a case went before the 9th US Circuit Court of Appeals and was thrown out by the judges because they saw no grounds for charges of manipulation or extortion.

So businesses have had no legal support for their grievances about the company. Yet the grievances still persist…

Perhaps the most ingenious way to highlight the perception some businesses have that Yelp operates on a ‘pay to play’ business model is what was cooked up by an Italian restaurant in the Bay area called Botto Italian Bistro.

Located in Redwood, Calif., Botto has a unique strategy for dealing with Yelp: They’ll actually reward customers who leave a one-star review with 50% off a pizza!

That’s resulted in some hilarious reviews on their Yelp page:

‘The pizza tastes like the rag at Denny’s that they use to wipe down the counters and tabletops.’ – Brad S.

‘The pizza arrived at the table with a dead rat under the cheese’ – Devin W.

‘This place is great if you’re fortunate enough to have had all your tastebuds removed…’ – Jordan R.

‘Had a quick dinner after returning from a nice Napa outing.  This place is a disaster.  I have had a more enjoyable dinner eating cardboard with a side of boiled shoes.  Will be back weekly for more bad memories.’ – Dan C.

Botto Bistro wants these kinds of reviews so it can protest against the review site, which it said made several aggressive sales calls that were allegedly veiled threats.

Clearly, there’s a huge chasm between how businesses feel about the site and how consumers feel about it. What’s your experience with Yelp been like? Write in with a comment below and tell us!

Read more: Can you really trust that online review?

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