Why Small Business Owners Hate Yelp

September 09 / Eliot Olson / filed under Reputation Management


A mere mention of the name can send shivers down the spine of even the most beloved local business owner. Whenever I speak with a small business owner and I bring up Yelp, the frustration is palpable. “The review filtering is blocking all my good reviews!” they exclaim. “They won’t stop pushing me to use their Yelp ads service,” they say. Ultimately it seems “I hate Yelp” is the oft-repeated refrain. Some might listen in on these conversations and write them off as sour grapes, but what if these concerns about Yelp are legitimate?

Image from Flickr user DanOx, used under Creative Commons License.

Image courtesy of Flickr user DanOx.


Wait, Yelp Is Awesome! Why Do Small Business Owners Hate Yelp?

For years, there have been complaints of shady practices by Yelp but without hard evidence these complaints are usually dismissed as unfounded. Much of the concern over Yelp’s business practices is related to their “Recommended Review” filtering feature. In a perfect world, this filter is meant to catch people who are writing negative reviews out of spite (former employee, disgruntled customer, etc.) or out of blind positivity (friendship with the owner, someone’s very proud mother, etc.). In reality, some business owners’ claim, this review filtering process is used to strongarm businesses into advertising with Yelp or punish those who choose not to. The FTC had received more than 2,000 complaints about Yelp’s business practices from 2008 to 2014, many of them related to these exact complaints.


Many of these complaints will be hitting the big screen later this year in the documentary Billion Dollar Bully. The documentary follows legal action taken by business owners against Yelp based on their review filtering practices and threats from salespeople regarding the reputation of businesses that choose not to utilize Yelp’s advertising services. You can see the trailer for yourself below:



Yelp, for its part, has denied any and all accusations of unfair practices regarding review filtering. In their defense they highlight the legal victories they have had over business owners who have brought lawsuits. Yelp’s critics often counter that these legal victories, such as 2011’s Levitt v. Yelp Inc. were won on technicalities – the judgment favored Yelp on the basis that no business has a “right” to have their positive reviews published and that publishing negative reviews does not meet the legal definition of “economic extortion.” While this is a technical victory for Yelp, this legal decision can also be read as enabling Yelp to legally engage in the very practices they deny doing. namely filtering out positive reviews at their own discretion. Regardless of whether these decisions give them legal grounds to do so, Yelp maintains that their review filtering algorithm has no relation to a business owners’ standing as a Yelp advertiser. Either way, the secrecy of that algorithm and the perceived unfairness of the filtering system has many small business owners’ crying foul.


What Can A Concerned Small Business Owner Do To Protect Their Online Reputation?

Because there is no way to opt out of being listed on Yelp, some business owners have taken the extreme tactic of encouraging hordes of negative Yelp reviews from their customers in order to ensure that none of the reviews are ever taken seriously. One such business is Botto Bistro in Richmond, CA. Owner Davide Cerretini actually started offering customers 25% off discounts in exchange for one-star ratings on Yelp. The move may have generated some great buzz for the trendy Bay Area restaurant, but actively submarining your online reputation just isn’t an advisable move for most business owners.


While you may have a chance at some fleeting viral fame, here at Chair 10 Marketing we don’t recommend the Botto Bistro route. Instead we believe that it is best to take the strengths of review sites like Yelp (trusted reputation, strong organic search rankings, etc.) and leverage those attributes to help your own business. We offer reputation management services that can assist in this process for you, but there are even some simple steps you can take on your own. For example, simply asking satisfied customers to review you when you know they love your business can be a great everyday best practice. When you do get positive reviews, share them on social media to promote yourself. It is also important to claim your pages on Yelp and other review sites and then be an active participant by responding thoughtfully to negative reviews and thanking customers for positive reviews. Will these tactics result in a 5-star rating from ever visitor to your Yelp page? Probably not. The occasional unhappy customer is an inherent part of doing business in any industry, but by actively managing your online reputation you can neutralize the impact of the negative reviews and increase the flow of positive reviews!