Are you a small business owner? Then you’re very familiar with Yelp, which is one of the largest review communities for small businesses on the internet. This article will share the backstory on why businesses are claiming Yelp is basically the digital mafia. We’ll also give you proven tips on how to get lots more 5 star reviews. One of the most highly anticipated films of 2019 is Billion Dollar Bully, a documentary film about Yelp’s alleged extortion of small business owners.
This topic was so popular, after the trailer was released in March of 2015, Yelp’s stock fell by more than 4%.
As of May 21, 2019, the full-length film is available on iTunes and Amazon Video.
WHAT’S THE MOVIE ABOUT, ANYWAY?
The claims made by hundreds of business owners alleged that Yelp “routinely manipulates reviews by reordering them so negative reviews appear at the top or removing positive mentions if a company doesn’t buy advertising.”
One small business called The Wheelhouse claims that they were hit with a ‘Consumer Alert’ pop up (the equivalent of a Scarlet Letter) on their Yelp page after refusing to buy Yelp ads.
In 2013, the CEO Jeremy Stoppelman claimed on the Charlie Rose Show that Yelp is basically like Wikipedia, where consumers can go to find honest information.
Yelp claims to have an automated system that filters out unfair reviews. A spokesperson for Yelp said:
“Our recommendation software has always been engineered to surface the most useful and reliable reviews, and has been improved over time to be even more effective at sifting fake and biased reviews, and attempts by businesses to game the system.”
These claims ultimately led to an FTC investigation that ultimately didn’t pan out. Yelp routinely points to this as evidence of no wrongdoing on their part, but this is far from reality as Kaylie Milliken, one of the creators of the film, points out:
“That doesn’t necessarily mean a case won’t be reopened eventually. The FTC has a very limited budget and the amount of cases they can bring against a company is small.”
Yelp correspondents also point out that a Harvard study disproves that Yelp was engaging in any form of extortion or manipulation of reviews based on whether a business pays them for advertising or not.
HOW IS YELP DOING IN THE MIDST OF ALL THIS?
Yelp is still a popular platform, dominated by what is called the ‘Yelp Elite,’ which are consumers that are awarded Elite status for being active review posters on the site.
However, new evidence suggests that The Yelp Elite are becoming obsolete, according to Eater.
In fact, in 2015, South Park parodied the whole situation by having Cartman in a plot line to extort free food from restaurants in exchange for not acting on his threat of leaving a 1 star review.
To add insult to injury, Anthony Bourdain said in 2017 that “There’s really no worse, or lower human being than an Elite Yelper,” declaring them “universally loathed by chefs everywhere.”
Sensing the shifts in the public’s perception of them being a fair platform, Yelp has fought back by buying the domain BillionDollarBully.com and redirecting it to a page on their site where they claim that they don’t extort business owners.
They also bought Google Ads searching for Billion Dollar Bully to attempt to direct folks searching for information on the movie to their landing page where they deny any allegation of extortion:
It seems small businesses have a grudge against Yelp because Yelp has leverage over them.
Yelp, in karmic turn, has a grudge against the only platform that has leverage over them, which is of course, the almighty Google.
Yelp has famously had a grudge against Google for a number of years, with the CEO Jeremy Stoppelman on Twitter accusing Google of snatching reviews from their site and using them in ads:
Ultimately this culminated in the European Union fining Google $2.7B (the largest anti-trust fine in history) for unfairly favoring its own services over its competitors. However, this had nothing to do with Yelp specifically, because it was targeted to Google Shopping.
Oracle was another large company that supported this fine, among other tech companies.
In summary, lots of small business owners hate Yelp for having leverage over them and Yelp in turn hates Google for having leverage over it.
WHAT DOES THIS MEAN FOR ME?
What is a small business owner or solo-preneur to do about all of this online infighting?
You are probably concerned about your online reputation (as you should be if you own a small business) so let’s unfurl some of the ways that you can mitigate this alleged extortion and come out on top.
One idea is to take a page out of David Cerretini’s book (owner of Botto Bistro) and simply ask customers to leave 1-star reviews as a publicity stunt.
But for those of us that don’t have nerves of steel to undertake such a bold stunt, let’s discuss more practical strategies…
HOW TO BEAT YELP’S ALLEGED UNFAIR PRACTICES AND GET MORE 5 STAR REVIEWS
If you’re a small business owner, you need every trick and edge that you can get.
Your competition is likely using these same tactics to beat you, so why not learn how to dominate your competition online and come out on top?
You’re fighting for survival in an over-saturated market, so you need ways to stand out and online reviews are one big way to do just that.
However, with Yelp’s alleged demands to pay them a monthly fee for ads or risk having your good reviews filtered out, how are you able to manage this?
Several proven tactics are currently being shared within private industry Facebook Groups, small business forums, and the Darknet.
Some of the more promising ones include:
- Having an internal review system
- Asking your happy customers to review you (via email and SMS)
- Marking filtered reviews as Useful
- Asking customers who submitted a filtered review to add their friends on Yelp
Here they are broken down with instructions:
1. Have an internal review system – Allow unhappy customers to have a chance to review you internally before running to Yelp. Send an email, phone call, or SMS message to ask them about their service after it’s complete
2. Ask your happy customers to review you – Once customers rate their service as great, follow up with an email / SMS asking them to review you on Yelp – and include links to your Yelp page
3. Marking filtered reviews as Useful – Go into your Filtered Reviews and mark them as useful, which will help bump them out of the Filtered section (use a proxy or VPN so you’re not doing this from your own IP address
4. Ask customers who submitted a filtered review to add their friends on Yelp (so their profile gets a greater reputation in Yelp’s eyes and the review becomes unfiltered)
I’m confident that these tips and tricks will help you get more 5 star reviews for your business!
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