We Give Yelp a "1"

Many of our clients ask our opinion of Yelp prior to disclosing their review of Yelp, to which we have historically stood neutral...let's say a 3.  However, we are changing our 3 star review of Yelp to a 1.  And as we frequently read from Yelpers reviewing local restaurants, "if we could give negative stars we would".  

We've bit our tongue for years because some of our clients do see value in Yelp. Even those who aren't spending money on "featured listings" see actionable data (albeit from Yelp) and believe Yelp drives users to their business.  Nobody is debating that millions of people use Yelp to locate a restaurant in their area (usually an unfamiliar one).

However, the majority of our clients are fed up.  They are adamant Yelp is bad for their business, and that they have little-to-no control over what users see and post on Yelp.  With mounting public lawsuits from local businesses, Yelp has made themselves indefensible to these accusations.  

Yet it doesn't seem like Yelp could care any less. Their shoulder-shrugging attitude combined with their claims that "it's just a platform, and we don't control the content" has infuriated business owners.  According to Harvard Business Review, one un-responded negative review can cost a restaurant $7,000 annually.  

Yelp knows this, and they have built a business model around it.  They know reviews can make or break your livelihood, and what do they want in return? Your money.  Our clients frequently tell us they feel like their good reviews are being suppressed, while the bad ones stay at the top until their perky ad rep calls and says, "yeah we can probably help you with that...oh and if you pay extra we'll ensure your competitors don't show up on your own page".   Here's a screenshot from just one of our angry clients who launched a new restaurant last month:

Click to expand

We could go off on a tangent about the core of the problem - Yelp reviewers. You know the ones who leave their little apartment to make a big impact on the culinary world by posting a scathing review about their $6.00 burger not being "medium rare plus"? Those people have no idea the damage they are doing to their own local economy.  These keyboard warriors are real tough until the manager responds trying to rectify the situation and then, silence; but we'll let a real chef elaborate here:

So what's the basis for our own blasting of Yelp?  As if they haven't harassed the restaurant industry enough, Yelp decided to cut its ties with review software platforms that help agencies like ours manage the reputation of our clients. This means agencies and local businesses who rely on software to pull in reviews from the entire web aren't able anymore to see Yelp reviews or historical data without going to Yelp directly.

Why is Yelp doing this? Most likely the same reason our restaurants claim they suppress positive reviews and promote negative....Wall Street $$$$.

To make things worse, Yelp claims they did this is because "reviews should be organic and unsolicited" .  And if you didn't just spit out your coffee at the hypocrisy of that message, you can read this ridiculous press release by their VP.  

So let's summarize: Yelp creates a platform for users to complain on, local businesses then try to get their happy customers to post reviews to balance the negativity, and then Yelp tries to shut down this practice by suppressing positive reviews, cutting ties with software platforms, and then asks for money.  What decade is this again? 

The good news is the tide is turning, and with user behavior changing this will soon be a non-issue for local businesses.  Google, Facebook and Instagram have done a tremendous job for local businesses, and the numbers are showing. Google's display of local results along with reviews, photos, menus, interior 360 shots, and Facebook's check-in functionality and promotional aspects are winning users over. Instagram has become the mecca for food & wine bragging rights, which does nothing but compliment and help grow a restaurant's business.  Our clients have seen a drop in Yelp reviews by 18% this year, with that percentages directly crossing over to Google and Facebook.   

For now, we urge our clients to educate their customers about Yelp's business practices. Give your customers a voice (preferably before they leave), and let them  know their reviews are welcome on your own website, Google or Facebook.  If the Yelpers quit their yelping on Yelp, Yelp's market share will dwindle faster than you can stay Yahoo!