Monday, August 25, 2008

As if I Needed More Reasons Why Yelp! Sucks....

I've been on the Yelp!-hate bandwagon for a very long time, so it's wonderful to see the increasing attention that's being focused on Yelp!'s shady business practices and general shitiness.

Check out this post from EaterLA.

The basic gist? A proprietor complained to Yelp! about a factually inaccurate negative review and rather than ameliorate (or at the very least ignore) the situation, Yelp! actually removed a POSITIVE review under the dubious justification that they thought it was written by the proprietor. They also tried to sell her an advertising package that would deemphasize negative reviews.

Yelp! is also engaging in extortion-like practices. After a restaurant receives a flurry of negative reviews, Yelp! salespeople call the business offering to "fix" the situation in exchange for their advertising fee ($350/month) which will move the negative reviews to the bottom. Extortion by itself? No. But it is questionable because it opens up the opportunity for salespeople to load-up a site with negative reviews and then call to sell the service of deemphasizing those reviews.

For an extensive discussion of this topic, check out this article from The Register.

The first thing to remember is that Yelp! makes no money. Their expenses far exceed their revenue so they're trying everything they can to fix that.

The problem is they have two primary revenue streams:

1. They make money on general advertising generated by traffic to Yelp! To facilitate this, Yelp! pushes the social-networking aspect of their site so as to encourage users to spend a lot of time on the site and visit regularly.

2. They make money from the businesses that appear on Yelp! by selling them a variety of services at a range of prices that allow businesses to determine to a significant degree how their page appears.

It should be noted that Yelp! makes no claims to change the orders of user reviews for advertisers other than to allow the advertiser to select which review appears first. This is contradicted by numerous anecdotal claims by business owners, some of which are catalogued in the Register article linked to above.

But here's the conflict, businesses get pissed off about inaccurate/misleading/vindictive reviews, but Yelp! doesn't want to do anything about it since they don't want to alienate their users. This in turn alienates the businesses who then don't want to advertise. You see, why would you advertise on Yelp! if you have all positive reviews? Alternately, why would you give Yelp! money if you see it as an unregulated venue for malicious pricks with no real understanding of your business?

Thusly, why would any business give Yelp! money?

Enter the "rogue salespersons" who decide to target businesses that have received recent negative reviews (greatly streamlining their saleswork) and offer to push the negative reviews to the bottom. There are still no reports of negative reviews being removed, the terminology used in most articles is "deemphasized" or "suppressed."

Essentially the only way Yelp! can secure their second revenue stream is through either ignorance (rarely is there a restaurant of any particular esteem that has bought Yelp! advertising) and increasingly, extortion.

Businesses need to know that very few people actually make decisions based on viewing Yelp! It's basically a glorified phone book, especially outside of the SF Bay Area. Citysearch and Metromix are much simpler guides for the basics and also have their own editorial content.

Yelp! is exploiting the excitement/anxiety/fear/hype over "Web 2.0" to get money from businesses who might not be particularly well-versed in how the internet works. They might not know that 50,000 hits on a website doesn't mean 50,000 people will visit your restaurant. In most cases it doesn't mean 50 people will visit your restaurant.

So here we have for the first time my codified anti-Yelp! credo. Adopt it and help to bring an end to perhaps the shadiest major site on the internet.

1. Do not use Yelp! for any legitimate purpose. If you want to read it for research or to make fun of Yelp!ers then please do, but don't ever decide whether you'll visit a business or not because of Yelp! reviews either solely or in part.

2. Do not visit a business that has sponsored Yelp! They're collaborateurs. This should be surprisingly easy since as I mentioned before very few esteemed businesses sponsor Yelp!

3. Suggest that businesses remove their "People Love Us On Yelp!" stickers. Tell them that there's a growing group of disgruntled foodies who are starting to see this as a negative indicator. Kinda like the Hobo Code for "dishonest man lives here."

4. Always include the exclamation mark when writing about Yelp! I just think it makes Yelp! and Yelp!ers look silly.

Who's with me?


charlie w. said...

i'm with you! they deleted my review of Corso, and for that they shall perish. PERISH!

Zack said...

This kind of corruption is seriously problematic, but Yelp still doesn't have a credible rival that I can desert them for.

Metromix doesn't cover SF at all, and Citysearch's anemic database is useful to nobody.

Alternately, why would you give Yelp! money if you see it as an unregulated venue for malicious pricks with no real understanding of your business?

Because those "malicious pricks" are reaching potential customers and persuading them not to give you money. Ignoring negative messaging is how you get swiftboated. I mean, that's kind of how extortion works.

David J.D. said...

It's true that Yelp! has a stranglehold on the SF Bay Area review market.

Your point is taken, however I think that Yelp! largely relies upon businesses that don't understand the internet and review sites. It exploits business owners' ignorance about and fear of the the sway that Yelp! (and other sites) have. They think that their negative reviews are really hurting their business and that paying Yelp! $500 will bring people in.

This is purely my own observational opinion, but I think that Yelp! et al, while perhaps influential within its circle, has no real influence over whether a business succeeds or fails.

I'm speaking primarily about the restaurant/bar world. It could be that certain very specific niche businesses may succeed based on Yelp! networking, but the vast vast vast majority of businesses succeed or fail based on their own competence, location, and luck, not on a three versus four star rating on Yelp!

James said...

Yelp!!!can suck !t.

Tams said...

as a small business owner, Yelp! tried to make money off of us. and when we didn't comply, all that showed up on the top of our page were our negative comments. i really wish Yelp! never existed. it truly is a forum for losers to hide behind a computer and front like they know what's good and what's not.

Fishbits said...

It is so much more complex than just "good or bad", just as my complicated ramble here probably suggests. I *really* dislike yelp for so many reasons... mainly for ones of total lack of verification. It's sort of the myspace of the review world. But this post sort of explains it a little...

Open Table reviews are obviously more legitimate. It's night and day...

but there are few platforms (and tripadvisor get attacked on some of the same levels you talk about yelp here) where I can reach out to guests or clients, engage them on their experience, and learn from them, or use their review as an endorsement - advocating your business with not one dollar of marketing money spent. These reviews add up... and it is a forest for the tree thing.

Individual trees are stupid, wrong, boring, lies on behalf of an owner or angry customer, etc. =) (I do not believe in stupid trees, don't worry... just following through a bad analogy)

The forest is an amalgamation of healthy trees, unhealthy trees, neutral ones, etc.... and that forest ends up being really big.

I used to waste all my time with individual reviews and the algorithmic problems, etc (

But we are focused on a minute few, TEENY percentage of the overall reviews. Then you start throwing out all the reviews that are windbaggish, pointless, or just obviously not helpful, and you *STILL* have a large amount of valid reviews of people handling, interacting, and messaging your brand..... if you ignore that you are, simply, out of touch. You can barely handle or maintain a brand message anymore... it's all in the hands of the consumers. Whether you like it or not, businesses need to go to where the customers are, and defer to them. If you simply let people manipulate or slam your brand with no interaction.... it's irresponsible. So this gets into the ethical realm.... does yelp's ethics violations become egregious enough for one to violate the need for your business to succeed. This is a serious ethical discussion.... but I don't think yelp's problems necessitate that I step away from the site, potentially hurting my business. Frankly... yelp is a medium, where I am communicating and interacting directly with customers. I don't care what yelp is doing, because it's successful from a biz end.

But it comes down to this:

I get to directly interact with guests/customers - learn from them, engage them, and let them advocate our brand. I can repair damaged situations, give personal, intimate service on the cold wide web, and help my businesses survive and grow during this down economy and broken marketing model.

However, i don't think Yelp will be here forever. Social media is young, and growing. Eventually this will turn into a real time interaction, or a more meaningful, standardized form of reviewing (could you imagine if opentable started allowing business owners to interact with reviewers?)

Whatever the case, I know there isn't another viable option for yelp... myspace had the catbird seat for years when facebook started. And it fell in less than a year.

Here's to hopin.

Fishbits said...

One more thing - boycotting is silly. As people see more vacuous reviews that really don't help, people will move away from it just like myspace.

That being said, look from a hotelier's perspective. If you spend $1000 a month, and it does increase your page views, you really only need to convert one or two of those page views into a couple nights at your hotel and you have gotten ROI plus. Think of it.... 1000 page views a month for a hotel, if one person comes for 3 nights, you likely have it covered. Conversion in traditional (shakey, no reliable) print media of ad model stuff is well above that. It makes sense to advert with them, just as people did with myspace and moved away from it.