Everybody loves Yelp, right? Yet there has been negative press about the San Francisco -based company and its methods. On April 3, the LA Times carried a piece by David Lazarus headlined “Yelp’s tactics feel “nefarious” and “fishy” , even if they’re legal.”
How did things get this bad? The theory has been put forth that because Yelp was founded in 2004 and has yet to make a profit, the stockholders are restive and the pressure is on to squeeze very possible dollar out of the company. An Alhambra jeweler who cancelled his Yelp ad reported that the Yelp salesperson advised him that now his competitors’ ads would appear alongside his but that for $75 per month “she could make those ads go away”.
Along with extortion over ad placement Yelp has also been accused of demanding payment to remove malicious reviews and being less than cooperative in addressing false claims. You can get a basic Yelp listing for $75 a month but you have no say in what is posted next to your ad. Could be your competitor. If you want to banish the competitor from view, you’re looking at $300 a month in the major markets. It was San Francisco attorney Antone Johnson who described Yelp’s conduct as being nefarious etc. “It doesn’t pass the smell test, ” he says “But I don’t see a statute that they’re actually violating.”
Yelp has been hauled into court for its practices but so far the courts have held that Yelp is shielded by the 1996 Communications Decency Act, which protects a website’s right to determine its own content. Sounds like a noble aim but it’s doubtful that protecting practices like Yelp’s was what the enactors intended.
I have been told by a couple of local merchants that Yelp is playing the same game up here. Have any of you done business with them? We’d love to hear your story.
(Note: I could not secure a link to the Lazarus story, nor, apparently could the Sac Bee. It’s in the April 3 LA Times.)