Dallas Small Businesses Claim Yelp Hides Positive Reviews Until They Advertise

Yelp Accused of Hiding Positive Non-Advertiser Reviews

Yelp (NYSE: YELP) is yet again facing accusations that it’s creating a pay-to-play scheme to get more businesses to buy advertisements on the popular review platform.

This time, Dallas area businesses are accusing Yelp of hiding five-star reviews when they refused to pay for advertising, according to a report from CBS Dallas/Fort Worth.

Yelp Accused of Hiding Positive Non-Advertiser Reviews

Bob Sinnott, owner of Toasted Coffee + Kitchen in Greenville, Texas is one of those business owners. Sinnott shared his account with CBS, explaining that Yelp called him to sell advertisements many times. Then after he refused to purchase, his rating immediately dropped. And many of his five-star reviews were placed into the “not recommended” section, where they’re less visible to local browsers.

This is far from the first time Yelp has been accused of such a scheme. Yelp has even responded in the past, making site changes and promising to improve transparency about how it operates. But those changes clearly haven’t stopped the accusations.

What Can Small Businesses Do?

So what is a small business to do? Some have already filed lawsuits. But courts have ruled that Yelp has the right to manipulate ratings on its own site and businesses don’t have a right to positive reviews.

It’s unclear whether businesses that pay for advertising really do have a better chance of making their business information and positive reviews more visible to relevant customers. However, at least one of the Dallas business owners interviewed by CBS said they eventually just caved and paid for advertising. After that, the owner says business ratings on the site improved.

If you’re concerned the accusations against Yelp are true, the best course of action could be to simply focus on promoting and guiding customers to other platforms that include reviews, like Facebook and Google. And of course, providing excellent customer service is always a great way to ensure more positive reviews for your business, no matter what the practices of the platform are.

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Annie Pilon Annie Pilon is a Senior Staff Writer for Small Business Trends, covering entrepreneur profiles, interviews, feature stories, community news and in-depth, expert-based guides. When she’s not writing she can be found exploring all that her home state of Michigan has to offer.

9 Reactions
  1. I think its important to know both side of this story doesn’t seem right But courts have ruled that Yelp has the right to manipulate ratings on its own site and businesses don’t have a right to positive reviews. so I’m unsure at this point

  2. OPEN LETTER TO DONALD TRUMP: I have been attacked by Yelp’s extortion tactics! After refusing to pay Yelp for advertising, Yelp retaliated by removing 84 consumer reviews from my restaurant’s average score … thus lowering my average from almost 4.5/5 to 3.5/5. Yelp continues to remove 4 & 5 star reviews daily. I have proof.

    Now that I’ve done a little research, I see that Yelp has harassed almost every small business owner in America … extorting $1 billion in advertising fees annually from businesses in exchange for a favorable review average. Yelp’s primary revenue stream is extortion. They are a modern-day cyber-mafia. Do business with us or we retaliate! Yelp is attempting to control who succeeds and who doesn’t.

    Small business owners need that $1 billion to grow, hire employees, award merit raises to existing employees, and ultimately expand the economy. That money should not be going to a fake-review, cyber-bully behemoth.

    Donald – You’ve helped us with taxes. Now help us with Yelp. Let’s use that money to make America great again … not to delay Yelp’s inevitable demise. It’s easy to prove. Let’s do this. Right now.

    • I have had the same experience with YELP only 5 reviews all 5 star, however since I will not advertise with them they have made them all “not currently recommended” I have proof as well but it shows that this government is for sale and we just don’t count since we won’t pay for justice

  3. I am a business owner who refuses to buy into what feels like unfair bullying. They’re quick to post the less than five star reviews but they certainly hide a bunch of my five stars. Why? I feel they do this because I don’t pay them any money. Due to this unfair, and in my opinion, unetical company, I never mention Yelp to my customers. They perfer Google anyway because Google is far more fair and trusted. Yelp has created a dispicable reputation which the general public just doesn’t trust anymore and people are leaving it in droves. They made their bed, now they can sleep in it. Karma has came full circle — greed and bullying never win. Own it, Yelp!

  4. I paid for one month of yelp advertising and when I canceled they removed all 22 5 star reviews and I am left with one review that isn’t even for me left on my page

  5. My sentiment as well… I have a service related business and it took me 5 years to accumulate 33 reviews in my analytics. Within a month, one by one, they were removed and hidden and now I have 14 reviews displayed on my page. This happened to me in a matter of a couple weeks… each day I looked I lost reviews. I used to be their biggest fan but not any longer.

  6. Yelp is a JOKE!!! I used them for ads for a year. They called and called. The salespeople always changed on the account, they were trying so hard to get me to buy. The sneakiest part was the phone numbers they used. They constantly changed and they even used local area codes so that I would pick up, since most of the sales staff is in AZ.
    Once I bit, i noticed no change in my Yelp page. The statistics they give you are a joke “a man in his thirties from Manhattan, NY clicked on your website.” Wow!!! Thanks Yelp.
    Of course they showed their fake graph where I was appearing in sooo many more searches. Amount of business gained…zero. Best part was when I started getting fake reviews from competitors! They wouldn’t help me at all!
    I heard a statistic that out of the millions of businesses on Yelp, less than 4% go with them for ads. I wish I would have known that before I signed up. Lesson learned. Yelp sucks

  7. Yes, The Yelp sales people call me every few weeks. my business is very small and very new. I have 5 5-star reviews, and all are hidden. So my yelp listing has zero stars. All the reviews are legit, from clients, but they are hidden as though they are fraudulent.
    Each time Yelp calls, I tell them that if they can at least explain why all the reviews of my business are hidden, while this is not the case for my competitors, I will consider buying ads. their answer is always “the algorithm” but none of them know what that means.

  8. The best way to deal with Yelp as a small business is to never ever take their calls. Tell the Yelp representative that the owner or decision-maker is out, or in a meeting, or on vacation, every time they call. They’ll call you from different numbers. As soon as you take that first Yelp meeting, or discuss your Yelp account on the phone, your ratings will tank overnight. Don’t talk to the Yelp rep or give them any information about the business, just say you’re not able to give out any information without approval and that the owner is hard to pin down. Encourage your clients to leave reviews on Google and screenshot all your reviews for records.