Clarifying The Yelp! Position on Advertising and Reviews
In the past we've looked at Yelp!, which powers Siri and Apple Maps results, is more important than may small business owners may think. Florists should take advantage of the free opportunities Yelp! offers and claim/manage their free listing.
One of the concerns small business owners, including florists, have had about Yelp! involves paid advertising. Some small business owners believe that they have been pressured to but Yelp! ads, and been penalized with negative reviews if they did not.
Yelp denies these claims and has repeatedly stated that “conspiracies” about its operations have been thoroughly debunked by independent research. Yelp! also claims its automated review filter effectively weeds out trolls and fake reviews, creating a fair and unbiased picture of user consensus toward any particular business.
More recently they made the following statement:
Portland Press Herald
Conspiracy theorists have had their day in court on more than one occasion, but courts have repeatedly dismissed their lawsuits claiming that ratings and reviews on Yelp are somehow tied to advertising,” the company’s website says. “There’s no amount of money a business can pay to manipulate their reviews or rating, and Yelp doesn’t skew things in favor of advertisers or against businesses that don’t.”
This is not entirely true.
Courts have not, strictly speaking, stated that Yelp! does not manipulate reviews based on advertising. Courts have instead declared that Yelp! is entirely allowed to manipulate reviews based on advertising. It is true that lawsuits have been dismissed, but not because the claims were proven to be untrue. Instead they were dismissed because legally Yelp! is free to manipulate reviews however it sees fit.
This also does not prove that Yelp! attempts to penalize non-advertisers. There are many claims of such practices, but no proof.
What it does confirm is that Yelp! is free, according to the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco, to manipulate reviews as they see fit.
"As Yelp has the right to charge for legitimate advertising services, the (alleged) threat of economic harm ... is, at most, hard bargaining," and not extortion or unfair business practices, Judge Marsha Berzon said in Tuesday's 3-0 ruling.
This means that Yelp! does indeed have the power to help a florist suffering from poor reviews improve their standing. For example positive reviews could be removed from the "Not Recommended" section, and negative reviews moved to it – improving the overall rating.
Again – Yelp! claims that they do not do this, but they do legally have the power. Unfortunately it exposes florists that don't want to pay for advertising to the kind of "hard bargaining" tactics described by Judge Berzon, but it also gives florists with bad reviews with the opportunity to change them.