Yelp has been the subject of a new crop of stories from business owners claiming they are being shaken down to become advertisers.
Last month, LA Times columnist Sandy Banks reported on a sign she saw at a local restaurant: “Stop the Bully. Boycott Yelp,” it read.
That lead to an outpouring of reader comments from business owners who complained that “good reviews routinely were hidden and bad ones displayed” until they became paid Yelp advertisers.
We also recently reported on restaurant manager Ed Wells who told us that bad reviews started pouring in after he refused to advertise on Yelp.
That’s nothing short of extortion and it’s an old accusation. It even led to a flurry of lawsuits in 2011 which the courts ultimately dismissed.
But the stories persist. Yesterday, the Washington Post followed up with a video news report on Yelp.
So today Yelp’s top PR honcho, Vince Sollitto, fired back with a blog post denying claims of “extortion” and daring people to use a Google search to “see for yourself.”
Here’s his explanation of why these accusations won’t quit:
“Ironically, it stems from Yelp’s efforts to protect consumers from those who are constantly trying to game the system. Yelp uses automated software to showcase the most helpful and reliable reviews from among the millions submitted. Those that don’t make the grade — about 20 percent — are posted to a separate “Filtered Review” page. So, in trying to prevent unethical wrongdoing on Yelp, Yelp gets accused of the same.”
He also admitted that the algorithm isn’t perfect.
“One downside of having automated software screen more than 39 million reviews is that some perfectly legitimate reviews are inevitably caught in the filter. This is the price we have to pay given the reality of efforts to mislead consumers.”
Given the ongoing stories from business owners, Yelp is struggling to shake off this perception.
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