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10 reasons Yelp is like the mafia

For those of you who are not familiar with the popular website Yelp; it is a review site.  The original concept of was very cutting edge and clever. People could leave a review for any business that they have visited or the could browse reviews before visiting of a new local restaurant or club. Yelp uses a complex method and algorithm for deciding if the reviews are  made by actual people. If the deem the review to be false, in any way they “filter” the reviews off the business page.

The popularity of Yelp soared and with the advancement of social media, daily deals and mobile applications, Yelp saw that there was an untapped revenue stream right under their noses.

Business quickly realized that online reviews could greatly impact their bottom line.  One negative review could send customers to the restaurant down the road, while a perfect 5 star rating could keep the dinner reservations full.

Yelp came up ways to turn this into a very lucrative revenue stream.  They began offering “advertising” on their website for a larger than normal fee. Part of the advertising would include removing negative comments, unfiltering reviews, and layering your business’s reviews over a competitors page.

Yelp has been under intense scrutiny in the past couple of years for their “advertising” practices.  There was a class action law suit against them, which has been dismissed in court.

Here is MY story of dealing with the Mafia aka

I’m a small business owner…very small business.  I’m a licensed Massage Therapist and have a private practice. I have a small, one room, massage studio which I work out of.  I am the only employee.   I am the owner, Massage Therapist, receptionist, janitor, book keeper….Just me, I do it all.

I have a traditional website for my business, I also take advantage of any and all free online advertising.

When I first opened my business, I went on the Yelp website and built a business page.  Shortly I received my first online review, it was very exciting.

5 stars accompanied by a great recommendation.

A few weeks later I received my next review….also 5 stars with another great recommendation.

I was thrilled, thinking this is awesome! 

Then I received a  phone call from the Yelp sales team, asking me to advertise with Yelp.  I could pay $300 a month and have my business listing moved to the top of Massage Therapy listings in my area.        WHAT?!?!  $300 a month?  At this point, 2 months or so into owning my own business I was making roughly $2000 a month, $300 was WAY out of my budget.

The next day both of my 5 star reviews were “filtered” (now called “not recommended)….. all of a sudden they were deemed made by a fake person.

Over the next year, I amassed six more 5 star reviews, all with great recommendations.

Every couple of months a member of Yelps sales team would call and try to get me to advertise on their website, each time I would decline and POOF, my reviews would once again be removed from my page and labeled “not recommended.”

The next tactic that Yelp started using was layering other massage businesses information over my business listing.  If you searched for a massage therapist in my area, then clicked on my business listing for more information a pop up would appear over my information with the information of another Massage business. Typically a large, chain massage establishment who could afford $300+ a month to advertise with yelp.

There was nothing I could do to change this.  I kept my information and specials updated on my yelp business listing, but put no effort into Yelp being a viable source for new clients.

Here we are three years later and Yelp is still attempting to squeeze money out of me.

Today I had a voice mail from a person who simply stated she had a few questions about the services I offered and could I call her back.

Thinking this was a prospective client, I promptly returned her call.

I was WRONG!

When she answered the phone, I stated who I was, and she said “Hi, I’m with Yelp, why are your reviews filtered?”

I was confused… “You work for Yelp, why are you asking me about my reviews?”

Tracey from Yelp: “You have 13 reviews and all but one are not recommended”

Me: “after this call all 13 will be ‘not recommended’….How can I help you?”

Tracey from Yelp:  “we use a sophisticated algorithm to determine if reviews are real or fake, you have 4 reviews from 2011, those reviewers need to leave one review a month on Yelp to be considered active, they have not, so the reviews are ‘not recommended’ blah, blah, blah”

Me: “I’m still not sure why you called me in the first place, how can I help you?”

Tracey from Yelp: ” according to our calculations we have determined that Yelp had earned you approximately $16,420 a year since you posted a business listing, we want to see if we can work with you to make that even more money for you”

Me: uncontrollable laughter…..”are you freaking kidding me?”  

Then I went on a ten minute tirade about how Yelp knows nothing about small business, there “sophisticated algorithm to determine if reviews are real or fake is a sham and how I will never give them a dime of my money.

I didn’t really allow her to defend her company because I have heard the bullshit over and over again already.


So now I am convinced that Yelp is run by the mafia. 

1) Mafia strong arms people for money and so does Yelp

2) Mafia holds people hostage, Yelp holds reviews hostage

3) Mafia kills people, Yelp kills businesses

4) Mafia will do anything for a quick buck, so does Yelp

5) Mafia easily gets cases dismissed in court, so does Yelp

6) Mafia convinces its lower level members that they are “helping” people…..Yelp convinces its sales force they are “helping” businesses

7) Mafia uses intimidation to impact local economies …..So does Yelp

8) Mafia built worldwide networks… has Yelp

9) Mafia members abuse drugs…..clearly so do people at Yelp

10) The head of the Mafia hides behind his henchmen….The president/CEO of Yelp hides behind his lawyers












8 comments on “10 reasons Yelp is like the mafia

  1. inspiredbythedivine1
    February 19, 2014

    Fascinating post. I knew something was fishy with Yelp but now I know what it is and why. There’s a guy who runs a pest extermination business I became friends with after he went out of his way to help me clear up a bug issue I had in my apartment. I, along with several other tenants, wrote glowing reviews for him only to have them filtered out and hidden on their site. I for the life of me couldn’t see why. Now I see. They want cash from him too, most likely. Screw them. They’re dishonest and go about their business, like you said, like gangsters. Great post. Thanks.

    • jesuswasaprimate
      February 19, 2014

      It’s very difficult to be a small business, it really is a shame that large corporations like Yelp come in and make it even harder.

      • inspiredbythedivine1
        February 19, 2014

        What sucks too is that guys like me think they’re there to help small businesses but now I see their game very clearly. At most, they need to be loudly called out for this publicly. Their frigggin’ algorithm b.s. is crap. now I know why my review for a really good guy was suppressed by them. Bastards.

  2. Maggie Wilson
    February 20, 2014

    An eye-opener for me. You must have felt like you were in some sort of alternate universe during that surreal phone conversation “We helped you earn $16,420…”
    Is Yelp the only option? Or are other sites just as corrupt?

    Either way, a great post and I learned something new today! Thanks!

    • jesuswasaprimate
      February 20, 2014

      Yelp is the only big review site that matters. Google has tried to buy them out, but they have never been able to work out a deal.

      I would just pull my business listing from the site and say, “fuck you.” BUT, it is a good “free” tool to drive new clients to my business. If anyone is near my business and uses Siri on their iPhone to search for ‘closest massage therapist’ my yelp listing is the first thing to pop up. ( not sure why my actual website doesn’t pop up before Yelp, but I’m sure it has something to do with all the general traffic on Yelp)

      I probably get 1-3phone calls a month from people who found me on yelp, I only book about half of those people, so it’s no where near $16,420….. More like $640.

  3. A. van Nerel
    February 24, 2014

    Wow, what can I say except for you have my sympathy! These guys have no shame it seems…

    • jesuswasaprimate
      February 24, 2014

      It really is insane that they treat businesses this way.

      • A. van Nerel
        February 25, 2014

        Yeah, I’m generally naive enough to believe people are inherently good, except for the odd times I deal with companies such as these. There’s just a scent of evil to their way of dealing with people.

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This entry was posted on February 19, 2014 by in Uncategorized and tagged , , , .
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