Yelp needs help, accusations point to possible class action for strong-arming tactics

 

Yelp looks for major credibility help, accusations point possible class action biased reviews, and extortion.

 

Yelp’s very own CEO, Jeremy Stoppelman, says that Yelp’s review criteria is “weird,” signaling chaos in the review giants credibility.

 

(IJR News November 22 ,2011) A staggering number of complaints are mounting from businesses that claim “Yelp” is anything but a help. In fact, the colossal review icon is being accused of only posting views that attract the interest of viewers and helps its advertisers, rather than reveal an unbiased truth.  This is well after the numerous complaints of Extortion allegations posted by The New York Times and the Wall Street Journal, where business owners said that the Yelp sales reps would move the negative reviews off their sites.

 

IJR News has been contacted over twenty times in the last month by businesses who are frustrated and are expressing overall distraught with Yelp. IJR News has had additional prior complaints that claim that unless a business advertises with Yelp, the described review bully makes sure it effects that business’s bottom line.  IJR investigated the accusations and the results are disturbing.  Most complaints seem to point to a direction that Yelp listings are biased and are anything but credible.

 

Market Place Tech, a non-profit and highly respected user resource, had their senior business correspondent, Bob Moon, record a recorded a conversation with the sales people at Yelp.

The conversation was very disturbing and was highlighted by Yelp CEO, Jeremy Stoppelman, explaining that the “weird” automated system causes certain reviews not to be posted and that the same weird system filters out certain reviews and even keeps a single bad review on top to create controversy. Making matters worse for the CEO was his own admission that this “weird” system was based on criteria he didn’t detail.  It’s not clear what makes a review “trustworthy,” but Yelp says there’s a line between the reviews and its sales team signaling a benefit to those that advertise with Yelp.

 

Bob Moon also spoke of another case where Hyde, who owns M&M Auto Werkes near San Jose, wonders why he was told — he says — that some missing reviews could show up again for a price, Hyde told Moon, “I think that if you’re putting a Website up that’s reflecting peoples’ opinions of businesses, that all those opinions should be allowed to be heard, and they shouldn’t be leveraged to advertise with them to make sure they stay there.” Hyde says “that’s unethical,” and he’s been talking to one of the lawyers seeking class-action status in the legal challenge against Yelp, and he is not alone.

Another targeted group is doctors according to an overwhelming amount of  Yelp patrons.  Overall, deep pockets and reliability of reputation seems to fuel this group as the best Yelp advertisers, and victims as well.  There are always two sides to any story, but perception can make or break a professional when it comes to something as sacred as the field of medicine.  Should a doctor’s reputation be compromised because their unwilling to advertise with Yelp?

IJR searched doctors in Newport Beach, home to some of the best doctors in the world according to Physicians Practice’s website.  IJR investigator and editor in chief, Michael Gingino researched highly reviewed physicians in the Newport Beach area.  Gingino also performed two random reviews of local doctors, Urgent Care at Newport Center and Nvision Laser Eye Centers.  Both of these professional practices appearing in the number one position in the Yelp reviews. Gingino found that NVISION also was the top advertiser and Urgent Care was not. The Yelp advertiser, NVSION was in its prominent highlighted advertising spot on Yelp just like Google’s sponsored ads.

The IJR New editor completed a test review that simply said, “I had fall at the Pier in Newport Beach and thought I might have sprained my ankle, I went to Urgent Care and was quickly seen and treated for what turned out to be a broken ankle.  Dr. Doonan and his team were incredibly professional and I would highly recommend them.” After confirming his email via Yelp’s “weird” information gathering security system, Gingino waited over 24 hours for it to be posted.  However, Gingino observed Nvision, was racking up “recently reviewed” points on the Yelp sidebar.

The following day, Gingino was able to connect with the Urgent Care lead physician and explained his review test and Dr. Doonan told the editor in chief this, “It doesn’t surprise me, in fact we use to have our website connected with Yelp until I got an influx of complaints because patients were leaving me good reviews and Yelp wasn’t posting them.  I wasn’t even aware that they were doing it to try and lower a review of me that was unfavorable, I was actually flattered.   What this review ended up being was a bill issue and not a missed diagnosis issue as the patients girlfriend complained of.  The complaint wasn’t even made by my patient but his girlfriend, and his instructions was to go to hospital if it continued or worsened.  Regardless it ruined my day because of what people might perceive.  Anyone that knows me or is a patient of mine knows I care about all my patients and always make sure their treatment is of the highest standards and based on the best of my experience and abilities.  Another patient of mine brought the complaint to my attention and he is a internet guy and told me Yelp keeps any controversial reviews at the top in order to help those that advertise with them, he said it is like political posturing by Yelp that rewards their advertisers and forces the other doctors not

Many popular websites have joined the effort against these lopsided reviews, salon.com posted this, “Why a five-star restaurant serves one-star food.” A host of new websites promise to make online reviews of products and places more reliable. To listen to the raves, Fred’s Coffee Shop serves a mean weekend breakfast. The omelets at this little joint just a skip across the Golden Gate Bridge from San Francisco are said to be “fluffy beyond belief,” the bacon “thicker” and “tastier” than at anyplace else, and the French toast — oh, the French toast, cooked up soft and then deep-fried and slathered in sugar — will help you find Jesus. Fred’s, according to reviews posted on the popular local-ratings site Yelp, makes the best breakfast in Sausalito. Thirty-eight reviewers give it an average score of 4.5 stars — a number that really stuck in my craw as I gulped down limp slabs of two-star French toast, sipped at one-star coffee, and took in the ordinary two-star ambience.

 

With a website that mimics Google as far as looks and feel with a well copied advertising and rankings platform, Yelp is among the most profitable websites in the world. However, Yelp is seemingly straying from what got them to be a popular website which was given unbiased and credible reviews.  This now mega-review giant is taking capitalism to a whole other level, and must deal with accusations that mimic mafia-type business practices.

 

As with any review, IJR News does not directly endorse any website but does advise all consumers to fully research where they are getting their information first, and always ask, “Is this website making money on advertising, and if so how are they doing it?”  Maybe a simple answer could be, it is impossible to run a website without operating income, however there are ways to receive funds and remain unbiased.  Many review type of websites take donations versus advertising, Word Press offers this as an alternative when designing and building websites, as does many proven neutral information Mecca websites.

 

 

Denise Neumann

Senior Journalist , IJR News

InnternationalJournalismReview@Gmail.com

 

http://www.marketplace.org/topics/tech/businesses-call-bias-yelp-listings

 

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