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April 02, 2010

Image representing Yelp as depicted in CrunchBase

Yelp is one of the largest business review sites in the world, with more than 25 million visitors each month, and its search engine presence is extremely powerful, making it a key factor in your online reputation. Because of the nature of Yelp, which allows anyone to review any business, negative reviews can be a serious problem. Not just unhappy customers, but also competitors who can use the site to snipe your brand, pose a risk to managing your business’ online reputation. Because of this, Yelp has a policy of removing reviews that it deems suspicious.

Since late 2009 more and more business owners have begun reporting that Yelp has approached them about negative reviews posted about their business. These owners allege that employees of Yelp have suggested that were the business to purchase paid advertising on the site, these negative reviews might be removed. This has been furiously denied by Yelp, but more allegations continue to surface from around the United States. As of March, 2010, there were three class action lawsuits pending on behalf of various businesses, accusing Yelp of extorting money from them to protect their online reputations.

In some cases businesses are alleging that Yelp actually fabricated negative reviews that they could then offer to remove in exchange for advertising. The possibility that this is true has led many businesses to turn away from Yelp, in spite of its high rankings in search engines, as they are unwilling to take on the risk that their business may be targeted in such a scheme. Instead, businesses may choose to address the problem of negative reviews in a different way: by burying them. With the vast majority of searchers looking at only the first page of results, pushing a Yelp review down to the second page can render its negative impact negligible.

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