The Landlord's KOQX BLOG
Yelp is a joke
Recently coming home on a road trip, I wanted to stop and relax and grab a bite to eat. But how do you know where to go in a town you're not familiar with?
Well, being the owner of one of those new smartphones with access to all the data comforts of home, I decided to try Yelp. I picked a place in the town just up the road that was *highly* rated (pretty much all four and five star ratings), conveniently located right off the freeway, and the GPS (another neat tool that seems to come standard in all smartphones these days) got us there without a glitch. They even had a sign on the door saying "People Love Us On Yelp!" We went in and prepared to order and be impressed by this fine establishment.
It wasn't what we expected from the glowing reviews. In fact it wasn't even close. It was just above awful. And only barely above awful. The food wasn't very good (the service was nothing to write home about either, just a VERY tiny bit above indifferent) and the whole place could have used a good cleaning and a refresh on the carpet and paint too.
Not to be discouraged! After all, that's only one strike. Anybody can miss once. So a few weeks later I'm looking for a new and exciting place to eat near KOQX. Back to Yelp! Another place that had all 4 and 5 star reviews and it was only a few miles away. Another poor experience. And then a week later, a third "5 star" establishment that was so clearly unacceptable that we didn't even take a table. It should have been no surprise that the place was almost empty right at the lunch rush hour. I asked to speak to the manager. Found him out back with two other people sitting in the parking lot smoking and shooting the breeze. I guess if you've got a deserted restaurant there's no reason the manager has to be in it. I probably wouldn't go there again even if the food was free with an open bar and complementary valet parking.
I wondered how it could possibly be that so many reviewers could have had so many positive things to say about any of these places and how there was a clear lack of anything negative, even though there was so much negative low hanging fruit to pick from.
Still not one to give up and be beaten by the system, a few weeks later I went back to Yelp to write my own reviews. I noted that most of the newer reviews of the places I'd been to were pretty bad. Quite a few of them were one star, with several comments like "I would give this place ZERO stars, if I could". Well, at least I wasn't the only one complaining now! There is SOME sanity left in the world!
I moved on and forgot about it until someone mentioned Yelp in passing. I went back to look and found that my reviews and all the other negative reviews older than mine were gone and these places were again rated 4 and 5 stars!
I couldn't believe my eyes. How could this be? I decided to investigate. It wasn't difficult and it didn't take long.
My very first Google search found a lot of articles suggesting that Yelp will REMOVE negative reviews of a business - for a price. I have to say, in my opinion, I think that's exactly what they do, I think it is their business model. A paid advertising site that (thinly) masquerades as an unbiased review "community" site, and will remove negative reviews if you pay them enough money.
None other than Forbes Magazine agrees. Their article "Think Yelp is Unbiased? Think Again!!" is one of the many you'll find with just a quick search, like I did. The East Bay Express ran an article that outright called Yelp's business practices "Extortion 2.0". And, according to techcrunch.com, Yelp has been the target of at least one class action lawsuit for running "an extortion scheme".
Look, I'm ALL about capitalism. I'm as hardcore capitalist as you're likely to find anywhere. I have no problem with paid advertising. I certainly have no problem with unbiased reviews either. Opinions are good. You can learn a lot about a business by looking for the trends in reviews. But when a paid advertising site claims to be unbiased reviews, it's just plain dishonesty. And in my opinion, Yelp is just plain dishonest.
I thought Yelp was a place where I could get unbiased reviews. I no longer believe that. I believe Yelp is a joke. Shame on you, Yelp. I hope you follow Webvan, Pets.com, Kozmo.com, Flooz.com, and the rest of the dot bombs into bankruptcy court, and the sooner the better. In the meantime, my advice is don't trust what you see on Yelp. It's paid advertising.