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Why Yelp reviews are not accurate and ….

Why Yelp is the Biased and the Least Democratic Review Site …. plus ….

Why I think Yelp Sucks ….

This is going to be a long post …. {3,674 words long} and its a long time coming. I have a bone to pick with Yelp. It’s not just me, its the Wall Street Journal, The New Yorker magazine, Forbes magazine and a Small Claims Court in San Diego that agree with my position. Yelp is biased, Yelp deceives the public and Yelp is far from democratic and manipulates its reviews. Often completely removing valid 5 Star reviews from business owners reviews and only listing 1 and 2 star reviews. I started my own Yelp page for my business thinking that it would be a great way to promote my business. Boy was I wrong. You see, Yelp will let any one say anything they want about your business whether they have used your services or not. Yelp will not remove comments even if you can prove they are not true. Yelp also hides the best reviews. They call it “filtering.” What they don’t tell you though is that all the filtered reviews are not factored into the final star rating. Yelp should be in the prestidigitation business because they are consistently making my 5 Star reviews disappear. The other thing that amazes me is that people who make negative comments always hid behind their anonymity. In other words, they do not to use their real names. Rather a avatar name or screen name. I’m willing to put money on the fact that if they had to use their real name, they would never leave the same comment.

Yelp manipulates its reviews: Don’t believe me? Watch this YouTube video, about a San Diego court case Yelp lost and a Wall Street Journal Article {detailed below} and you make up your own mind.

Think Yelp is Unbiased? Think Again!! “I found yesterday that Yelp filters results according to certain arcane rules that are not even disclosed to the reviewers who donate their time and efforts to the website’s benefit. When a business patron writes a review it may or may not remain on the Yelp site according to these rules. There’s no real way of knowing what will stick and what won’t.” “But to put things into simple language, don’t believe Yelp reviews. Who knows how many of them have been deleted or obscured according to some secret policy? Would Yelp be a prudent investment? It appears that the company is in a position that could well be undermined by a competitor with a more honest approach.” ~ from Forbes magazine August 16th, 2012
Here’s an article on the psychology of online comments from the venerable The New Yorker magazine:
“The theory is that the moment you shed your identity the usual constraints on your behavior go, too ….” ~ from The New Yorker Magazine, October 24, 2013

A Little Background A couple of years ago I ran a Living Social online deal and a Plum District online deal to promote my portrait sessions. Both deals were extremely successful. Selling close to 900 family sessions. I should mention that only 350 families redeemed their portrait sessions. The rest due to attrition simply didn’t use their vouchers before expiration. In both cases a streamlined system was set up to deal with the massive amount of phone calls and inquiries that I knew would be coming my way. It was set up to serve the purchasers and aid them in understanding what their vouchers could be used for: not for commercial usage, not for modeling, not for professional headhsots but for family portraits. Part of the reason for the Living Social promotion which carried the bulk of the sales was my that promotion {750 portrait sessions over 2 different promotions} went live the first week that Living Social Family {their family centric brand} went live. If the same promotion was launched now it would not fare as well. Today the market is over saturated with photographers giving away everything for $49. And since the promotion company takes half sale price the photographers that are giving everything, their time, the prints or simply a high resolution disc, their is no profit in it for them. In fact my assertion is that they are loosing money on their promotion. It is basically a race with most photographers to see who can undercut who. Everyone loses in the price game, the photographer and the client. What the client or voucher purchaser of the promotion ends up with, is, in most cases, sub par photography. Because remarkable photographers don’t go out and create children and family portraits for $25 {their take} and give the client all the high resolution images on a disc. Think about it. The system I set up was comprised of a Google phone number that was used in both online promotions which supplied a password and directed the purchaser to my web site to a password protected blog post. Once on my website purchasers used the password supplied in the phone message to access the post. Once there, they could read a comprehensive FAQ that literally answered every question the voucher purchaser might have, they could re-read the fine print of the deal {the same fine print which was listed on the Living Social and Plum District promotion sites, however, most people neglected to read it the first and the second time.}, find out when and where sessions were held and call the studio to book their portrait session. In this way I was able to service all the voucher purchasers in a timely manner and answer all questions quickly and easily. The Good the Bad and the Ugly As it turns out the majority of the Plum District purchasers were infinitely nicer than the majority of the Living Social ones. I was amazed at what people thought they were getting for the $59 promotions that I ran. I did meet some lovely families through my promotion. And lets be clear that both of the promotions were run on family centric sites not business, actors or professional sites. I also, unfortunately met some horrible people. That’s the negative side of selling to a very wide cross section of people. Some people wanted to use their vouchers for headshots, some for professional purposes standing with their merchandise to help sell their services and products, others thought that because they purchased the session they could talk to me however they wanted; be 45 minutes late for their session and still expect me to photograph for 10 or 15 minutes; let their children run around the studio {unsupervised} like it was a play ground, let their children throw things around the studio and stand on furniture with their shoes on {bare feet is totally cool} and make a general mess and not offer to clean it up. In all these cases the parents, it seemed, abandoned any notion of parenting or supervising their children. But for many families this type of behavior seemed to be the norm as I began to see a pattern of parents that just didn’t seem to raise their children with boundaries. Here’s a few stories that you may find interesting.

  • A lawyer wanted me to come to her firm to photograph her entire staff. And was upset when I told her that that was not within the realm of the promotion. Uhmmm, no thank you, that comes under the heading of commercial photography not family photography and their is a different fee structure for that.
  • During a park session I was photographing a family of three young boys. The older boy about 8-9 years old started to wander off across the field. His mom walked after him. The dad was on the phone the entire time conducting business. I had to ask him nicely twice to be part of the portrait session. As I was photographing the youngest boy, the older boy {who had wandered off, came up to me from behind with two hands filled of sand from the nearby volley ball court and dumped it all over me and my camera while I was photographing. The father then bear hugged his son and carried him off to the car never to be seen again. Needless to say I was shocked by this. I still professionally finished the session, after dusting off my self and my gear and checking my gear for damage. The mother emailed me to apologize a day after the incident. And they ended up canceling their voucher and asking for and receiving a refund because they said that they didn’t care for their images. When in fact the real reason is because their third son was not in the images because of what he did and his behavior.
  • During a studio session of for a son and daughter a mother had to repeatedly forcibly grabbed her daughter by the arm reprimanding her to sit down and smile and proceeded to take her out of the studio to the family mini van 3 times for a timeout. It wasn’t obvious to her but it was very obvious to me that her daughter and son did not really want to be photographed. After 45 mins. of being patient and trying to make portraits during an hour studio session and only getting one decent photograph I mentioned to her that from my years of experience her children did not really want to be photographed. And let her know I think that we should call it a wrap. The mom then asked me what her options were. I nicely let her know that that she really didn’t have any, because she had used up her time and was coming into the studio on a $59 voucher of which I received less than $30 for. She let me know that that was a bad way to do business. And that I would not get any referrals from her like that. I asked her if she had gone to Disneyland and her kids had a melt down and she had to take them home, could she ask Disney for another ticket to come another day? Her reply: Oh, I would do that though. We’ll neither would Disney, i thought to my self. Ultimately, what I did was give her her money back for what she paid for the voucher. What did she do? She went online to Yelp and complained about my studio. Yelp reviews can be horribly one sided.
  • I had a sweet little studio session with an adorable one year old Asian boy. The mom, who thought she was entitled to all the high resolution digital files, threaten me that if she didn’t get what she wanted she’d black mail me online {yes that really happened}. I declined to give them to her for free. And yes she did go online to about 5-6 different web sites and leave reviews saying horrible things about me and my business. She complained that the images were terrible and that even she could have taken the same images but she would have done much better. Yet she was blackmailing me for the images. Her rationale was that because I wasn’t going to use the images that she didn’t purchase, and that I was not going to keep them on a hard drive any longer that she was entitled to them for free. “Why not give them to me for free, you are not going to use them for anything,” she said. And if she didn’t get them she promised me that she’d say nasty things about me online. And she kept her promise. Ultimately I caved in and gave here what she asked for {I’ll never do that again,} even though the majority of the sites removed her negative comments because I could prove they were untrue. She removed her negative complaint from Yelp after she received her images.
  • On one occasion I photographed a family in my studio. Everything turned out marvelous. After receiving their prints by mail, the client contact me by email and let me know that he was having an issue scanning my portraits and making his own copies of them on his home printer. He was disappointed that he couldn’t make his own copies! Hmm, lets see …. last I checked photographers were protected by federal copyright law {sarcasm added}. So scanning and making your own prints from my photographs would be illegal. By the way the guy is actually a bonafide rocket scientist, who most likely deals in intellectual property on a daily basis. How would he feel if someone photocopied his blueprints or copied his designs and gave them away for free? Note to self: The propriety texture on my prints that negates the possibility of scanning my images and protects copyright infringement works. Winning! No bad Yelp reviews here but unreal expectations on the part of the consumer.
  • Over all most people were very nice, but casting a large net to capture a wide cross section of clientele brings with it, well …. a large demographic cross section. There were a handful of truly dreadful and rude individuals. And that is to be expected when selling blindly to the public, although something I really didn’t count on. This large demographic super set can be broken down into 3 demographic sub sets: Group #1) A third of the purchasers were just looking for a bargain portrait session and were happy with an average photograph that any one could have taken. And only wanted what was offered in the promotion. They thought that anything over $25 for an 8×10 was “expensive.” By the way, my studio doesn’t do average. Group #2) This group, was either late or very late for their session, didn’t understand what they were entitled to for their session and were sometimes rude and also wanted to be the art director for the shoot. They made a minimal purchase, or stayed with the original offer. Group #3) The third group really put effort into their family photograph choosing great clothing, asking my opinion, or taking my advice on what to wear and where to be photographed. These were the people who connected with me and vice versa. And who ended up purchasing more.

Why I think Yelp Sucks as a Review Site

So, I’ve already mentioned that anyone can write whatever they want about anyone’s business whether they’ve actually purchased from the business and whether they have physically ever stepped foot into the business or not. Let’s be clear here, ALL YELP REVIEWS ARE UNVERIFIED. Meaning there is no one verifying the validity of the truth of the Yelp review, not even Yelp. Essentially if someone has an opinion about you, or encourages one of their friends to post a bogus review about your business they can feel free to slam your business and do it with total anonymity. Okay, nuff said. Yet Yelp still refuses to investigate reviews accused of being inaccurate or permit businesses to respond openly to reviews on the site.

“Unlike legitimate information sites, directories and search engines, does not verify the content for accuracy whether it be fictional, defamatory, created by a fictional person or alias or even if the reviewer was a party to a purchase, service or contract.” ~

Why I think Yelp sucks as a review site is because each and every time someone leaves a 5 Star review on my site the following happens. It is either “filtered” or it is removed from the site. Just noticed that Yelp has recently changed its “filtered” reviews which used to required you to enter a captcha code in order to see the reviews that do not show on the regular Yelp business listing. Recently Yelp has changed the “filtered” name to 20 other reviews that are not currently recommended. Which is interesting. Who recommends or condemns them, Yelp? Yes Yelp does.

Take for instance what the International Business Times article wrote about Yelp in July of 2013: “A group of business owners suing Yelp Inc. (NYSE:YELP) for extortion filed an appeal in San Francisco’s 9th Circuit Court of Appeals on Thursday, hoping to reverse a judge’s earlier decision that the crowd-sourced review giant is not liable for user reviews that negatively impact businesses.” “Critics both in and out of the courtroom continue to go to great lengths to characterize Yelp as an unscrupulous bully, bent on wielding its influence to extort advertising revenue from small businesses on the receiving end of the countless negative rants by Yelp users. In their lawsuit, the merchants claim that Yelp offers to hide negative reviews and highlight positive ones in exchange for advertising purchases. Some merchants have also accused Yelp of zapping positive reviews as retribution for businesses that don’t advertise.” “Nevertheless, anti-Yelp sentiment is rampant on the Internet and social media. Sites like, and offer Yelp critics both legal advice and a place to vent their frustrations. The “Tell Your Story” page on features hundreds of comments from entrepreneurs who say Yelp has negatively affected their businesses. On Facebook, pages like Yelp Extortion and others feature similar stories. Last year, a Freedom of Information Act request filed with the FTC revealed nearly 700 complaints against Yelp over the last four years, with some business owners comparing the website to the Mafia.”

Yelp Hides 99% of my 5 Star Reviews On several occasions Yelp solicited me to advertise with them for upwards of $350.00 per month. I declined each and every time. Why? I don’t do online advertising and I certainly was not going to give Yelp, who magically makes my good reviews disappear and doesn’t factor in the 20 other reviews that are hidden to the overall star rating. As of the writing of this blog post, there are 13, 5 Star reviews and 12 of the 5 Star reviews are hidden. 5 of the 5 Star reviews were “Removed for Violating our Content Guidelines or Terms of Service.” I read their terms of service, the reviews in question didn’t seem to violate any of their terms of service. BTW, all the 5 Star reviews that were removed were real reviews that were written by my clientele. Of the 7, 5 Star reviews that remain hidden, none of them are factored into the overall score star rating. If all the reviews were taken into account I would have a 3.17 Star review not the 1.5 Star review that Yelp arbitrarily hands out based on their “algorithm.” There is Nothing Democratic of Fair About Yelp Reviews – Rather the way Yelp Rates and Deletes Review Posts is Highly Biased There is nothing balanced, fare or democratic about the way that Yelp rates and shows reviews. 1) Yelp does not shows all business reviews – rather it hides the good ones. 2) All the bad reviews seem to be “sticky.” In other words that stay visible for the public to see. 3) A balanced showing of reviews would mean that Yelp would have to show all the reviews and take into account all the reviews for an overall score. 4) If Yelp is going to be a conduit or the voice of the people then the fair thing to do is to show all the reviews so that the public can make a balanced and objective opinion. Yelp’s current way of posting is highly skewed and biased. And as such their is no way the public can make an informed and objective opinion. The democratic and fair way of posting reviews would be to show all the reviews and include all the reviews in the star rating system.

The story below is from a business owner and typical of scores of similar stories I’ve read about Yelp’s unsavory practices: “I have a small business that is in no way reliant on yelp reviews, my customer base is generally not the kind to leave reviews on yelp, as I do high end privately commissioned designed work – and am not a retail concern. However over the years several reviews had appeared, all positive, (very initially some were scraped from articles written about my work in various magazines- like many of these listings sites started- yelp entered your business info and ask you to claim it) …regardless, I did manage to garner several positive reviews after “claiming” my business. 2 years ago (after over 15 years in business) Yelp contacted me to try and sell me advertising- sales person was insanely aggressive-no matter how many times I tried to explain that it is just not something my clientele does with their time & I was fine with my reviews as they were, Thank you. Boy, those positive reviews – which by that time had been up on yelp continually for over 5 years – came down so fast you head would spin!!!! It seemed much too coincidental. Additionally the salesperson became unbelievably NASTY after her 4th call received the same answer I told her it would…So, I do believe Yelp follows very unsavory / unethical and probably illegal business practices.”

This is a comment from O. Badro from a recent article in the Wall Street Journal Another Day in Court for Yelp , May 21st, 2013

“Yelp is a for profit company this has nothing to do with free speech, it is free speech manipulation, businesses should be given the freedom to take themselves off some one else’s for profit listing, why do we as business owners need to sacrifice our good will so another business can make money off our good name? they should be paying us royalties just like the record industry if we give them permission to use our businesses to help their business make money, why do we need to be the sheep that are sacrificed so another can profit from harming our good will and our hard work? Do Not ever give up the fight on this issue! NEVER!! The laws must change!!”
How Can Yelp Make itself an Unbiased Review Site and be Fair? Reviews should be vetted. Reviewers should use their real names and not be allowed to comment anonymously. Overall Yelp facilitates masked defamatory, slanderous and false reviews. This type of review system supports unfair business practices and a biased rating of the business. Yelp is a for profit company that bases its reviews on a wild west anything goes mentality. Because they are a for profit company business should be able to opt-out from someone else’s for profit listings if they do not subscribe to the service. In the last three years Yelp has garnered 1184 complaints with the better business bureau. Yelp needs to change their policy and stop filtering reviews for businesses that don’t advertise with them and allow for a real and fair process to dispute rampant bogus and abusive reviews. So after being in business for almost 13 years, a few bad apples, incidentally, only from the Living Social promotion that was run during 2012 have left negative reviews on Yelp making it look like I’m a rude dude. Which is by the way, the furthest thing from the truth. Does it bother me. Yes it bothers me that the reviews are totally untrue and biased and that facts are either omitted or completely untrue and that Yelp has the bandwidth and the search engine prowess and Google juice to rise to the top for business reviews. In my opinion its just wrong that Yelp uses a skewed and biased system to portray the snapshot of a business to the public who may base their decision to do business with us on the Yelp review.