Using Yelp! As a Form of Alternative Dispute Resolution?


Yelp! Yelp! Yelp! What a nightmare. I seriously doubt the company can last with what many users believe is its unfair system that forces consumers and businesses to be regular Yelpers or likely have their reviews buried.
What we do see is that business owners are seeing their Google Local and Yahoo! Local results fall in favor of businesses that figured out how to seemingly manipulate the Yelp! algo.

Get Clients from Yelp!?

The only viable way to do that we have found is to try and only get clients from Yelp! And that is the whole idea, right? Spend tons of money advertising on Yelp! and you get Yelpers who are already active users. Some of these people are called “Elite” Yelpers. But business owners and their spouses are not allowed to be Elite Yelpers, so don’t even waste your time if that is the case. But that is a discussion for another time.  So with that intro out of the way, what about Joe Public?

Can You Use Yelp! To Your Advantage as a Consumer and Avoid Lawsuits?

  • The Set Up

First, you need to understand the basic set up in using Yelp!, or you are really wasting your time. Even lawyers like me want to avoid Court. It is a terrible waste of time in many many cases. It also uses public resources we simply do not have, at least in California. Of course, as discussed above, using Yelp! to avoid lawsuits comes at a cost. You must have a Yelp! account, you also probably can’t share the same IP address and computer as a business owner (Do you Yelp! from work, a Starbucks Coffee where an owner has also logged in to claim their business on Yelp!, etc.?)

If you don’t have a “clean” IP and account history, so to speak, it is highly unlikely your reviews will even stay live based upon the reports I have heard. Almost all the reviews for the law firm I work for are filtered even though they are legit (see here.) . But wait, you say, “when I am logged in, I can see all my reviews.” Ok fine, now copy and paste the URL of the page you are on and log out and then paste it into your browser. 9 times out of 10 this is what I see, or a reasonable facsimile:

22 other reviews that are not currently Recommended

the above example, you see the reviews from my clients that are not recommended. As you can see, presently, Ehline Law Firm PC has 7 live reviews and 22 reviews that are NOT RECOMMENDED. Not recommended by Yelp! that’s who. So I called a Yelp! rep and the rep said:

“those reviews are too close in time, so they must be fake according to our algo,” or words to that effect. Seriously? So I explained that we recently had done some charities, outreach and email campaigns to: “check us out on Yelp!,” just like we thought Yelp! wanted. The response, classic.

“Just add our badge to your site and don’t ask people to check you out anymore.”

Seriously? Of course, an advertising rep will “contact you shortly.” In other words, drive traffic and PageRank to Yelp! and maybe a few of your reviews will go live if all the other secret sauce factors are present. OR just spend a ton of money on Yelp! ads, and we will send you Elite Yelpers as clients, and their reviews will go and stay live?

If not, we have a deal with Yahoo!, and good luck seeing your results for local search display there anytime soon since they are now driven by Yelp!

Well, at least I have another reason not to use Yahoo! anymore. Ok ok, have you made it through the minefield of factors above as a CONSUMER? Or do you want justice on Yelp!?  Well, if you are an active Yelper you know hat I mean.

And no, don’t think you can get elite Yelper status and make tons of money. If you get caught selling reviews, you are toast, and so are your reviews. I personally suspect that many of the elite Yelpers do profit handsomely.

I would, too if I had an algorithm that basically made it impossible to rank on my site unless everyone was paying me, or increasing my click-through rates. I mean, it’s no wonder that brick-and-mortar locations have been blown out in favor of Yelp! Google and Yahoo! favor sites that get a lot of traffic, right?

If You Can’t Beat Em, Join Em?

Many law firms are using Yelp! paid search now. But the stories I am hearing are that when the ads stop running, reviews start to disappear. Am I sure it is just a coincidence, right? I mean, Yelp! has been sued many times, and courts have thrown out the cases, right? So if you are bold enough and rich enough to advertise on Yelp! maybe? Maybe then you will be at an advantage, maybe not. Some say you lose it all unless you keep paying for advertising.

What About Consumers – How Can they Benefit from Yelp! and Avoid Court?

Ok, now that you see the roadblocks preventing success for a business owner not willing to pay Yelp! money, you can see that it may not be worth it for you to bother with Yelp! as a business. Espresso Translations provide legal transcriptions for fast-growing businesses and they can be a better option if you want to avoid any major legal problems for your business.

But I am going to include a personal consumer experience I had with South Bay BMW, who our law firm had leased a car from, in order to show you how we were able to recover $1,000.00 instead of going to small claims court. The screenshot below has the history of our interactions with BMW Financial and the Dealership itself.

The Negative One Star Yelp! Review of South Bay BMW

Yelp Review

Lucky for me, my negative review went live long enough for the South Bay BMW reputation management person to reach out to me. Unfortunately for South Bay BMW, the review was not buried by Yelp! until after the problem was resolved. Here is the link to the actual page to South Bay BMW on Yelp!

As you can see, my review is now buried. So because of Yelp! deciding it was either fake or offered no value, it was sent to cyberspace. Obviously, whatever the reason, my suspicion is if BMW had seen the review was buried under the NOT Recommended Reviews section, I would not have resolved this.

Why do I say that?

Simple, I have left many messages with BMW and had many phone calls and basically was BLOWN OFF. It was not until I publicly stated my concerns that the following events took place.

You can read Brodkin’s response on Yelp! Oh wait, the review was buried by Yelp! so maybe not.

But go ahead and see if you can find it here:

643 other reviews that are not currently recommended

Of course Yelp! says that something like 75% of reviews are recommended right? Let’s see if that is true for BMW. Do the math.  403 reviews are recommended and 643 reviews are not.

Maybe Yelp! meant that 25% to 35% are recommended. And maybe 75% or so are not? I can’t figure it out. Can you?

Does your head hurt yet? Mine does.

Anyways, you can see the frustration that has prevented MANY other lawyers and me I know from sending Yelp! one dime as a business owner. Even as a consumer, it appears that Yelp! is biased against business owners who are ALSO consumers.

Noteworthy here is they say there is a potential conflict of interest in letting the business class with a Yelp listing becoming “Elite Yelpers.” I have had shouting matches with Yelp! salespeople over this. And they promptly point out that back in 2008, I tried to review my own business.

The first problem is, it is not my OWN business. It is a law corporation that I MANAGE, and that has also represented me in the past. But ok, fine, the review is buried.

Now what? Mostly, the second tactic they are using is assuming facts that are simply not true. So they will say the algo assumes it could actually be our firm that did the reviews. Back then, our business, just like many other online and even offline businesses were clueless about Yelp!

In fact, many companies had clients create Yelp! accounts on the spot, such as with Yahoo or Google email. So in our case, as clients with no email accounts picked up their settlement checks, we helped set them up. And they reviewed us right there from our PC and IP address.

And I believe this was a pretty normal practice in years past. Of course, most of our clients have jobs, and barely have time for Facebook, let alone time enough to act as professional Yelpers.

In any event, it is now safe to say that Yelp! has a say in what your business model must be if you want to rank online. Basically, you now must make sure that your clients Yelp! a lot. Otherwise, their review of your business will be buried.

Of course, Yelp! says your clients cannot be your friends or even peers? Well, what they say is basically a vague and ambiguous, subjective test. After all, other Yelp articles suggest you should follow and add people who have or may review you in the future.

So it appears that this gives Yelp! a lot of leeway.

And that can easily lead to them strong-arming consumers. So perhaps you buy advertising in order to make sure Yelp! won’t hurt you. And this could be when a manual reviewer at Yelp! decides that you are in violation.

In fact, Yelp! has even gone so far as suing a lawyer, for inter alia, having friends with other businesses review his law firm. And which Yelp! apparently assumes is a “fake review.”

Was I Able to Use Yelp! To Get Money and Avoid Court – Yes and Here is a Screenshot of the $1,0000.00 Check

Yelp! says you cannot pay to have negative reviews removed. I guess they’re right, since Yelp! went ahead and UN-recommended by a negative review of BMW on their own.

But before that happened, Mark Brodkin and I had come to a resolution. And I first wanted to thank him for seeing what went down here and fixing my problem. So yes, Yelp!, along with some lawyering, got me what I feel is a fair resolution. And no, at no time did Brodkin ever ask me to remove the review, and I have not done so.

  • Legal Disclaimer

With that disclaimer out of the way, here is another one. Don’t think you can just write a negative review and face no consequences. Don’t consider anything I have said as being legal advice, either. IT IS NOT!

You can be sued for defamation, and Yelp! in particular. And probably even BMW would not hesitate to sue you unless what you say is truthful. Heck, even if it is truthful, they could always sue anyways. Why not, maybe they can force you into a lot of legal fees and troubles.

For some, going to Court may be a better option. After all statements made in pleadings are generally not considered defamatory for purposes of litigation. Is this making sense for far? In any event, I have now provided you with a consumer experience.

And this was about a legal issue I had with a company. And technically you could check me out here on Yelp! where you will see 22 reviews buried, and seven are live. Interesting to note, every-time I speak with a Yelp! rep and decide not to buy ads; another positive review seems to disappear. But I am sure that is just a coincidence.

Oh wait, let’s get back on track here. Here is a copy of the check from South Bay BMW.

  • Copy of the $1,000 Check from BMW

Here it is.

Yelp Check

I personally think I got lucky here because I doubt after the review was buried by Yelp! I would have had any negotiating power with BMW, or at least it would have been seriously diminished.

Was it worth my time? Probably not. Did I learn enough about Yelp! To know that Yelp! is skewed towards what helps Yelp! and only Yelp!? I think so.

Could someone come along with a fairer algorithm and take out Yelp! I certainly think so. And if you are a programmer and or developer, I want you to reach out to me asap!

  • Other Closing Thoughts

First of all, this is just my opinion, and it has not been tested in court as far as I know.  But Yelp! decides what reviews, both negative and positive, to recommend. So I believe it may be opening itself to a lawsuit on many levels.

Here, t
he internet law shields a site like Rip Off Report when it republishes something from a third party about you. But when a third party advertiser decides when and if that review is “Recommended,” could a Yelp! type company loses the shield?

Could Yelp! Be a Party to the Review and Have Liability?

Well, could it be a party to the review? So what about if Yelp edited the bad review about you, or skewed it one way or another? Are there any lawyers who agree that recommending something false or defamatory could be a bad act?

I am going to reach out to Yelp! and I invite Yelp! to respond to my invitation and will gladly print their point of view.

The bottom line, many consumers and business owners are fed up with Yelp! and believe it is unfair.

You, as the consumer, must ultimately decide if you think the system is fair. One thing is certain, a single-use account, will often see reviews go “poof.”

So as a reviewer it really even worth the time?

Please comment and chime in. I want to hear about your Yelp! successes or failures. Let’s attempt to unravel the positives and negatives of Yelp!

Rest assured, Circle of Legal Trust does not sell advertising and is a noncommercial, informational organization of attorneys who help each other and consumers. The goal is a safer, fairer playing field for all comers.

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