Why Yelp Is the Worst Place to Advertise for Photographers

Why Yelp Is the Worst Place to Advertise for Photographers

Like many small businesses, I decided to use the very popular restaurant recommendation site Yelp to advertise my business after seeing they automatically created a page for me. Here’s how you can avoid the disasters that come with making that same mistake.

Yelp automatically creates a site for your business once it gets some information that your business exists. You then have the ability to go to that page and claim it and verify that you own that business. Then, you can add information to it and also run ads to promote your business. Yelp pages show up prominently in search results if you Google, for example, “Best headshot photographer in Wisconsin.”

One of the most important things on a business’s Yelp page is the reviews. Yelp’s own Yelp page currently shows the company at a solid 2 stars with 12,554 reviews. Yelp recently bought the popular domain www.yelpsucks.com and has it now forwarding to https://trust.yelp.com, a site explaining how they are trustworthy because they recognize that reputation is important.

How Yelp Ads Work

Yelp has a number of ways that you can make your business stand out in the search results. For example, you can pay to add a call to action to your page to invite customers to message you. You can pay to organize your galleries into separate featured portfolios to showcase different projects or categories of photography you offer. You can also pay to have your page appear more frequently in search results. You can set a daily budget and cancel at any time on your billing page on your account.

How Yelp Hides Your Real Client Reviews as Pure Coincidence Once You Stop Paying Them

I paid for my first Yelp ads on December 2, 2019, and I was paying about $180 a month.

The beginning of the end

Most of the messages that I got in response to my ads were when potential clients would go to Yelp and request a quote when they see my page in the search results where you pay for prominent placement. During the ad creation process, you can choose categories of photography that you do and categories that you do not do, so your ad appears more targeted to your audience. I chose to not have my page appear in searches for newborn photography because I think babies are gross. Nevertheless, the majority of the inquiries I got were for newborn photography. So, I decided to cancel my ad package on July 9, 2020 after seven months of running ads and getting very few real leads.

One does not simply leave Yelp

Let’s back up a few weeks, though.

Just before Father’s Day last year, I did a family shoot for a wonderful family. The father was the public speaker, peace activist, and filmmaker Ken Nwadike, the founder of the Free Hugs Project. I don’t usually do family shoots, but he called me and told me he has this vision of his family all in traditional African garb. The shoot was awesome. The family was awesome. The experience was awesome. He posted the pictures on his business and personal page and the response was awesome.

In fact, he reached out to me and asked me for the link to leave me a Yelp review. He left a review and attached the photo that he posted on Instagram to the review.

Client asking for my Yelp review link because he had such a positive experience.

By this point, I had a review written in January, and then this was my second review written 10 days after I canceled my ads after 7 months.

My first two reviews of clients on Yelp

Approximately two weeks after canceling my ads, I got a notification from Yelp that they have determined that my reviews were all fake and they took them off my page and changed my listing to say that I had zero reviews. Yelp deleted the recent review and the other 5-star review two weeks after I stopped paying for ads.

The notification comes in on your phone through the app and the security settings make it so you can’t screenshot it, so I had to take my wife’s cell phone and take a picture of my phone screen.

I wonder what possible security threat it would create if customers were able to screenshot the information Yelp gives them about hiding reviews.

Yelp also took the family picture that was attached to the review that it said was fake and made it my new profile picture. The only way I can change it back to one of the pictures that I uploaded that represents my boudoir photography business is to pay Yelp $90 a month, and they’ll let me change it to a picture that they don’t believe I took to begin with. I paid that for a while because I’d get clients who come in and ask me about it. I eventually got tired of paying them off, so I just deal with it now.

This is the profile picture for my boudoir business

Every other 5-star review that I get now they almost immediately delete, even when the clients attach photos taken by me in my studio with a big watermark on it that says Jeff Bennion Photography and the pictures are clearly taken in my studio.

Yelp determined this to be clearly fake. Obviously, I must have created this account myself, made 44 friends and posted 4 reviews, but there's no fooling robots.

Putting a giant Jeff Bennion Photography watermark on a photo is an obvious trick to make the Yelp robots believe this was an actual client photo attached to an actual review. Nice try...

Unfortunately, this backstory was no match for the truth detecting robots that search for fake Yelp reviews

Yet another client uploaded picture taken at my studio and attached to a review, but those algorithms saw right through this ruse too and determined this to be fake.

I have a review from this guy who I’ve never met who just says that I seem cool. The algorithms determined that he was a real customer, but the others were not.

No idea who this is, but at least he's got great taste in photographers.  Yelp determined this to be a real client though.

Yelp Can Disable All Methods for Customers to Reach Out to You Unless You Pay Them

On June 24, 2021, at 12:49 pm, I got a phone call and an email from a Yelp representative who wanted to talk about all the clients who had been directly calling me through Yelp. No one has ever called me through Yelp.

If Yelp ever asks you if you have10 minutes to discuss all the phone calls you've been getting directly from your Yelp page, just say yes immediately.

Is a moment with Yelp ever actually a "free" moment?

I did not respond. Most of my leads through Yelp are for categories that I specifically exclude in my ads. About an hour later, I get an email from Yelp that they have disabled all methods of customers being able to request quotes or message me.

"You did not respond to our demand for payment within an hour...Consumers are more likely to hire responsive businesses, so we've cut off your ability to have customers contact you."

They gave me a link in the email that took me to a 404 page that I was not allowed to screenshot due to security purposes and again, had to take a cell phone picture of it with my wife’s phone.

For our security, we're going to make it difficult for you to tell people what we are doing. Hahaha. Joke's on them.

I am not the only one who has had problems. If you go to Yelp’s own Yelp page and read the reviews, you can see that I am one of the many who have been part of this ridiculousness.

The first two reviews on Yelp's yelp page

Yelp’s Practices Create a False Impression of a Business

Creating a false impression of a business can be done by either actively making a false representation or by concealing information to create a false impression. Saying that a business has a 5-star rating from 15 customers says as much about a company as it does saying that a business only has two reviews total. Representing to the public that a company has a much lower number of reviews than it actually does deceives the public into believing that the company is new, the company is unremarkable such that customers are not excited to share the level of service they received by that business, or that there is not enough information to determine if the company is trustworthy and provides quality service. They created a system where you cannot appeal or review any of the deleted reviews. The only way to combat the low volume of leads you get from inaccurate representations made about your business is to pay them to get more leads.

In fact, not only do they hide my reviews, but they also highlight on my page the fact that my page hardly has any reviews.

"With so few reviews, either your review, or Jeff paying us again for prominent placement could really help him out. But go ahead and leave him a review. Attach pictures he took of you. We don't care. Let's see what happens."

I didn’t have any problems with Yelp until I gave them an indication that I was both willing to pay and willing to stop paying. Yelp has been nothing but a carnival of disasters. The best thing you can do for your business is to not be on their radar as someone who is willing to pay to fix problems they create.

Jeff Bennion's picture

Jeff Bennion is a San Diego-based portrait photographer specializing in boudoir and fashion photography. He owns Ignite Studio, the prettiest studio in the world. He is also an attorney licensed in California.

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There's a documentary on Amazon called "Billion Dollar Bully" you may want to watch.

Seems, they try to rip people off. Better never get in touch with them. Personally I never ever visited any yelp-page and won't do it in the future.

They've had some controversy years and years ago. I don't remember exactly what it was about, but, I just remember based on their response, they are a bunch of dirt bags. Apparently, nothing has changed. When I google a business, I skip their results. They are like the CNN of review sites. Can't be trusted.


It’s not the Yelp reviews that keeps the company alive it’s the cash stream they generate for Google. The underhanded dirty practice of extortion is an old business use to be called protection, someday a class action suit may bring down YELP!
Google has no ethics’s it’s just a giant monster that’s been allowed to consume anything in its path use DuckDuckGo,

Agreed. I wasted $1000+ before I pulled the plug.
"Most of my leads through Yelp are for categories that I specifically exclude in my ads."
This is why. Their engine sux. Also, folks get offended and post online tantrums as reviews when you suggest a compromise solution in response to their request to pay 10% of market rate. Too many Bozos. It's a no-win marketplace.

Whenever someone does something that someone with a different political persuasion doesn't like, suddenly negative Yelp reviews pop up. This is both from the left and the right. The reviews are meaningless.

This reminds me back when I had a website link on my Instagram bio, the person I was disagreeing with says something like, "Oh, you have a business. Yelp is going to have to hear about this."