Is Yelp Bad For Photographers?

Recently as I was looking into some backlink research on Google, I realized that one of the first links that comes up when searching for my business is my Yelp business page. This isn't surprising. Yelp is an established business and has an established website with high domain authority, of course it's going to rank well within search engines. What was surprising, however, was how the title of the link read, "The Amberlight Collective - CLOSED."

I don't visit my Yelp page often. I know my ideal clients don't hang out on Yelp looking for wedding photographers. I've done my due diligence researching and creating my ideal client avatar, so Yelp has been a distant blip on my radar. They do, however, hangout on Google, so a glaring Yelp link exclaiming my business as permanently closed was concerning. At the very top of my phone screen within the Yelp app (which the Google link redirected me to) was a big bold notice, "Yelpers report this location has closed.” My mind was racing for a reason why anyone would feel the need to mark my very active and alive wedding photography business as permanently closed. Then it hit me. The week before, I'd blocked Yelp's incessant sales calls in a rather unorthodox way, and at that moment I was pretty sure they’d marked my business as permanently closed because of it.

Yelp’s Sales Calls

For years, I'd been receiving sales calls from Yelp. Sometimes every day, sometimes several times a day. And I know I’m not alone. In various photography Facebook groups, I’d heard story after story of how harassing Yelp was. Sometimes I'd answer and tell the representative I wasn't interested, other times I'd let the calls roll to voicemail. Sometimes the voicemails left were pushy, and sometimes the caller sounded exasperated and verging on rude. After awhile, I'd decided to use my iPhone's built in blocking feature to cause the Yelp calls to roll straight to voicemail without ringing and bothering me. This wasn't effective, however, because whenever my business got assigned to a new Yelp sales representative (which happens often for some reason), they would call from a new number. Each number has a different area code, and it led me to assume that Yelp sales reps call from their own personal phones. I don't know if this is a correct assumption or not. 

Recently, I'd downloaded an app called "TrapCall." It's a handy app that unmasks blocked calls or "No Caller ID" calls and allows the user to "blacklist" any number they do not want calling any longer. It has been so extremely useful as a business owner because it allows me to blacklist telemarketers and scammers and unmasks their phone numbers when they attempt to hide the identity of their line. When you use TrapCall to blacklist a phone number, what happens is the next time a blacklisted number calls, they receive a recorded message that your phone number has been disconnected. It has been extremely effective in deterring telemarketers and scammers who do not adhere to "Do Not Call" lists. So naturally, after receiving call after call from Yelp, and knowing that they do not take "No thank you" as a sufficient answer, I decided to block my latest Yelp rep's phone number. Fast forward two weeks later, and there I was, lying in bed for a bit of light "bedtime business research" seeing that my business has been marked as permanently closed on Yelp.

A Few Problems

I'm going to guess what thoughts may be going through your mind right now as you read this. "Danette, you're reaching, you don't actually know if that's the reason why your Yelp page has been marked as closed." Or "Yelp called and got a message that your phone has been disconnected, what did you expect to happen?" Those thoughts went through my mind too, and I have good answers for them, and I'll answer them, really I will, keep reading.

At this point, during my evening of discovery, an epiphany occurred. If what I'm assuming occurred actually did occur, there are some glaring red flags.

  • Yelp allows their sales people to mark a business as permanently closed.
  • Yelp has no verification process to determine if a business is actually permanently closed.
  • Yelp uses misleading language on their app that implies that other "yelpers," aka consumers, have marked a business as permanently closed instead of their own internal employees marking the business as closed.

Needless to say, I also realized that I do, in fact, dislike Yelp greatly.

The next morning I woke up early, first making a public post asking past clients to please mark my business as NOT closed within Yelp, and when this didn't work, made it a point to find my Yelp sales representative's phone number, which I'd blocked with TrapCall, unblocked it and called and left him a somewhat stern voicemail letting him know I wasn't at all interested in his sales pitch, but that I'd like to know why my business was marked as permanently closed. He did not return my phone call. I then took to Yelp's website scouring it for a customer support line (spoiler: there wasn't one), all I could find was Yelp's Advertising department's phone number (shocker). I also found Yelp's fun little "Legal Questions" section with this question that immediately struck me: 

"Does Yelp extort small businesses?" And here's Yelp's actual answer:

"No.

The Yelp extortion meme theorizes that if a business advertises on Yelp, we will reward it with favorable reviews and remove the negative ones, and that we will punish anyone who refuses to advertise. 

The problem with the theory is that it isn't true. Advertising, or not advertising, has no impact on a business’s Yelp reviews." 

You can read the entire answer on Yelp's site.

Yelp’s Rating System

Going down the Yelp research hole caused me to start finding more stories of how people feel they've been extorted by Yelp. There's even a Sushi restaurant in Peoria IL who, earlier this year, protested (in a rather unconventional way) Yelp by asking their customers to leave their restaurant 1-star reviews on the platform because the restaurant's owner felt the review system was biased. I found many accounts online from people feeling harassed by the sales team and even discovered a documentary has been made called "Billion Dollar Bully," which is focused on finding out if Yelp extorts small businesses by making business owners pay to "manage" their reviews. Some people interpret this as meaning that Yelp will filter good reviews over bad reviews, skewing rankings in the favor of businesses that pay by using their "recommended" review system, though Yelp insists that businesses cannot pay to have a more favorable overall rating. It is interesting to note that a quick search of Yelp's own Yelp business page reveals that they currently have 9,662 reviews that are not currently recommended, over the 7,000 reviews that are recommended and more visible. Most of the non-recommended reviews are 1-star reviews of Yelp’s services.

I took to Facebook to ask fellow photographers about their experiences using Yelp for their business. "Omg I'm being stalked right now by Yelp," "Yelp is ferocious in their marketing calls. They call constantly," and "Oh they call and email me at least three times a day," were a few of the responses I received. 

If the relentless sales calls weren't enough to bother you, their business model might do the trick. As photographers, we work in an extremely saturated market. On Yelp, you have to pay them NOT to display your competition on your Yelp business listing. You have to pay Yelp to display your portfolio in an order that you can control, and you have to pay Yelp to "manage" your reviews and ratings. In my opinion, Yelp is not a friend to photographers.

I finally caved and called Yelp's advertising line in an effort to find someone who could fix my erroneous "permanently closed" issue. Here is the one good thing I have to say about Yelp, the sales representative who answered was extremely nice and helpful, but he also inadvertently confirmed my suspicions. When he answered I told him I wasn't calling for advertising, but that Yelp had marked my business as closed, and I wanted to know why. He quickly pulled up my account and confirmed that it had been marked as permanently closed. And here is the kicker, he explained to me that there was a note on my account that my current Yelp sales representative had attempted to contact me and had received a disconnection message, so they'd marked my business as closed. There it is folks. And while you may think it is my own fault that Yelp marked my business as closed, there is no denying that they did not do their due diligence in verifying the current state of my business. LLC records are public, a quick Google search would have shown that my business is still in operation. What happens if a business changes their phone number, then God forbid, forgets to notify Yelp's sales team? Heck, they could have sent me an email seeking to verify if my business was closed while simultaneously notifying me that they would be marking it as permanently closed. 

And in addition to Yelp’s unyielding sales calls, there is the other issue of the misleading notice Yelp left on my business page. Yelpers did not indicate to Yelp that my business had closed, Yelp themselves marked it as closed when their sales rep could no longer get ahold of me, then used misleading text as a notice at the top of my business page. It's disconcerting, to say the least. In my opinion and experience, Yelp is a shady company that could potentially be doing more harm than good for small businesses.

What are your experiences with Yelp? Let me know in the comments.

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25 Comments

Adam Ottke's picture

This is crazy. I went back and forth while reading your article, thinking, "Could it be a little your fault?" But it's ridiculous that Yelp does this. You're absolutely right that they should do their due homework and actually verify if a business is closed or not. Hounding you until you block them and then marking your business as closed because of that is ridiculous.

Danette Chappell's picture

Totally. It actually blows my mind a bit how much power their sales people have. Why don't they have different departments that are accessible to users? I have so many questions about Yelp now, ha.

Tami Jones's picture

Wow. I'm wondering if it's time for a lawyer to get involved w Yelp. I mean people can't call you endlessly even if you owe them money and there's so many people with yelp harassment stories racking up. Try calling John Morgan and see what they say there, you never know! I know he's in FL and you're not but he does biz in other states so it seems worth a shot.

Adam Ottke's picture

There's the harassment issue, which is protected by a number of new-ish telemarketing laws, thank goodness... But then there's a sort of defamation issue, too. Is saying your business is closed a terrible crime? Not really. But in this context and with the power/reach of a company like Yelp, saying anything that's not true about a business and hurts it is irresponsible and apparently not something they care to work on verifying, either. Maybe defamation isn't the word for it, but similar laws might apply here nonetheless....

Bernard Languillier's picture

I didn't know Yelp before reading this article, and now I know I don't want to have anything to do with them...

Tim R's picture

They are known to bother business then retaliate. You should never have had any contact with them. You answer the phone, then you're screwed if you decline them. In my area market, weddingwire and theknot dominate searches for google. i haven't seen yelp in search results in quite some time. no photographers that i know of even have reviews there.

Tim R's picture

Also your fstoppers bio is interesting. 1500 weddings? lets say you're 30 years of age. That's 50 weddings each year since birth. but then your website says you started in 2008, which means...yikes! that's just over 3 weddings every week for the past 9.5 years. I hope my math is wrong.

Danette Chappell's picture

Hey Tim! Thanks for your comment. I'm Vegas based which means I shoot a ton of traditional weddings and Vegas elopements, so your math is mostly correct. There have been times where I've photographed up to 8 elopements in a day. Crazy crazy, but then again, Vegas is a little crazy. :)

Tim R's picture

8 wedding elopements in a day is fantastic! I love short weddings. I'm sure Vegas is fun. Will be out there in November for other non-photography business.

Michael Anthony's picture

Just a few weeks back, Yelp was calling incessantly, I thought it odd, so I checked my reviews, sure enough a 1 star review that didn't belong on my business page. I protested the review after talking with the sales person, and two days later the review comes down....

Then the next day I told the rep that I did not want to advertise

Three days later the reviewer reposted another 1-star bogus review...I protested it this time, same exact review....but Yelp let it stand. It took an act of god to get the review removed when it didn't belong there in the first place.

Danette Chappell's picture

I think all review companies should move to a system of putting the burden of proof on the reviewer, instead of the business, to prove that their review is accurate. I know sites like WeddingWire and even the BBB (who I'm not the biggest fan of) provide a dispute process that asks the reviewer to provide proof that they've actually worked with the business they're reviewing. Sorry that happened to you!

Helen Oster's picture

Anyone can post anything on Yelp they fancy - doesn't matter how outrageous. 'Yelp' merely advises: "If the reviewer has a legitimate concern or a simple misunderstanding, take the opportunity to address their concerns, explain your policies, and invite them back.
If this review reads like a rant or seems false, we recommend responding with a direct message first. Send a polite note presenting your side of the story and remember you never go wrong taking the high road".

Not very helpful when a reviewer has left a completely fake review in an attempt to extort a business.

Michael Anthony's picture

The Knot will verify the facts of the case and require them to be true if you dispute a review with them, however they still allow non-clients to review your website.

AirBNB has the best review system, both parties review each other, and you don't get to see what the other wrote until you post your review. No BS with that one/

Amelia Butler's picture

Yes yelp should verify if a business is closed or not. There's so many people with yelp harassment stories racking up recently.

Peter Ware's picture

i downloaded Yelp a long time ago, but quickly dismissed it as trash & deleted it. I live in a rural area. Using Yelp, I found a few businesses I was interested in contacting. All their locations were in error. Residential homes, an empty field! I sent them an email (or form mail) to no avail. After that, I just gave up.

That's sad though that they operate like that to stay in business!

Motti Bembaron's picture

Hi Danette, I did not read the whole article but I got a pretty good idea about the rest of it. Yelp is known to post low ratings for businesses that do not agree to pay for their services. It is a known fact that they block good reviews and just post the bad ones (or none at all) if you refuse to pay them.

This is nothing less than extortion but hey, they are still in business

I will try to find the investigative story about Yelp and their questionable business methods.

Here is a link to BBB: https://www.bbb.org/greater-san-francisco/business-reviews/internet-serv...

Danette Chappell's picture

If you find the investigative story, let me know! I'd love to read it!

Motti Bembaron's picture

Edited:I found some. As you can see, the FTC refuses to take action even though the company had thousands of complains against. Not surprising since big companies always win. In Canada (in Quebec) Yelp is not as big as Google, not even close. I don't know anyone that searches Yelp for reviews. It's a good thing.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IDtoyNbYkO0

https://blogs.wsj.com/digits/2015/01/06/yelp-says-ftc-wont-act-on-compla...

http://fortune.com/2015/01/06/yelp-ftc-inquiry/

http://www.cbc.ca/news/business/yelp-accused-of-bullying-businesses-into...

David Mawson's picture

This sounds like a class action suit in the making.

Agnieszka Jakubowicz's picture

I freaking H A T E Yelp. I setup my business page there several years ago when I was just starting and had no clear idea about the market niche I was going to be in. Now, there is just no way to explain to those people that this page simply does not align with my marketing strategy. No amount of reasonable talk gets thru.... I always end up hanging up, they keep calling relentlessly. I blocked the number.

Danette Chappell's picture

What makes the situation so hard is, the way Yelp is set up, ANYONE can claim a business as "theirs", meaning, even if you hadn't set your business up, someone else could have created a Yelp page to review your business without your knowledge. I can't decide what would be worse, taking the chance of not setting up my business page with them, or setting it up and then getting all the harassing sales calls. :/

Justin Berrington's picture

"It has been extremely effective in deterring telemarketers and scammers who do not adhere to "Do Not Call" lists"

If this is your business number or a number you've listed with their service then the Do Not Call list does not apply to you any longer.

Justin Berrington's picture

I've never once gotten a call from Yelp until today. I think reading this article jinxed me. lol

Jayson Carey's picture

Yelp's been good to me, but that's because I shoot videos for them and they pay me. I would never put my own business on there.

Ralph Hightower's picture

I am not a professional photographer that needs to advertise on Yelp. I don't think that I've even given any Yelp reviews. But what Danette experienced is predatory; multiple calls per week, sometimes, multiple calls per day!. That's excessive! I would do the same thing that she did.
Our home phone uses NoMoRoBo (http://www.nomorobo.com) to block telemarketers and robocallers from our VOIP home phone. We get robocalls about 0% interest rate credit cards; those calls have random area codes, but one thing is consistent. They all end with -9047. They spoof numbers. If a business has to spoof a number, then they are probably hiding their real number because of criminal activity.