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:
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.