A colleague of mine who is a physician had several 5-star doctor reviews from Yelp for over a year. Some clients came to him because of these favorable reviews. He is the recipient of numerous awards for being a caring and ethical doctor, including a Patients’ Choice Award. One day, a woman walked into his office fighting to get out of paying her copay and refusing to get her medical history taken. She started screaming and yelling in the waiting room about how history-taking was a waste of time and that she just wanted to get a surgery done for a chronic skin condition in the next ten minutes. The doctor told the patient that a full consultation needed to be done prior to any cosmetic procedure. The patient yelled at the doctor, bolted out of the office, and immediately destroyed him on Yelp in a full page angry rant. My colleague’s ranking went from 5 stars to 3 ½ stars in one day. He contacted Yelp about this negative doctor review and they did nothing. The physician realized that he had received four other legitimate positive doctor ratings that were 5 stars; however, none of them made it to his primary Yelp page. Yelp had decided to filter out those reviews. The only way he could write an answer back to this patient on Yelp would be to post his picture on Yelp, and he did not want his personal photo all over the internet. Taking this extra step would also not change his Yelp physician ratings or erase the horrible review. He did not want his business to be at the mercy of difficult patients who want to slander him whenever they please and soil his reputation in an instant. So he decided to remove his business from the Yelp review system. What?? He discovered that YOU CANNOT REMOVE YOUR BUSINESS FROM BEING MANIPULATED BY YELP! The company won’t let you opt-out of their website, yet they are a for-profit business making money off of small businesses who advertise with them. Not even the government exerts that much control over the fate of small businesses who are struggling to stay afloat in a very competitive world.
This is why Yelp has the power to destroy your business:
- Yelp filters out more good reviews than bad reviews
- Yelp allows for bad reviews to be posted even if they are marked with a red flag by the business owner, or the owner attests that they are fraudulent
- You cannot leave Yelp as a business owner. Are you kidding?
- If you are “Googled,” Yelp reviews come out on the top of search engine listings for many businesses; so Yelp can easily control how the public perceives you on the internet
- Individuals posting false bad reviews can easily get away with it on Yelp. Businesses or Yelp often cannot track these people down due to the vague information required to sign up to be a Yelper (just name, zip code and country which can all be fabricated plus an e-mail address which is active—an address that can be registered for free in any phony name)
- Yelp can decide to post a horrible review right next to your business listing name even if you have numerous positive reviews.
A business owner deserves the right to get out of Yelp whether or not it is helping or hurting his/her online reputation. Business owners should have freedom of choice to decide whether we want ourselves to be evaluated by Yelp’s proprietary review system. Yelp asserts that this is “freedom of speech” for the consumer to rate businesses. The following question was posed on the Yelp page for business owners:
I’m a business owner and don’t want my business to be listed on Yelp — can I have it removed from Yelp?
Response from Yelp: “Consumers have the right to talk about what they like (and don’t like) about a meal they ate, a plumber they hired, or a car wash they visited. We don’t remove business listings, so your best bet is to engage with your fans and critics alike, and hear what they have to say.”
Sure, consumers have the right to say what they want (as long as it is not defamatory) all over the internet; however, why do businesses have to be forced to accept the Yelp platform? Business owners should have the freedom to choose whether we want to accept this proprietary Yelp filtering process, the way Yelp presents our business, how they recruit reviewers (with little way to identify who they are), how they come up with the star system, how they decide to order our reviews etc. Business reputations can be suddenly ruined by scathing reviews from former employees, ex-girlfriends, or crazy clients on the internet who create non-verifiable phony accounts. Those tarnished businesses should have the right to remove themselves from this forum. Facebook, the other social media giant, has never forced you to have a business profile or friends on their site.
No matter how much the company would like to deny it, Yelp is not an unbiased open forum. It manipulates your profile by choosing how to rate you. For example, Yelp can choose to give you 3 stars or 4 stars even if you got ten 5-star reviews! They can choose not to display all your good reviews (hide them in the “filtered section”). They can choose to show your terrible reviews first, so those are the first entries people see. They choose which consumers they feel are “more qualified” to review your business and which consumers’ reviews should be completely disregarded or not counted in your star rating. For example, they can filter out physician ratings from a full professor at Harvard Medical School and accept them from someone who has no high school education but yelps fifteen times a day. They can choose to put an advertisement for a competing business on your business page–with a 5-star rating–directly under your business listing that may have only a 2-star rating.
The main issue is this. Yelp forces businesses to use their system! Yelp actually forces businesses to be presented the way they want them to be presented. This isn’t decided by the public– the “consumer”. It is decided by Yelp. Yelp (with their “automated software”) decides where to position the reviews and which reviews they want to include.
Don’t you think businesses should be able to decide whether or not they want to be a part of this? They have absolutely no rights to get out of Yelp? Who allowed Yelp to get away with this and decided to give them the power to control the fate of business reputations built over decades of sacrifice and hard work? If the United States government truly wants small business to succeed, it can’t allow for one large for-profit company to force businesses to be a part of their proprietary review system.
Dr. Henry Mann