Yelp Can Change Online Ratings. Is this fair?

If a business buys advertising on Yelp, they can have a better listing no matter what consumers are reporting.

Last week, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco essentially ruled Yelp can manipulate ratings. So instead of organic reactions of others, you might be getting a rating based on advertising dollars. 

Here's how it works: a business can buy an ad on Yelp. Yelp can then raise the overall rating for the business no matter what customer reviews indicate. The purpose of Yelp is to have a site based on user reviews. So if you go to your local pizza joint and it's terrible, you can alert others. There's a flip side too - if you have a wonderful experience with a plumbing company, you're able to praise them online and share your story. 

Cats and Dogs Animal Hospital of Santa Barbara said Yelp offered to "hide negative reviews" in exchange for ad sales. The owner of Wheel Techniques, a Santa Clara auto body shop, said he asked Yelp why a competitor had a higher rating and was told that the rival company bought ads.

While the ruling doesn't say Yelp is allowed to threaten business with lower ratings if they don't pay up, they've been repeatedly accused of this in the past. Many online consumers are frustrated with Yelp and are moving away from the site. 

In San Francisco blog SFist, Jay Barmann wrote, “It certainly makes one trust the integrity of the site that much less.” 

If you're a business owner, does this encourage you to buy advertising to manipulate your ratings or will you let a less-than-awesome review page stand? 

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