A few days ago, a New York Times interview with Yelp CEO Jeremy Stoppelman quotes him as saying that they don’t extort companies in return for suppressing negative reviews, but business owners fail to comprehend that reviews may appear and disappear based upon an algorithm that runs in the background.
That algorithm, which was implemented in 2005, apparently uses a number of criteria in attempting to detect whether reviews are valid, as opposed to being posted by competitors or being posted as a result of business owners soliciting reviews.
Yelp has been hit with a few class action lawsuits claiming they have attempted to extort businesses.
I can readily believe that Yelp has such algorithms, and that business owners might frequently misinterpret this policing functionality as having other, nefarious explanations.
However, I’ve heard too many anecdotal stories, both in the news and directly from biz owners, which sounded altogether believable to me. I think where there’s smoke, there’s often fire. The consistent stories involve Yelp sales personnel representing that negative reviews would be suppressed in some way if the owner purchases advertising.
What’s not clear to me is how much of this behavior was done at the initiative of overly-aggressive salesmen, versus possibly faulty internal policies. I bend towards thinking the former because I’ve witnessed far too many cases of overly aggressive sales people over time, which is part of what makes the various “extortionary” stories so believable.