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The Worst Restaurant Ever: The Yelp Backlash


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As a business owner, you’ve probably heard time and time again that referral traffic, word of mouth marketing, and customer reviews are an expensive and priceless marketing mechanism. In October of 2004, a new company launched an app and website, Yelp, which forever changed the way business owners view, handle, and react to reviews of their business.

When Yelp first emerged, many consumers and business owners were excited that there would finally be a way for people to read honest, real reviews on the businesses they frequent or want to try out. However, as Yelp has grown and evolved, many business owners have accused the review site of slander, targeting businesses that refuse to pay to advertise, and worst of all, of being untrustworthy.

With an average of 139 million monthly unique visitors (In Q3 of 2014) and more than 67 million local reviews, it’s no wonder Yelp has become important for both consumers and business owners. And although 66 percent of all reviews left on the site are either four or five stars (which means they are positive reviews), many businesses are turning their backs on Yelp all together. Here’s why:

The Backlash

Because Yelp has turned into an industry leader for identifying and conveying consumers’ experiences and thoughts about the businesses they frequent, the company has the power to alter peoples’ perceptions of businesses. This can result in either damaging or heightening the business’ reputations.

Yelp reviews actually have a measurable effect on the profitability of a business, which makes business owners really care about the quality of the reviews that are posted to the site. The recent verdict in the Levitt v. Yelp case determined that business owners could in fact pay for good reviews, which has caused many business owners to start worrying that Yelp is increasingly becoming a small business bully.

Botto Bistro, a Bay-area restaurant, decided to take out their frustration with Yelp on the review site itself by starting a viral, “Hate Us on Yelp” campaign. The business asked customers to leave one star reviews on the site, essentially dragging their overall ranking down. Their campaign was a success; they became the only one star rated restaurant on Yelp. The restaurant offered discounts to patrons who left one star, sarcastic reviews, and in return, the restaurant received massive amounts of publicity. More importantly, Botto Bistro vocalized the small business v. Yelp grudge and helped spread awareness to both Yelpers and small business owners.

Many small business owners have accused Yelp of extortion and manipulating ratings and reviews in exchange for advertising space. That, coupled with real users having their reviews flagged for removal, has made many users and business owners completely lose trust in Yelp, which promises “Real People. Real Reviews.”

The Grudges

Believe it or not, that’s just the start of the long list of grievances that small business owners are building against Yelp. Because the review site is a public forum, any user can post a review about any business, and these reviews are not fact checked. Some reviews do get flagged for removal, but that process is long and bumpy, as Yelp tends to cater more towards the consumer than the business owner. Other reviews get recommended by Yelp, but the algorithm is confusing, leaving some businesses with no reviews, other businesses with only awful reviews, and of course those businesses who pay to advertise on Yelp, with the best reviews. It shouldn’t come as a surprise then that a growing number of users and business owners have begun questioning the validity of the reviews on Yelp. Did that person actually eat at that restaurant, or do they work for a competitor? Did that girl really have the worst server ever, or did she just have a bad day? Was that really the worst cookie you have ever eaten, or were you over exaggerating? 

Businesses are also beginning to publicly embrace the backlash against Yelp. More signs claiming “come try the worst burger some guy on Yelp ever had” are popping up as business owners stop trying to cater to the review site and its picky users and instead choose to stick to the basics that made them successful in the first place. As an increasing number of bad reviews have begun to pop up and positive reviews remain hidden, many business owners have accused the crowd-sourced review site’s users of being overly aggressive and dishonest. Not every consumer or patron is reasonable, and Yelp seems to provide the unreasonable patron the perfect platform to spew their negativity, making it hard for small business owners to create, manage, and maintain good reputations.

Business owners beware: crowd-sourced reviews are a tricky concept, but one that is definitely here to stay. In fact, now you can even leave reviews on business’ Facebook pages. But that’s no reason to be scared of Yelp or other review sites; embrace them and try to manage both the good and the bad reviews with a positive response. And if Yelp flexes their muscles at you, don’t be afraid to flex right back.

Has your business has a bad experience with Yelp? Tweet us @KabbageInc and tell us all about it.

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