by Geoff Gillette
Almost since it first started selling ad space on its website, Yelp has been accused of playing it fast and loose with ratings depending on the size of a customer’s ad buy. The bigger the bankroll, the better your business fared.
Yelp has denied this for pretty much as long as they’ve been accused, with lengthy explanations of how their software isn’t designed for that.
Whichever side you favor in the great debate, the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals has weighed in with a resounding, ‘Yeah, Yelp can do that…nothing wrong with a little negotiating.’
The ruling from the 9th Circuit came about due to a class-action suit by small business owners who said they’d been told by Yelp sales reps that ratings were dependent on ad buys. In their 3-0 ruling the judges said that any alleged threat of economic harm was just hard bargaining.
Hard Bargaining? Really? Whether or not Yelp actually does what they’re being accused of (no one has really proven that one way or another), the fact that a group of judges can come to the conclusion that going in and changing ratings or removing favorable reviews in order to stack the deck towards their paying clients seems ludicrous. And do they not see that a ruling of that sort does nothing but harm small business owners? People who may have a great restaurant or service but don’t have the disposable income to invest in Yelp ads.
In the ruling, Judge Marsha Berzon states that in today’s society anyone can register their review of anything ‘with a few taps of the keyboard.’ Absolutely true, but not every site purports itself to be the steward of where to go for goods and services. From Yelp’s own site, “Our purpose: To connect people with great local businesses.”
Perhaps they should post an amendment to that mission statement like, “To connect people with local businesses who pay us.”
Truth in advertising…what a concept.
What do you think about the ruling? Will it change how you use Yelp to inform your spending?