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February 20, 2009

9 Myths about Yelp

Here at Yelp we're trying to make the world a better place by helping people to connect with great local businesses.  We've grown very quickly in a few years, and our site is different from what most people were previously used to with yellow pages and other directories.  As a result, people sometimes misunderstand how we do business, have questions about how the site works, or just plain don't like the idea of consumer reviews.  Here are some of the Yelp Myths that we've heard most often:

Myth # 1: To rank highly in Yelp search results, businesses have to buy advertising

Reality: Yelp search result pages often feature one orange-background, clearly-labeled Sponsored Result at the top of the page.  We got the idea for this design from the major search engines. Look at the ad designs compared here and, if you find yourself even a little confused about the Yelp ad, please send over any suggestions about how to make it even more obvious.
Yelp's numbered search results (all of the other listings in white background) have absolutely nothing to do with who is paying us.  For example, check out this search result for the very popular "Restaurant, San Francisco" query.  As of February '09, only 1 of these top 10 resulting restaurants (Masa, at #9) is a Yelp advertiser.

Myth #2: Advertisers get to manipulate their reviews (e.g., remove negative reviews, add positive reviews, re-order their reviews, etc.)

Reality: Advertisers on Yelp pay for... well, ads.  These orange-background, clearly-labeled Sponsored Results appear in various places on the site including in a single spot at the top of search (see Myth #1).  Along with their ads, advertisers also get to add a photo slide show to their business page, and they get to promote one favorite review at the top of their business page under the header "One of Advertiser's Favorite Reviews."  Here's an example of what this looks like. With the exception of this one "Favorite Review," consumer reviews for advertisers are handled exactly the same as consumer reviews for all other non-paying businesses.  So no, advertisers never get special powers to remove a negative review, add a positive one or move reviews around on their page.

Myth #3: Yelp salespeople manipulate reviews for prospective advertisers (for example, offers to remove a negative review if a new client signs up, or a threat to remove positive reviews if the business owner does not choose to advertise with Yelp)

Reality: We have every reason to trust the smart, hard-working and ethical salespeople who work at Yelp.  Beyond this, to avoid even an appearance of impropriety, we've taken several steps to ensure no member of our team is tempted to game the system.  Specifically:
1. Yelp salespeople do not have access to the system that deletes reviews; only a few members of Yelp engineering and user support team have this access, and they literally work on different floors within the office.
2. Every Yelp salesperson signs an agreement that s/he will not write reviews of any business while employed by Yelp.  We trust our teammates in sales to live up to this commitment.  We also have several monitoring systems in place to ensure nobody (accidentally or otherwise) crosses this line.
3. Through our vigilance, we once did find a salesperson who encouraged a friend to write a positive review for a prospective client (that the friend had actually patronized). The salesperson's role at Yelp ended that day.
4. When a new advertiser signs up with Yelp, the relationship is handed off to an Account Manager.  The Account Manager then takes the client through a 30 minute phone training session -- and confirms that reviews have nothing to do with advertising.
5. After the training call, the Account Manager sends a follow up survey that asks each client how much s/he agrees with the following statement: "I understand that Reviews are completely separate from the Yelp Ad Program, and that there is an automated filter that may suppress some of my reviews whether or not I am a client."  Any client who does not click "Completely Agree" in this case gets yet another follow-up call for clarification.

Myth #4: Yelp removes positive reviews from businesses its staff does not like, or from businesses that do not pay for advertising

Reality: A review you may have seen on Yelp previously is no longer there; this happens.  The review in question may have "disappeared" for one of three reasons:
1. The review may have been suppressed by Yelp's automated Review Filter, which is always out there looking for suspicious reviewing activity (like those anonymous rants and raves you see on other sites). 
2. The writer may have removed her own review; she has the right to do that at any time
3. Another user believed the review violated Yelp's Review Guidelines and sent it to our customer service team for review. The customer service team agreed, then manually removed the review.

Both our customer service team and the Review Filter work exactly the same way for advertisers as they do for non-advertisers.

Myth #5: Yelp salespeople harass business owners by calling incessantly, and will never stop

Reality: Our salespeople call local businesses to introduce our targeted advertising programs; we're trying to establish warm new relationships, never to irritate someone. Persistence is part of sales, and if a business manager asks one of our salespeople to "keep in touch" or "call next week," we will!  On the other hand, our salespeople don't like wasting time (yours or theirs), so if you tell your Yelp sales rep to call back in three months, we'll do that.  And if you really want us never to call again, we will add you to our "Do Not Call" list.  If you ever become aware of a Yelp team member violating your specific request along these lines, please let us know.

Myth #6: Reviewers on Yelp are very young, mostly in high school or college

Reality: In January 2009, 94% of Yelp reviewers were over 23 years old. This means about 6% of reviewers fall into that "high school or college age" category.

Myth #7: Yelp reviewers get sued regularly by business owners for writing negative reviews

Reality: Freedom of speech is a well-protected right, whether that speech is online or in any other form. As a result, reviewers are well within their rights to express their opinions (ranging from "I love the ambiance" to "The cashier was rude to me") and relate their true experiences ("I ordered the shrimp scampi” and “The doctor wouldn’t accept my insurance”).  Some of the most successful business owners on Yelp use their free business owner's account to contact positive and negative reviewers alike, even when they feel a review is unfair or incorrect.  Reviewers are usually thrilled to get a well-meaning response.  The handful of business owners who have pursued the “nuclear option” of suing someone over a negative reviewer have met with little success, high legal bills, and a lot more attention focused on the negative review than they originally bargained for.  When that happens, we make it a point to involve ourselves early on to protect the rights of legitimate reviewers.

Myth #8: Yelp was created to allow whining and complaining about businesses

Reality: Just the opposite. Yelp was created to help consumers find great local businesses. And it's working: more than 85% of the 5 million reviews written to date are 3+ stars.  So if anything, that small percentage of negative reviews provide an important consumer service. Just like in the real world, not every local business experience is going to be perfect.

Myth #9: Business owners have no voice on Yelp

Reality: Every local business can setup a FREE Business Owner's Account to publicly post a description of the business, announce special offers, message customers, add photos, track traffic on their Yelp page and more.