Picking Who to to Screw: Yelp’s Model and how SEO’s can Avoid its Failure

Almost everyone in the United States has heard of Yelp. They have done a great job at branding and getting their content found online. There are avid “Yelpers” who frequent the site/app and leave hundreds of detailed reviews, which in turn help the community of reviewers and searchers. It’s a simple review model that has been turned upside-down in order to encourage honest, authentic reviews.

Business Model

The model seems simple. Get people to leave good reviews. Become well-known in the space so that it becomes a must-have resource. The end. Right?
The problem comes when Yelp tries to make money. If their stock price is any indicator, it doesn’t look so hot right now. And I think I know why.

The “Ignore” Model

Yelp prides itself in its algorithm that filters out reviews that it doesn’t deem worthy of showing. These “filtered” reviews don’t factor into the star rating, and finding them basically requires a magnifying glass. This is supposed to make users feel warm and fuzzy because Yelp does its duty to crack down on spam, fake reviews, and reviews that they don’t think will be useful. Ok, we get it.

Now back to money.

Yelp users and reviewers don’t pay for the service. This is fine; it’s a consumer-driven model. But where does Yelp earn its revenue? From business owners.

Catering to consumers has its advantages, and did a wonderful job of establishing Yelp as one of the leaders in the space. The problem is, they actively undermine their own funding by ignoring requests and support to business owners. For example, getting a review removed from yelp is near impossible, no matter how obvious it is. Believe me, I’ve tried. I worked with someone who listed a service area on their website, which was basically the western half of a major metro area. They received a surprising review that informed them that they were racists for only servicing one half of the city. A long rant ensued, and it was published.

A Big. Fat. One-star Review.

I was on many calls with Yelp representatives about this, and to end it all- the review stayed up. A “customer” who had never used the service, someone who merely glanced at a website and labeled the entire company as racist, had left a review for the world to see. We were told that the algorithm makes the decisions, and the best way to proceed was to provide an excellent service that garnered more 5-star reviews.


I understand that this kind of thing happens. But I guarantee that there are hundreds of business owners who have similar experiences with Yelp.
Three weeks after that incident, I received a call from Yelp. Was it to talk about removing the fake/libelous review? No. It was tell sell me on the joys of advertising with them. Yes, the very company that refused to help me with a very logical and straight-forward task is now asking me to pay them money.
I’ve done extensive research on their algorithm and it’s actually pretty simple (though they guard it like it were the Mona Lisa). Don’t get me started on its flaws. Also, don’t get me started on their reporting for advertisers and what constitutes a “lead”.

Now to SEO

I run a Boise SEO company that has a few local clients and a few national ones. If I want to do well at my job, I have to keep these clients happy. It seems overly simple, I know, but what kind of company would I be if I undermined the very people who made my business function?
This is exactly what Yelp is attempting, and to me says that we will eventually witness its demise.

Here’s the Bottom Line

If I am trying to build Morningdove Marketing, I have to consider the inevitable fact that if extreme care isn’t taken to satisfy those who give me money, it will dry up quickly. Spending money in business isn’t talked about like the personal finance space, and maybe it should be.

I’m a big proponent of investing in the companies for which I do work. And I’m not just talking about spending a portion of their budget on tools, outreach, etc. I’m talking about considering yourself a member of their team and doing all I can to help their business succeed. There have been many instances where I’ve personally used their services or have referred them to friends and family.
Spend some money on tools. Spend some money on making your office and employees comfortable. But DON’T forget who is financing it.
Let Yelp be a cautionary tale for your business. No matter what your intentions are, reward those who pay, because without them, your business is as good as gone.

Author Bio:

Daniel Christensen is the founder of https://morningdove.marketing, which specializes in local search, link-building, and SEO, especially for local businesses. He likes watching old episodes of 24, eating cinnamon rolls, and cuddling with his new baby girl.

Our Location