Wednesday, January 8, 2020

Yelp: A Protection Racket Masquerading as a Review Site

 No Yelp

Many business owners believe Yelp is a protection racket masquerading as a review site. They say Yelp has full control over which reviews are counted and that Yelp manipulates the ratings based on whether or not a business buys advertising from them. They say Yelp salespeople are relentless and very aggressive. Business owners who pay for advertising are promised some control over their reviews.

Yelp has a market capitalization of $3.2 billion. More than 42 million reviews have been posted to Yelp and the site averages 108 million visitors per month.

Yelp Reviews

Yelp's business model pits the consumer against the business.

Yelp's product is advertising and their customers are business owners, not consumers. Yelp's content, other than advertising is provided free of charge by their users, but any time there is a conflict between a consumer and an advertiser, Yelp sides with the advertiser. Yelp salespeople are coached to offer advertisers assistance in getting negative reviews removed.

Most people who rely on Yelp reviews have no idea how the reviews are manipulated by Yelp. Yelp claims, "Currently, about 75% of all reviews are recommended." Yelp's criteria for sorting reviews is a trade secret and they've constructed it in a way that that makes it very difficult to reverse-engineer. 

Among the frequently asked questions on Yelp’s website, is this: “Will Yelp remove or reorder bad reviews if a business pays for sponsorship?”And the answer: “No. You can’t pay us to remove or reorder your bad reviews — it’s just that simple.”

That's what Yelp says. However the evidence indicates otherwise.
  Many businesses owners who don't advertise on Yelp believe Yelp filters reviews when there are too many positive ones. Many small-business owners say Yelp routinely uses bad reviews and competitors’ ads as leverage to get merchants to cough up some cash.

Most people who use Yelp don't know about the filtered reviews. Reviews that Yelp doesn't recommend can still be seen via a link, but that link is buried at the bottom of the page. Yelp can and does show different reviews to different people. They can show you a review you wrote as if it mattered, while at the same time for everyone else, your review is sitting in the "Not Recommended" wasteland.

Chain restaurants have very few reviews filtered out, while restaurants that are small operations have very few reviews, or bad reviews, and are much more likely to have many reviews filtered out.

High Pressure Sales Tactics

Advertising costs on Yelp began between $300, $500 a month, but you have to commit to 6 months to a year

Yelp salespeople will tell you:

1. "You are getting X amount of clicks on our Yelp page daily and you should be, paying Yelp for every single one of those clicks."

2. "Hey, you have a decent reputation on Yelp. You should think about advertising, so more people can see you."

They continually harass you and strong-arm you to get you to pay for their service. Many of the ad impressions they sell are next to worthless because of their placement on the page or because they are displayed to the wrong audience.

Pay to play on Yelp

You tell them no enough times and suddenly, you'll see three or four bad reviews appear and some of the good ones disappear. Yelp will sell ad space on your page to your competitors and then when you ask about it they will offer to sell that ad space to you.

Yelp doesn't trust positive reviews but they are happy to use dubious negative reviews to strong-arm a business into buying advertising.

Compliance Verification

Yelp is accused of "naming and shaming" those businesses who Yelp suspects have suspicious reviews. They will penalize you if they suspect you have been soliciting reviews. Once accused by Yelp of soliciting reviews the business must submit a Compliance Verification form and wait 30 to 45 days before Yelp may confirm the business is no longer soliciting reviews and remove the search results penalty.

Meanwhile, there are lots of people (including Elite Members) selling Yelp reviews on the internet via Craig's List and other web sites. A Google search for "Buy Yelp reviews" turns up lots of links and quite a few advising against it because if it is detected, you will be punished. 

ABC recently reported that Yelp is now playing private detective to find businesses paying for reviews and outing them publicly. They create an unfair environment then call out people for trying to avoid the damage it creates.

FTC Investigation

Yelp has been under investigation by the Federal Trade Commission, but as of yet no charges have been filed. 2,000 complaints were filed by businesses that their rankings were diminished because they refused to advertise with Yelp.

Yelp Elite

Elite member get special benefits and have a lot of power -- if you get a five-star review from a Yelp Elite,  it's there forever.

Yelp Elites are particularly demanding. They can often be vindictive, or use the threat of a bad review as leverage to get discounts or refunds. Merchants can often feel blackmailed by customers while also paying protection to Yelp.

A group of disgruntled Yelp reviewers have filed a class-action lawsuit demanding that they be compensated for posting their opinions on the site.

According to the suit, the angry Yelpers are arguing that they are technically unpaid employees who deserve money for their “work” — which includes writing, researching, editing and lodging reviews — since they’re crucial to Yelp’s business model.

Businesses Have no Choice

Whether you want to be on Yelp or whether you don't want to be on Yelp, whether people know you're on Yelp or not, you're gonna be on there. You can't delete your account, but you can be prevented from commenting on reviews about your business. 

Yelp Reviewers Who Are Terminated Have no Recourse 

From Yelp's Terms of Service:
"We may close your account, suspend your ability to use certain portions of the Service, and/or ban you altogether from the Service for any or no reason, and without notice or liability of any kind."

It's time to impose some costs on Yelp for their unfair business practices

For starters, Yelp should be banned from the search results on Google (and other search engines) until they change their ways. Of course that's not likely to happen, but if Google receives enough complaints about Yelp's conduct, they might reduce the credibility and ranking they currently assign to Yelp pages about individual businesses.  

For more information

See Billion Dollar Bully -- This documentary explores accusations that online marketing giant Yelp! is running a mob-like extortion racket against business owners who refuse, or can't afford to pay-to-play.

Billion Dollar Bully

Sunday, January 5, 2020

US Media Reaction to the Soleimani Killing -- The Sky is Falling!

Our enemies in Iran are watching. We should all question the justifications for the drone strike on terrorist leaders in Baghdad. We deserve some answers. But all the hand wringing in the media about Trump starting World War 3 and us being on the brink of war is only giving aid and comfort to our enemies. They want us to be afraid, divided and fearing what they might do next.

Keep Calm and Carry On

And when the retaliation from Iran finally happens, the media will go all "Chicken Little" again. Yes, it may cost some American lives and that's unfortunate, but we run that risk every time we deploy troops. It's a dangerous world out there. We can hide under our beds or "Keep Calm and Carry On" while we wa
it for some answers.

wringing hands

Knowing Trump as we do, it's likely that this will turn out to be a monumental blunder that will be justified by a pack of lies. But it's done now and we have to live with the consequences. We need a healthy debate on the facts, but exaggerating the risks we face as a result of this action will only embolden our enemies.

As reported in the New York Times:
"Trump initially elected to strike against militia groups. On Sunday, the US military struck three locations in Iraq and two in Syria that were controlled by an Iranian-backed militia, The Times also reported. But, after protesters supporting an Iranian-backed militia stormed Iraq's US Embassy in Baghdad on Tuesday..."

Trump decided another "proportional response" would be just as ineffective, so he went for something shocking.

We know Trump is impulsive and too lazy to do his homework before making any decision. But this could restrain Iran, at least until Trump leaves office, or it can backfire spectacularly. We'll have to wait and see.

A short history lesson on US -- Iran relations

Iran and the US have been at war for some 40 years now, since the Shah was deposed in 1979. But the mutual hostility goes all the way back to 1953, when the US staged a coup to overthrow Iran's popular and democratically elected Prime Minister, Mohammad Mossadegh because he had nationalized Iran's oil industry, taking control of it away from Great Britain. 

Mossadegh was replaced by a monarch, Mohammad Reza Pahlavi, the last Shah of Iran. The Shah's despotic rule eventually led to a revolution in 1979, that placed a religious leader, an ayatollah, on the throne. Iranians were seething with anger over US meddling, and that lead to the taking of the US embassy in Tehran by "students" who also took American diplomats and Marines hostage and held them for 444 days.

Iranians seizing US embassy in 1979
Iranians seizing US embassy in 1979

The hostage crisis, and the fecklessness shown by president Jimmy Carter did great damage to America's influence in the region and it spelled the end of Carter's chances for re-election.   

The American hostages were released when Ronald Reagan was elected president in 1981, but the peace didn't last long. In 1983, Iran blew up a Marine barracks at the US Embassy in Beirut, killing dozens. Also in 1983, an Iraqi man called Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis car-bombed the US Embassy in Kuwait.

Over the years since, Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis conducted many attacks on US soldiers and interests in the region. And, by the way, al-Muhandis was one of the people killed in the motorcade with Soleimani. He was Soleimani's most powerful militia leader in Iraq.

Ever since the 1980s, Iran has been supplying funding, weapons, training and supervision of militias who have been attacking and killing US soldiers and our allies in the region. Meanwhile, the US has also been using proxies to attack Iranian militias outside of Iran and Iranian interests inside Iran.

In 1988, the US Navy guided missile cruiser USS Vincennes shot down Iranian Airbus A300B2, which was on a scheduled commercial flight in Iranian airspace over the Strait of Hormuz. The attack killed 290 civilians and President George H W Bush responded by saying that he would "never apologize for the United States of America. Ever. I don't care what the facts are."  

In 2007, US forces raided the Iranian Consulate General located in Erbil, Iraq and arrested five staff members.  American forces released two Iranian diplomats after holding them for 305 days, as well as seven other Iranian citizens that were seized at various times in different parts of Iraq.

The US has been trying, via economic sanctions, to stop Iran from developing nuclear weapons, but during the Shah's reign, the US helped Iran create its nuclear program. Starting in 1957, the US provided Iran with its first nuclear reactor and nuclear fuel, and after 1967 by supplying Iran with weapons grade enriched uranium.

In 2015, during the Obama administration a treaty was signed with Iran that halted their nuclear development in exchange for the release of billions of dollars that were seized in the US and a reduction in economic sanctions. Most Republicans were convinced the treaty was a mistake and vowed to cancel it as soon as they returned to power. In May 2018, Donald Trump cancelled the treaty, announcing he that would reimpose economic sanctions. 

The re-imposition of sanctions has crippled Iran's economy and caused domestic unrest in Iran, which has led Iran to increase their attacks on US interests throughout the Middle East via their proxy militias.

The US has been planning to leave Iraq for some time now and has been drawing down troops. Iran's proxies attacked the US embassy in Baghdad in December 2019, in order to embarrass and humiliate the US, while also strengthening their position in Iraq. The Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei of Iran, taunted the US, saying, "You can do nothing about it."

Trump wasn't about to let that go unanswered, and now here we are.

Iran proxies attack US embassy in Iraq
Iran proxies attack US embassy in Iraq
The US kills Soleimani
The US kills Soleimani
Iranians (and their proxies) are pissed!
Iranians (and their proxies) are pissed!
So there's a long and bloody history here. Regardless of whatever justifications are offered for the attack on Soleimani and al-Muhandis, we are stuck with the consequences now. 

On January 5, 2020, the Iraqi parliament voted in favor of expelling US forces. The vote was not binding on Iraqi leadership, and President Trump responded by threatening "crippling sanctions" on Iraq. On Jan 6, in a letter to the Iraqi military, the U.S. military in Baghdad said that it would be repositioning its troops in preparation for a possible withdrawal.The same day, Defense Secretary Mark T. Esper said that the U.S. has not made any decision to leave Iraq.