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When in search of just the right place to take your parents on a weekend visit, you can check yelp.com to get reviews of lots of local business establishments, especially restaurants, hotels, and other entertainment venues. The reviews from other customers give insights about the feel of each place, which makes it a valuable and popular resource. Indeed, it attracts approximately 25 million visits per month.

But to make its money, the site charges business about $300 per month to advertise.

Thus, an inherent conflict is created. Not all reviews are positive—that’s part of the appeal of yelp, in that consumers can quickly weed out companies that have received negative reviews. But yelp has been accused of censoring negative reviews of those companies that advertise on the site. It also may let advertisers choose which reviews they prefer to be listed first. If the businesses that pay yelp to advertise on the site are choosing which reviews will be posted, where does that leave nonadvertising businesses, and consumers?

Companies that do not advertise seemingly will suffer more negative reviews than those offered for paying companies. The stated purpose of yelp is to offer an unbiased opinions, without the company’s input, but the site seems to be dismantling the trust it has worked hard to build with customers. Long Beach’s Cats & Dogs Animal Hospital even is suing the site, claiming that yelp highlights negative customer reviews about the veterinarian because it refuses to pay to advertise.

Discussion Questions:

  1. What is Yelp.com and how does it generate content?
  2. Is it ethical for Yelp to edit the content on its site?

Peter Burrows and Joseph Galante, “Yelp: Advertise or Else?” BusinessWeek, March 3, 2010.