Yelp Swears It Doesn’t Manipulate Reviews, Even Though It’s Allowed To

yelpadfaqEarlier this month, a federal appeals court held that Yelp is free to shuffle positive and negative reviews around at will, and can even use that freedom as a way to urge businesses to advertise on the site. But even in light of this ruling, Yelp maintains that buying ads on the site does not determine which reviews show up for your business. points to an entire page on Yelp that has been created to try to allay concerns and counter the allegations that the site promotes good reviews for businesses that buy ads and hides good reviews for businesses that don’t.

“Advertisers get ads. Period,” reads the Advertiser FAQ from Yelp. “There’s no amount of money a business can pay to manipulate their reviews or rating and Yelp doesn’t skew things in favor of advertisers or against businesses that don’t.”

The page also links to a 2013 study PDF] about fraudulent Yelp reviews from researchers at Harvard and Boston University.

As part of that study, the researchers looked at allegations that Yelp’s review-filtering algorithm — intended to detect and hide bogus reviews — was benefiting advertisers.

After comparing filtered reviews for both paying and non-paying businesses, the researchers concluded that “Yelp’s current implementation of the filtering algorithm does not treat advertisers’ reviews in a manner different to non-advertisers’ reviews.”

The study does acknowledge that researchers have no insight into the actual inner-workings of the algorithm, but explains that they could find no apparent bias in favor of advertisers.

Yelp invites users who doubt the site’s integrity to check out reviews for sites that advertise, claiming that you would find a wide range of star ratings represented. Similarly, Yelp points out that there are plenty of businesses who don’t advertise but have 5-star reviews regardless.

It remains to be seen whether or not Yelp’s more public position on this topic will do anything to change the opinions of those who believe the site “extorts” advertising money from businesses.

Some small businesses have claimed they were told in no uncertain terms by Yelp ad sales reps that their reviews could be improved with the purchase of ads on the site. The company has repeatedly denied these allegations and has been successful in getting a number of lawsuits dismissed. Even if it were true, the recent appeals court ruling effectively confirmed that Yelp is under no obligation to present user-generated reviews in any particular format.

“The business owners may deem the posting or order of user reviews as a threat of economic harm, but it is not unlawful for Yelp to post and sequence the reviews,” wrote the court in its opinion. “As Yelp has the right to charge for legitimate advertising services, the threat of economic harm that Yelp leveraged is, at most, hard bargaining.”

Want more consumer news? Visit our parent organization, Consumer Reports, for the latest on scams, recalls, and other consumer issues.