Local restaurant owners claim Yelp.com manipulating reviews - WFSB 3 Connecticut

Local restaurant owners claim Yelp.com manipulating reviews


Two New Haven County restaurants told Eyewitness News that the website known as Yelp.com is taking down positive posts about their establishments because the owners do not want to buy advertising.

"No business can afford to have something negative about them out there," said Verace owner Kelly Calandro.

Shortly after the restaurant's opening in Shelton earlier this year, a Yelp sales representative contacted the owners and asked them about purchasing advertising. The Calandros declined the offer and noticed posts being removed from the site.

"It's about these big businesses bullying the smaller, family-owned businesses," Calandro previously said. "In essence, to put undue pressure on them to advertise."

They said whenever the ad rep called about advertising and they did not agree to advertise, several positive posts were removed from the site. Following an initial report by Eyewitness News, even more reviews were pulled from the site.

"At first, it was about us and we wondered, 'what did we do?'" Calandro previously said. "When we did some research, we found out it wasn't just us."

Christian Yanarella manages the social media marketing for the Drew Drop Inn in Derby. He said he has received similar treatment from Yelp.com after he refused to advertise with the company. He saw many of his restaurant's comments filtered.

"I said, 'listen I am not going to advertise with you guys. I cannot afford it,'" Yanarella said. "'It is not something that is in our budget.' And then, our first negative popped up." 

Yelp has faced several class action lawsuits in the past for exhorting small businesses for advertising sales. All cases were dismissed.

A Yelp spokesman said that Calandro searched them out about advertising after the first call, and the posts on her Yelp profile were suspicious.

"There has never been any amount of money that you can pay Yelp to manipulate reviews, and claims to the contrary have been repeatedly thrown out of court," according to a Yelp statement.

As of Tuesday, the Drew Drop Inn in Derby has no negative reviews and 14 filtered comments. Yanarella said no reviews can be just as damaging as negative reviews.

"It really does hurt us," he said. "Because when people are doing searches, we are not going to even be considered."

A Yelp.com spokesman said that the filtered comments gets rid of biased reviews.

"Advertising and content on Yelp have always been separate, and anyone can check out any advertiser's page on Yelp to see for themselves that our review filter works the same for advertisers and non-advertisers alike," the spokesman said.

But both businesses are not buying the claims by Yelp.com.

"We want the business and the users, frankly, to be treated fairly," Calandro previously said.

Copyright 2012 WFSB (Meredith Corporation). All rights reserved.

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