So. You might be wondering: If a business pays Yelp to advertise…
No. No. And…no.
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.
An independent academic study (not commissioned or paid for by Yelp) found that advertising plays no role in how reviews are recommended on Yelp. Or as this in-depth profile of Yelp in BuzzFeed puts it: “Harvard Business School professor Michael Luca has co-authored a new study that effectively debunks the extortion theory.”
Conspiracy theorists have had their day in court on more than one occasion, but courts have repeatedly dismissed their lawsuits claiming that ratings and reviews on Yelp are somehow tied to advertising. The FTC also concluded a year-long investigation of similar claims without taking any action. You can find the media reports here: PC World, WSJ, HuffPost, CNET, LA Times, CNN Money.
If advertisers could control their reviews, then you’d expect them all to have perfect 5-star ratings on Yelp. Spoiler alert: They don’t. To test this, do a few searches in broad categories in your area - maybe for a dentist, mattress, or locksmith. You’ll find ads for businesses with all sorts of star ratings. Conversely, you’ll find thousands of businesses in organic results with great ratings that don’t pay Yelp a dime, and we’re fine with that.
Still don’t believe us? Feel free to do your own version of a simple Google test like this [site:yelp.com/biz “Yelp advertiser” AND “rude staff”] by inserting your own negative phrases in the last set of quotation marks. The words "Yelp advertiser" only appear on pages of advertisers, which begs the question: if these Yelp advertisers get a special “Delete” button for negative reviews, why in the world aren’t they using it? (Hint: because it doesn’t exist.)