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Stay away from Yelp. With recent developments, they’ve lost any sense of trust they might’ve had with their users. At this point, Yelp’s reviews have little redemptive value and users should look to an alternative service when finding local businesses.

Not sure what I’m talking about? Keep reading to find out.

What’s Wrong With Yelp?

Just a few weeks ago, Yelp earned court permission to change business ratings for money. For those who are already privy to Yelp’s alleged shady practices, this should come as no surprise. If this is news to you, however, then here’s a crash course on the questionable reputation of Yelp.

The story is always the same:

  • Yelp approaches a business and asks if they want to advertise with Yelp for a modest price.
  • If the business declines, Yelp pursues them with more aggression.
  • If the business still declines, their Yelp rating plummets as their 4- and 5-star reviews become filtered for no apparent reason.

Not surprisingly, this story also flows the other way:

  • Yelp approaches a business and asks if they want to advertise with Yelp for a modest price.
  • If the business accepts, they pay the fees.
  • Coincidentally, they begin receiving good reviews that boost their rating while having poor reviews filtered out.

For testimonies regarding Yelp’s suspicious practices, you can check a few examples from TechCrunch, a Reddit AMA, the Reddit community again, IB Times, SF Weekly, and East Bay Express…just to sample a few.

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Most of these claims against Yelp are anecdotal in nature. In most cases, anecdotal evidence isn’t really evidence at all because they could simply be rumors and hearsay. However, in this case, the anecdote count is so staggering that it’s hard to imagine all of it being fabricated. You’ll have to decide on your own whether you believe it or not. You can go into the whole commotion with Ryan, who investigated the Yelp rating algorithm Investigating The Yelp Rating Algorithm: How Internet Memes Spread Investigating The Yelp Rating Algorithm: How Internet Memes Spread Many small businesses on Yelp believe the review service manipulates its rating algorithm. But is it true? We detail that investigation with first person accounts and interviews with Yelp managers. Read More with a few witness accounts and an interview with a senior manager from Yelp’s PR team.

Nonetheless, this court ruling should horrify all of us. How can we trust a ratings site when they’re legally allowed to manipulate said ratings? We can’t. Ratings lose all meaning when integrity is no longer in the picture, which is why we recommend abandoning Yelp in favor of these alternatives.

If you’re a business owner, protect yourself with this guide to minimizing Yelp’s leverage over you. If you’re a regular user or customer, learn how to detect paid shills and fraudulent reviewers with these tips for spotting fake reviews The Scourge Of The Web: Fake Reviews & How To Spot Them The Scourge Of The Web: Fake Reviews & How To Spot Them "User reviews" are actually a pretty recent phenomenon. Before the prevalence of the Internet, user reviews were called testimonials, and you’d only see them on TV commercials and product pages. Nowadays, anyone can write anything... Read More .

Foursquare

yelp-alternatives-foursquare

Regions

Belgium, Brazil, Canada, Chile, Finland, France, Germany, Great Britain, Hungary, Indonesia, Japan, Mexico, Netherlands, Philippines, Russia, Singapore, Spain, Thailand, Turkey, United States.

Description

A few months ago, Foursquare took the iconic “check-in” functionality and their social networking features and split them off into a separate app called Swarm. As a result, the rebooted Foursquare has improved quite a bit Foursquare Relaunches As Discovery Tool Based On Your Tastes Foursquare Relaunches As Discovery Tool Based On Your Tastes Foursquare pioneered the mobile check-in; a location-based status update that told the world exactly where you were and why – so is the switch to a pure discovery tool a step forward? Read More as far as recommendations are concerned, making it fantastic for making new discoveries.

Availability

Foursquare is available freely on the web and as apps for Android and iOS.  A Windows Phone version is reportedly in development as well.

UrbanSpoon

yelp-alternatives-urbanspoon

Regions

Australia, Canada, Ireland, New Zealand, United Kingdom, and United States.

Description

Urbanspoon is a regional tool that operates using a “spinner” method to help you find somewhere to eat. There are three factors involved – location, cuisine type, and price range – and you can “lock in” filters for more specific results. Results are ranked according to an algorithm that takes user votes into consideration.

Activating the spinner presents you with a relevant choice but if it’s unsatisfactory, you can keep spinning as many times as you want. All in all, it’s a great tool for making quick decisions Indecisive? Make The Right Choices With These Apps Indecisive? Make The Right Choices With These Apps Have you heard of the paradox of choice? If you're like me and suffer from analysis paralysis, these apps will change your life. Read More when you’re just not sure what you want to eat.

Availability

Urbanspoon is available freely on the web and as apps for Android, iOS, and Windows Phone.

TripAdvisor

yelp-alternatives-tripadvisor

Regions

International

Description

TripAdvisor is useful even if you aren’t planning a trip. Use it to find the best hotels, restaurants, vacation rentals, and tourist attractions right in your area. After all, if they’re rated highly for visitors, they’ll be just as good for locals as well. Reviews and ratings are generated by their community of users.

Availability

TripAdvisor is freely available on the web and as apps for Android and iOS.

Google+ Local

yelp-alternatives-google-local

Regions

International

Description

Google Places, Google My Business, and Google+ Local are all related. Google Places is now known as Google My Business, which is the free service that allows business owners to make their businesses visible on Google Maps Become A Google Maps Boss With These 6 Crucial Tips Become A Google Maps Boss With These 6 Crucial Tips How can you make use of Google Maps to the utmost? What sorts of tricks await your utilization? Keep reading to find out how you can become a Google Maps pro in no time. Read More and Google Search. Google+ Local is a review and recommendation service for Google+ users based on Google My Business.

Availability

Google+ Local is freely available on the web but requires a Google+ account.

Yahoo! Local

yelp-alternatives-yahoo-local

Regions

United States

Description

Yahoo! Local is a huge repository of reviews with dozens of categories, including education, entertainment, home & garden, legal services, travel, and plenty more. These reviews also appear when using Yahoo! Maps Yahoo Moves Ahead On The Revival Road With The New Yahoo Maps Yahoo Moves Ahead On The Revival Road With The New Yahoo Maps A refreshed Yahoo Maps for the desktop comes to U.S. users. The new Yahoo Maps comes with a slew of new features and more interactivity but missing an equivalent mobile app so far. Read More . Reviews are mostly written by the community users but Yahoo! also includes reviews curated from magazines and blogs.

Availability

Yahoo! Local is freely available on the web for everyone.

Local.com

yelp-alternatives-local-com

Regions

United States

Description

Just a few years ago, Local.com claimed to have reached the respectable 1-billion-impressions-per-month milestone. For a service localized to the United States, that’s quite impressive. With this site, you can search and find everything from restaurants to sporting events, from dentists to concerts in your area.

Availability

Local.com is freely available on the web and as apps on Android and iOS.

Angie’s List

yelp-alternatives-angies-list

Regions

United States

Description

Despite the similarity in names, don’t misconstrue Angie’s List to be a paid version of Craigslist. Angie’s List is a review site for local businesses throughout the United States but access to the information is only available to paid members. Membership starts at $3.75 USD per month.

The largest benefit of Angie’s List is that its level of regulation exceeds most other sites with crowdsourced business reviews and the paid membership barrier often leads to higher quality contributions by members. Businesses with good ratings can pay for advertisement space as long as they grant discounts to Angie’s List members.

Availability

Angie’s List is available on the web and as apps for Android and iOS.

Who Do You

yelp-alternatives-whodoyou

Regions

United States

Description

Who Do You is a bit different from the usual Yelp alternatives. It claims to “turn advice between friends into recommendations for local businesses,” which is certainly a smarter direction to take. Personal recommendations between friends are also more likely to be authentic, but Who Do You also allows users to write traditional reviews.

Information is aggregated through Facebook but your private information will always remain private Protect Yourself With Facebook's Privacy Check-up Tool Protect Yourself With Facebook's Privacy Check-up Tool Facebook has a privacy problem. It's no secret. You hear stories about that every other day. So to help users understand their settings better, Facebook has released a new tool called Privacy Check-up. Read More . Search categories include services that range across medical, legal, professional, financial, automotive, and more.

Availability

Who Do You is freely available on the web and they recently released apps on Android and iOS.

Knowzz

yelp-alternatives-knowzz

Regions

N/A

Description

Similar to Who Do You, Knowzz is a service based on user recommendations rather than straight up reviews. With it, you maintain a collection of your own recommendations for good restaurants, businesses, etc.

You can share your recommendations with friends AND you can search through the recommendations that your friends have made. If you don’t have any friends who use Knowzz, you can still search the recommendations of users in your general region.

This app is still young and the concept will work much better when it grows in popularity, but even with just a handful of people in your network, it can prove quite useful.

Availability

Knowzz is only available as apps for Android and iOS.

LocalFu

yelp-alternatives-localfu

Regions

United Kingdom and United States

Description

If you’re looking for personal recommendations that aren’t based on review scores, LocalFu is the service for you. For $5 USD, you can get matched up with an “expert local” who will ask about your situation (e.g., where should I go for an anniversary dinner, what are some fun local activities, or who are the most reputable dentists) and they’ll get back to you with a personal response.

It may not be as timely or convenient as a service like Yelp, but there’s a much higher chance that the information you get is relevant, authentic, and tailored to you.

Availability

LocalFu is available on the web only.

Where Do You Hunt For Local Recommendations?

Do you still prefer Yelp, or do you have a favored service tucked away in the browser or on an app. Or do you rely on the most powerful testimonial of all — word of mouth? It’s your turn to give us your best recommendations.

Image Credit: Magnified Yelp Via Shutterstock

  1. Joop deBruin
    January 30, 2015 at 12:12 am

    Google+ is great, but I didn't like it when they took away the anonymous functionality of Zagat. I just created a new faux account purely for that reason.

  2. Wawanne
    December 27, 2014 at 6:48 am

    It seems your readers are mainly based in the usa.
    Living in France, I always had the sensation that Tripadvisor was much more famous than Yelp. I know nobody in Europe who uses Yelp.

    If you are travelling in France, here is a good alternative :
    http://m.lafourchette.com/
    And using LaFourchette to book a table sometimes gives you a discount or a free drink.

    • Joel Lee
      December 30, 2014 at 3:43 pm

      Yelp is multinational but yeah I think it's most popular in America. I know nothing of France so thank you for sharing that alternative. The site looks great and the potential discounting is a cool incentive.

  3. Marie
    December 9, 2014 at 5:26 am

    Hi Joel,

    I'm currently working on a documentary about Yelp. I would love to talk with you. I tried looking up contact info but can't find any. Could you please email me and I'll send you my phone number?

  4. Osman
    December 6, 2014 at 10:01 am

    I just launched isharevisit.com which will become a great alternative to all those above and especially Yelp.

  5. Alexis Oyama
    November 20, 2014 at 9:50 pm

    Nice article Joel! Actually I'm in the Love/Hate relationship with Yelp. I love them for what they do (showing user reviews and all) but hate their rating system. 1-5 star review system for the whole restaurant is just wrong. As you mentioned Yelp can skew it and most importantly I fail to believe all dish the restaurant serve is equal, some dish will be better than others.

    This motivated me to make an iPhone app called Souffle. Right now it is a food diary to collect reviews but in the future it will be a search engine that will search for specific dish instead of the restaurant. It doesn't use the 5 star review system as well. Joel, when you have time can you check it out? http://souffleapp.com

    Once again great article! I will mention this every time when some asks me why I'm doing this.

    • Joel Lee
      December 30, 2014 at 3:41 pm

      The Souffle App looks interesting. It reminds me of Untappd, which is basically the same thing except focused on beer, and I love Untappd. The personalized nature of "Here's what I'm eating and it's great!" seems like it'd be a better endorsement than something like Yelp ratings, but the lack of a centralized system for browsing ratings will definitely be missed.

      What do you see in the future of Souffle? Any interesting features being cooked up?

  6. Mark D
    October 7, 2014 at 3:39 pm

    Yelp seems to be THE app for finding places that has been commented on. I tried several of the alternatives @Joel Lee mentioned but did not have a good experience. There either were a sparsity of comments or were tourist establishments. There were not of 'local' spots commented on using the other apps :(

  7. Greybeard
    October 4, 2014 at 9:02 pm

    I gave up 9n Yelp in 2005, after a poor restaurant experience led to my first-ever Yelp review. The restaurant manager/owner emailed me within a few hours, asked for a chance to make it right. We accepted, and had a lovely meal. The next day I went to update my negative review and it was gone.

    • Joel Lee
      October 7, 2014 at 2:46 pm

      Argh, that's annoying. I've heard way too many stories like yours about legitimate reviews being swept aside and filtered out or just outright deleted.

  8. Jessica C
    October 3, 2014 at 2:48 am

    I use Yelp mainly to get a sense of what's in the neighbourhood that people like, and I look for detailed reviews that have a high level of internal consistency from real people - and it works for me. I've rarely found a place was undeserving of its score if it had been reviewed by a few people at least.

    Not sure how the businesses at the bottom of the list are doing though.

  9. mwd
    October 2, 2014 at 10:59 pm

    Anyone use local.com? I've be aware of the Yelp issue for quite a while now but everyone I know uses Yelp and not the alternatives.

    • Joel Lee
      October 7, 2014 at 2:48 pm

      Yelp has definitely done a great job with their branding. Despite so many other sites being available, I still draw a temporary blank when I try to think "Yelp alternatives".

  10. CityguyUSA
    October 2, 2014 at 10:40 pm

    Pretty half-assed review when you don't expose the problems with these other operators. How do we know they're not up to the same old as everyone else after the almighty dollar?

  11. Edmund
    October 2, 2014 at 9:31 pm

    I've always used Urbasnspoon in favor of Yelp for restaurants anyway, but good to know I made the right choice :)

    • Joel Lee
      October 7, 2014 at 2:49 pm

      I preferred Urbanspoon even when I was a Yelp user. It's just so much more convenient and useful when you need a quick place to eat. You made a good choice for sure. :)

  12. Arturo
    October 2, 2014 at 7:40 pm

    A friend of mine told me his story about what happened to him with Yelp. They did not only pursued aggressively, they also was pushing him to make the deal (which was expensive by the way).
    My friend does not how someone to expressed negative about his business. He checked that the bad review was on top, and when he called Yelp they said it is because the algorithm puts the person with more stars/rating first, and he checked that person has 0 ratings. There is something fishy here!

  13. Nan
    October 2, 2014 at 4:34 pm

    As a previous Angie's List member I no longer trust them either. Angie's list is deceptive to its 'subscribers' renewing them at one fee but instead charging another higher fee. More info is here http://wka-law.com/index.php/case/angies-list-membership-fee-litigation/

    • Joel Lee
      October 7, 2014 at 2:55 pm

      After reading that summary, I wouldn't say that it's as bad as review manipulation but it's still a shady practice and one worth knowing. I wasn't aware of it. Thanks for letting me know.

  14. Ben
    October 2, 2014 at 3:34 pm

    I was only superficially aware of some disturbance in the Yelp review process. Thanks for bringing this to my attention. I think I'll transfer all of my Yelp reviews over to TripAdvisor. I've seen their stickers on a few places around town.

    • Joel
      October 2, 2014 at 11:54 pm

      Do let us know how your experience with TripAdvisor goes, whether good or bad. :)

  15. Dale Yuzuki
    October 2, 2014 at 5:15 am

    I did hear about the court case and Yelp on a tech podcast a few weeks ago, and it took digging around to verify the information.

    Will likely just use TripAdvisor, as I've used them for some time now for only places to see and for hotels, not for places to eat.

    • Sarah
      October 2, 2014 at 11:18 pm

      Trip Advisor uses Review Roo which is a company that pays people for reviews, they are not reliable at all- sadly. The pay for a review is $3-$5 dollars, and states "only write a review of places you have visited"- um yeah, ok.
      Yelp is awful, but people are slow to grasp the negativity surrounding the platform other than small businesses.

    • Joel
      October 2, 2014 at 11:53 pm

      The general chatter around Yelp seems to point to TripAdvisor as a good alternative that does a lot of the same stuff, so I think it's a good idea. TripAdvisor has had some controversies of its own in the past but nothing on the level of Yelp as far as I can tell.

  16. user
    October 1, 2014 at 8:39 pm

    Using Google+ local doesn't require a G+ account.

  17. dragonmouth
    October 1, 2014 at 8:23 pm

    What is the guarantee that the alternative sites you mention are more on the level than Yelp? Maybe they are just not as aggressive and egregious about "fixing" the ratings as Yelp.

  18. dragonmouth
    October 1, 2014 at 3:06 pm

    How can we be sure that any of the alternative rating sites you mention are reliable? Maybe their ratings are fixed as well, just not as aggresively and egregiously as Yelp's. Just because we haven't heard of any shenanigans does not mean there aren't any.

    • Joel
      October 2, 2014 at 11:50 pm

      It's a good question to ask but ultimately a nonsensical one. You could ask the same thing about ANYTHING since the question is basically a restatement of the "argument from ignorance" fallacy: absence of evidence is not necessarily evidence of absence.

      Could the competitors be doing the same? Sure, but until they also start generating tons of anecdotal evidence of foulplay, there's no way to know if they are being shady and there's no reason to suspect it.

    • Farnsworth
      April 20, 2015 at 5:35 pm

      I gave up on Yelp long ago, because they removed my reviews like they were obsessed with me... I found a review on an obscure website http://mutineer.org and another on chowhound and it occurred to me that we really have to spend time cultivating these alternatives, and not merely go directly to Yelp like Google wants us to.

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