Perhaps there’s an alternate universe where Yelp is actually helpful. Because it appears the one we have isn’t earning many rave reviews.
Given the business directory’s popularity, it’s amazing how little the site seems to care about the businesses they are supposedly there to help. Whether it’s inventing fake numbers to ensure their cut or hurting small businesses during a pandemic, the hits from Yelp just keep coming.
The latest from the advertising giant involves plans to reduce the ability of legal weed businesses to utilize their platform. The action, which was announced via email to individual business owners last week, will prohibit cannabis companies from using two of Yelp’s most important features.
The first, “Business Highlights,” is a paid add-on that allows companies to list up to six “descriptors” on their Yelp page. Those descriptors often point to the character of the operation (“family-owned,” “open late”). In the context of a permitted dispensary, appealing descriptors might include whether the business offers delivery, has an on-site consumption lounge, or specializes in a sub-market like CBD or topicals.
Currently, renewed interest in supporting black and minority-owned businesses within the cannabis space makes Yelp’s “Business Highlights” a potential area where equity operators can separate themselves from the competition. Bear in mind that most forms of advertising — including Facebook and television commercials — remain off-limits to the pot biz.
This purchasable perk from Yelp thus served as a vital way to legitimately advertise in a land of perilously few options. That’s no longer the case, however, thanks to a new move from Yelp that has scrapped legal weed’s access to both “Business Highlights” as well as a feature called “Portfolio.”
Speaking with Marijuana Moment, a spokesperson for the company stated that Yelp “made the policy change in February.” However, representatives from both Berkeley Patients Group and Bud.com told the outlet that they had only been informed of the new rules a week ago.
Regardless of the timing, the logic of the action is sorely lacking.
In correspondence with Marijuana Moment, Yelp confirmed that despite the company’s willingness to verify legal licenses to operate from pot shops (as required by policy for “Verified Licensed” status), they will still be unable to use aforementioned site features moving forward. This thinking kills any suggestion that Yelp’s move is guided solely by a desire to crack-down on listings for illicit operators.
It’s also but the latest example of what some in the legal industry see as punishment for playing by the rules. As they see it, the reward they get for paying their taxes and getting a license (which can only be obtained through an extraordinarily lengthy, costly, and complex process) is Yelp showing them the door.
To be certain, Yelp is hardly alone in trying to prune their listings of illegal cannabis retailers. Pot-specific directories from Weedmaps and Leafly have also taken pains to go fully legit in terms of the shops they’ll advertise. Both have removed over a thousand bogus listings a piece, with WeedMaps taking down closer to three times that amount.
In short, the battle to keep unlicensed cannabis operators off the web remains far from over. Still, in terms of a strategy for victory, how does hobbling your allies help? Because that’s exactly what Yelp has done.
Rather than finance the staff to provide the human oversight required to prevent bad actors from listing on the platform, the bigwigs at Yelp have opted to keep things simple by punishing the legal industry too. Sure, Yelp will point to the fact that legal weed businesses are still allowed listings, but the negative consequences of pulling access to two features are already being felt.
Berkeley Patient Group, for one, reported a 60% drop in page views in the two days since Yelp implemented the policy. That doesn’t stop the black market. It also doesn’t make the store safer from protests or looters, should that be scapegoated as Yelp’s actual (equally feckless) focus. There is, quite honestly, no good reason for this decision.