Yelp blocks cannabis marketing

Major blow to cannabis and CBD marketing

In a serious setback for cannabis marketing companies everywhere, Yelp has blocked two key advertising features for all cannabis-related businesses.

Two cannabis businesses shared an email received from Yelp containing announcements of the policy change.

In the email, the company says that it has some “unfortunate news” and further states how it is removing the two key features for their businesses.

The restricted features are:

  • Business Highlights
  • Portfolio advertising

Both of these are only for cannabis-related businesses and are effective immediately.

Yelp further stated that they “will be removing these programs from your Yelp page over the course of the next few business days.”

Two features forward, one feature back

The Berkeley Patients Group (BPG) is one of the longest-running cannabis dispensaries in the U.S. and they are feeling the effects.

They stated that there has already been a significant impact on business since the notice was received.

“This is yet another blow for us—amidst a devastating pandemic, no less,” said BPG Director of Marketing, Lauren Watson. “Yelp was one of only a few effective advertising channels available to legal cannabis companies, and now, without warning, we’re being shut out. Just two days after the new policy was implemented, we’re seeing over a 60 percent decline in page views.”

In a tweet, the chief technology officer of cannabis delivery company, Justin Hall, shared a screenshot of the email from Yelp.

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In the tweet he said, “Two features forward – one feature back.”

“It’s frustrating to pay taxes and compete with unlicensed folks who can advertise digitally against you,” Hall said.

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Business Highlights and Portfolio features removed

Using the Business Highlights service individuals pay to feature up to six descriptors on their page. This displays things such as what “makes their business unique” and can include descriptions such as “family-owned.”

The Portfolio option is another paid feature for businesses to include photos of projects they’ve completed. This allows them “to showcase their quality of work, expertise, and specializations along with additional details such as cost and project timelines.”

The discrepancy in policy change dates

A curious detail to the development is that the businesses claim they only just received notification of the changes. However, a spokesperson for Yelp said that the company made the policy change in February.

Added to that, prior to when Yelp says it made their decision, an NBC News investigation made startling discoveries. They found that Yelp included pages for unlicensed cannabis dispensaries.

It was only later that there was public knowledge of their decision to block cannabis firms from the premium products.

Yelp avoiding questions about cannabis marketing

In a statement, the company said it allows “cannabis businesses on our platform in all states where it is either recreationally or medically legal, as it’s important that consumers have to access to first-hand information about these businesses.”

However, when questioned on the reasoning behind the policy change they not directly reply. Instead, they discussed how Yelp won’t “take revenue from cannabis businesses that have not purchased our Verified License product.”

“By verifying their license to operate, Yelp is able to confirm to consumers that the business has satisfied the requirements of their local regulator to operate legally,” they said. “Once verified these businesses are then eligible to purchase Yelp’s enhanced profile product only, at this time.”

Is cannabis marketing eligible?

The spokesperson was asked for clarification around some issues. This included whether verified cannabis marketing businesses are eligible for the two advertising services.

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“If a cannabis company purchases a Verified License,” they said. “They’re then only eligible to purchase Yelp’s enhanced profile product, at this time.”

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The company didn’t give a reason as to why at least some businesses were not notified about the policy change. Even though the company says it made the decision four months ago.

Prohibition discouraging for cannabis companies

Morgan Fox, Media Relations is the Director for the National Cannabis Industry Association. They said, “This is just one more example of prohibition discouraging companies from working with legal cannabis businesses, depriving them of the basic and vital services enjoyed by every other industry.”

“Given Yelp’s size and accessibility, this unfortunate decision will certainly be a blow to many cannabis businesses which are already hurting because of the pandemic, as well as lack of access to relief funds and other financial services.”

“Thankfully, there are some other services out there that can provide business information to consumers which are either tailored to cannabis or are willing to work with related businesses.”

Cannabis markets taking protective measures

The cannabis-focused directories Weedmaps and Leafly have both taken steps in recent months to prevent unlicensed shops from being advertised on their sites.

As of January, WeedMaps said it removed about 2,700 listings for illegal dispensaries. Meanwhile, Leafly reported that it booted nearly a thousand as of September 2019.

Interest in CBD White label products in the UK continues to grow and whilst Yelp may be standing in the way of business there is many more channels to market your product in that continue to work and we see CBD business growing faster in the Q4 2020 than ever before.

Jon Cosgrave

Jon is a content writer and copywriter. When not grappling with words, he grapples at jiu-jitsu. His fingers are in constant agony.

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