How Does Yelp Rank Marijuana Dispensaries?

Unlike other big-tech websites, Yelp includes dispensary business listings.
Unlike other big-tech websites, Yelp includes dispensary business listings. Thomas Mitchell
If you want to buy something around town, chances are there's a Yelp ranking for it. Ridiculously specific cuisine types, auto-repair services, locksmiths and so much more are all rated on the Yelp website, with long (and sometimes annoyingly) detailed reviews from satisfied and unsatisfied customers alike.

While marijuana businesses aren't yet part of the website's main menu, Yelp has a different attitude regarding cannabis than do Apple, Meta, TikTok and other tech giants that have taken far more constrained approaches and outright banned marijuana content.

As a result, search-engine results for a local dispensary typically list Yelp above the vast majority of marijuana-centered websites.
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Yelp screenshot
"We allow cannabis businesses on our platform in all states where it is either recreationally or medically legal, as it’s important that consumers have access to first-hand information about these businesses," Yelp says in a statement responding to Westword's questions.

Here's how that works:

While businesses can add themselves on Yelp, they must first be evaluated by website moderators, who have a relatively loose interpretation of dispensaries. For example, a handful of Yelp's Denver dispensary listings are for hospitality services that drive visitors to pot shops before going on various city tours in marijuana-friendly buses. Including similar businesses is based on user experiences and feedback, the company explains.

The majority of websites that rank dispensaries rely on user scores and reviews, but Yelp applies other categories. A user's location and personal preferences on the website's filter can also influence ranking order.

Specific menu items, photo content, operating hours and other store factors impact search results, too, although some menu items might confuse the search service. For example, searching the term "hash" on Yelp will bring up both diners and dispensaries; terms like "organic cannabis" will yield more accurate results.

Legal marijuana hospitality and delivery are still rare in Colorado, with just a handful of licensed pot lounges and delivery services currently operating across the state. However, searching for gray-area businesses is quite doable on Yelp, which doesn't hide from providing customers with information on popular spots in their respective cities.

"Because Yelp relies on user-generated content and anyone can add a business to the platform, we display consumer-provided information about their experiences with licensed and unlicensed businesses," says the company.

Yelp won't accept money from marijuana businesses that don't verify themselves as licensed and legal, the company says, but it will accept a dispensary's money for sponsored listings. However, its statement notes that a "business's advertising status is not an input used by Yelp’s algorithm to determine or rank organic search results."
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Thomas Mitchell has written about all things cannabis for Westword since 2014, covering sports, real estate and general news along the way for publications such as the Arizona Republic, Inman and Fox Sports. He's currently the cannabis editor for
Contact: Thomas Mitchell