Yelp Fake Review Sting OUTS SMBs, Warns Consumers


Linda Buquet

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The Times just reported about an undercover sting Yelp did on several businesses that were trying to buy fake reviews. Starting today the 1st 8 businesses will find their Yelp listings have a damning consumer warning on them.

Yelp is OUTING the businesses that it caught by covering up their reviews with the following notice.

proxy.php?image=http%3A%2F%2Fimg1.UploadScreenshot.com%2Fimages%2Fmain%2F10%2F29102062198.png&hash=e2fcacca5f3563e46aa1df8ab3be94d8

Below is a link and excerpt from the Times story.

Yelp Tries to Halt Deceptive Reviews - NYTimes.com

To have the best shot at getting a solicited review onto a profile page, a sneaky business needs to find someone with a track record on the site, whom Yelp has called an ?elite? reviewer. It does this by advertising on classified sites like Craigslist.

That was where Yelp went to conduct its sting. A Yelp employee posed as an elite reviewer and got the businesses to reveal themselves. The size of the promised payments varied widely, and so did the work required.
Here is a link to the Yelp page above. Mirror Mirror Spa Salon - Chicago, IL. Embedded in the warning is a link to the proof Yelp collected supporting the purchase of fake reviews. Yikes!

I of course went and checked their Google+ Local page. Mirror Mirror Salon Spa to see what type of patterns I could find and to see if a rash of new reviews had been allowed through there. Nope. No recent reviews and many of the ones they have are EXTREMELY negative. One reviewer even wrote "those raving reviews below can't be from actual customers." (Ya consumers can tell.)

Here is another business who's Yelp page today bares the same dire warning. Bert Levi Family Jewelers - San Diego, CA Again with a link to the proof.

Here is their G+L page: Bert Levi Family Jewelers. In this case - 54 reviews with a PERFECT 30 score. But in the past 8 months only 1 made it though. All the rest were from 8 months ago or longer. Seems odd that a company so relentless in their pursuit of reviews would have so many perfect scores, then only 1 for the past 8 months. So maybe they are being filtered by Google? In this case, rightly so, it would seem.

For the next three months, these companies' Yelp pages will feature a consumer alert that says: ?We caught someone red-handed trying to buy reviews for this business.? And I assume Yelp is just making an example out of these 8 businesses and there will be more to come.

Buying reviews is not only unethical, it's illegal. Additionally, if you get caught and exposed the way these companies did, it can do your reputation irreparable harm. Don?t be that guy!

What do you think?
Too harsh or YAY Yelp?
 

Linda Buquet

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Update from my G+ Stream.

Marty Livingston (from Yodle) said:

"Two of the G+ reviews for Burt Levi are lengthy and mentioned a custom designed ring just as requested in Yelp's proof. Those two also rated the place as excellent."

I replied: "Oh GOOD CATCH Marty. I thought about doing a deeper dive but story was getting long and I was out of time to get published. I'll add your comment at the original article and give you credit. Good detective work!"
 

Colan Nielsen

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Wow, this is big time. I can't imagine the enormous impact this is going to have on the "marked" businesses.

I wonder if Google will ever do something similar to this?
 
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Google absolutely should mark businesses that buy reviews. They need to take a page out of Yelp's book on this one. I wonder if more people will start going to Yelp and trusting their reviews before going to look at any Google reviews since this hit the news.
 

JoyHawkins

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Hm...what if a business hires an SEO company and the SEO Company goes out and buys them reviews? Would that still qualify? There are so many shady SEO companies out there.
 
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Google absolutely should mark businesses that buy reviews. They need to take a page out of Yelp's book on this one. I wonder if more people will start going to Yelp and trusting their reviews before going to look at any Google reviews since this hit the news.
Why mark them when they can just jack the page? Google seems to enjoy a scorched earth policy for those who play on the wrong side of the fence. Now if they didn't pull down the page of someone buying reviews I would hope Google would post a warning. My guess is the lawyers tell them to just pull the page, its an easy one-size-fits-all approach. Props to Yelp!
 

Colan Nielsen

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Interesting closing thought from the NY Times article:

?What?s to stop someone from going and soliciting fake positive reviews for a competitor?s restaurant, in order for them to be publicly shamed??

hmmmmm...
 
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I had thought about that point already; but considering these solicited reviews were just a drop in the bucket, what you are more likely to do is end up getting a good review posted for your competitor.
 

Colan Nielsen

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Yes, or multiple positive reviews from your competitor from the same IP address as one of the articles mentions that this could also trigger a warning of some sort.
 

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