Online Reputation Management Blog

Fake Reviews on Yelp

Yelp and other online review sites encourage people to review restaurants, retail establishments, healthcare providers, hotels and more.  Nowadays, you don’t always have to be a celebrity or powerful politician in order to get people to listen – blogs, social media site, Yelp, TripAdvisor and other online destinations are where consumers share their thoughts, ideas and opinions.  The attraction of these review sites is that the reviews are not advertisements or spin developed by clever marketing or PR professionals – these are honest and legitimate comments… usually.

Many people look to sites like Yelp to help them book a restaurant for a special occasion or make a hotel reservation for a trip they have been looking forward to for months – after all, if you can’t trust your peers, then who can you trust?  Yelp, Travelocity, TripAdvisor, OpenTable and other social media channels need honest reviews of customers to drive traffic – and people look to these sites to help guide their most important purchasing decisions.

Business owners and sales managers are fully aware of how powerful these customer reviews are and know that certain star ratings and customer comments can have a meaningful impact on their business – good or bad. That is why when Yelp officials found that some of its businesses were “buying” good reviews – it struck at the very heart of Yelp’s business and brought into question the integrity of their entire business model.  Today, Yelp is one of the most powerful “review” sites with 30 million reviews, according to the New York Times.  Consumers need to know that the reviews are honest and real and when Yelp officials discovered that several companies were “manipulating” results and paying or bribing customers to write fake good reviews, Yelp officials went on the offensive.

Yelp officials wrote in their blog, “… the allure of a page full of five-star reviews can turn even the most ethical business owner starry-eyed and persuade some to attempt to game the system by paying for reviews…this pretty much breaks every rule in the book, not to mention it’s just wrong to mislead consumers with fake reviews. To combat this, we’ve put on our detective hats, tracked down these rogue solicitations and are now giving you a heads up…”

An example of a business manipulating reviews came from a Texas business owner “…who purchased 200 online reviews in an attempt to artificially bolster his business’s online reputation,” reported Yelp officials.  As such, Yelp has put up a “consumer alert” flags on business sites they believe to be buying online reviews.

Yelp is not the only social media site that found it needed to go searching for “fake reviews” – the New York Times reported that “…TripAdvisor has put up similar warning notices, but declined to say how extensive its effort was…In general, however, review hubs have tended to deal with fakery very quietly, even as the problem has grown.”

Yelp, TripAdvisor and other review sites are policing their sites more vigorously.  Their model depends on honesty – if people start to doubt the legitimacy of the reviews, then the purpose sites will lose their perceived value.  As a Yelp blog reported: “We want to make sure consumers are making informed decisions… the large majority of businesses on Yelp play by the rules and work tirelessly to provide the best customer service and products to their clients. We salute their efforts and entrepreneurship. They inspire us to work even harder to protect the site from faux reviews, so that they have a fair opportunity to bask in the glow of their shining stars.”

Fake Reviews Online – Don’t Believe the Hype

According to a recent study, 83% of consumers say online reviews influence their perception of a company.  Positive reviews are critical for doctors, lawyers, small business owners, accountants, consultants, investment professionals, contractors, restaurants and travel and hospitality companies.  Many consumers depend on peer reviews to offer an honest assessment of a business.  However, many businesses seem to be getting their good reviews the old fashioned way — by cheating.

According to Gartner Inc. as organizations are scrambling “…to garner more positive reviews than their competitors… Many marketers have turned to paying for positive reviews with cash, coupons and promotions, including additional hits on YouTube videos.”

Paying for reviews may be more costly than you think.  Aside from the ethical implications and potential public relations fallout, the Federal Trade Commission is becoming more aggressive punishing companies who pay for reviews without adequate disclosure.   Gartner reports that “…organizations that opt to pay for phony reviews… have faced both public condemnation as well as monetary fines.”  In 2009, the Federal Trade Commission held that paying for positive reviews without disclosing that the reviewer had been compensated equates to deceptive advertising.

Social sites such as Yelp have also been cracking down on companies that post false reviews by putting a customer “beware” label on their sites.  Taking cues from this new-found practice of exposing websites that practice “fake reviews” Gartner says that some marketers have taken to policing the web in attempts to make their own companies look more honest and ethical.  “Organizations engaging in social media can help to promote trust by openly embracing both positive and negative reviews and leveraging negative reviews as a way to encourage customers with positive product or service experiences to share them on review sites as well,” says Gartner analyst Jenny Sussin.

While many are decrying this recent trend toward “paid” reviews, the practice is not going away anytime soon, in fact, it may be increasing.  Gartner says phony reviews will comprise 10 to 15 percent of all reviews by 2014.  Analysts also predict that “…increased media attention on fake social media ratings and reviews will result in at least two Fortune 500 brands facing litigation from the U.S. Federal Trade Commission (FTC) over the next two years.”

As an online reputation management company, Reputation Rhino is frequently asked to help improve customer reviews on popular sites like Yelp, Google+ and other popular review sites.  The first step is diagnosing the problem.  Is there a widespread culture of poor customer service or inferior products or are we dealing with a small percentage of disgruntled customers or clients?  If the answer is the former, there is not much a reputation management company can really do.  If the latter, an online reputation management firm can help develop an effective and efficient process for obtaining customer reviews and promoting those reviews to the review sites that are likely to have the most impact on the business.  It is usually far better to have dozens of positive customer reviews and testimonials across dozens of review sites than to rely solely on a single review site.

Global Trust in Advertising Survey Shows the Power of Earned Media

While advertisers and big businesses slap down millions and billions to pay for glitzy ads in traditional media such as television and print, “earned media” such as word-of-mouth and recommendations from peers, are more believable and appear to be more important factors in buying decisions, “…above all other forms of advertising,” according to a recent report from Nielsen surveying over 28,000 Internet respondents in 56 countries.

The Nielsen study found that trust associated with “word of mouth” and “peer recommendations” have increased 18 percent since 2007, and online consumer reviews are the second most trusted form of advertising.  This is an interesting state to contrast with results from a recent Gartner study noting a proliferation of fake or paid reviews.

Sites such as Yelp or Angie’s List where customers consistently rate and review their favorite beauty salons, automobile repair shops, plumbers, and more will be essential for small businesses who have not been early adopters of such mediums. [Read more…]

Dealing With Bad Yelp Reviews and Getting Yelp Reviews Out of the Filter

Many local business owners rely on Yelp and other community and local directory websites to introduce their business to customers.  Now more than ever, it’s important for small businesses to monitor online review sites and address customer comments, paying close attention to negative mentions as well as positive feedback.  Yelp is one of the most popular destinations on the Web, with 71 million visitors monthly.  Google gives consistently high visibility to Yelp results (Google almost bought the site a couple of years ago) and it is likely one of the top results that appear when someone is searching for your business.

Every business can have an “off” day, but if you see a lot of negative or defamatory Yelp reviews, it’s time for some reputation management.  Read on to find out how to improve your Yelp rating and protect your business online. [Read more…]