Yelp Slaps Consumer Alerts On More Pages, Renews Them On Others

    February 28, 2014
    Chris Crum
    Comments are off for this post.

Yelp announced on Friday that it has launched a new round of Consumer Alerts for “a handful of businesses” in its latest efforts to combat the ongoing problem of fake reviews.

Do you think the fake review problem has gotten better since Yelp started posting Consumer Alerts? Let us know in the comments.

Yelp first revealed the Consumer Alerts program in the fall of 2012. It’s a tool designed to fight fake reviews by showing warnings to users on the pages of businesses who have been found to pay for reviews. Users are greeted with a big notice like so:

Yelp doesn’t kick the business out of its service, but the embarrassing warning appears on the business listing for three months. Yelp has hoped that this would serve as a deterrent, but last month, the company said it had issued 285 of the alerts with more to come.

More indeed. Yelp’s Kristen Whisenand writes:

We normally remove alerts after 90 days, but we won’t hesitate to renew them if we continue to see suspicious activity. That’s exactly what happened for two businesses this time around. We again found something amiss with two of the locations for Chicago-based nail salon, Azure Nails. And someone was caught red-handed yet again trying to buy reviews for Evergreen Carpet Cleaning in Los Angeles.

This type of activity not only hurts consumers, but also honest businesses who play by the rules. Yelp’s main line of defense is our automated recommendation software which works behind the scenes at all times to recommend reliable and useful reviews. It’s unfortunate that some people are so set on gaming the system (and misleading consumers) that the additional step of posting Consumer Alerts is necessary. That said, we take our responsibility of providing trusted information very seriously, and we’ll do whatever it takes to ensure that Yelp remains helpful to consumers.

She shares an ad the company found:

Just how much Yelp’s Consumer Alerts are really deterring businesses from writing and acquiring fake reviews remains a mystery. Clearly’ they’re not deterring everyone, including businesses that have already been on the receiving end of the alerts.

Earlier this year, CEO Jeremy Stoppelman talked about how the company conducts “sting operations,” where Yelpers pose as users willing to write paid reviews. He said at the time that this was only happening in the U.S. so far, but that the operations would expand into Europe.

“It has been incredibly successful in that we have been able to catch businesses red handed,” Stoppleman said.

Still, you have to wonder how many aren’t being caught.

Yelp has also utilized the legal system to go after paid reviews. Last year, the company sued the site BuyYelpReview.com, and more recently Yelp sued a guy for planting fake reviews on his business page.

A Harvard Business School study last year suggested that 16% of Yelp restaurant reviews are potentially fake, a figure Yelp says is misleading, as it used reviews Yelp identified as suspicious (not “fake”) to run its analysis.

The company did say last year that the study’s findings “shouldn’t come as a complete surprise,” and “as consumers increasingly turn to online reviews to find a local business, the incentive to artificially improve one’s reputation also increases, but neither should the fact that Yelp has been on guard against these very same reviews from our earliest days.”

Last fall, New York Attorney General Eric T. Schneiderman announced that nineteen companies had agreed to stop writing fake Yelp reviews and pay over $350,000 of fines.

Yelp said at the time that it would love to work with law enforcement officials in other states to crack down on the “unethical practice” of fake review writing.

Last month, Yelp posted its financials for the fourth quarter and full year 2013. Cuumlative reviews grew 47% from the same time the previous year to 53 million, while average unique monthly visitors grew 39% to 120 million. Active local business accounts grew 69%.

Is the fake review problem getting better? Can users rely on the content they find on Yelp? Share your thoughts.

Images via Yelp

  • doomedby2020

    Wow, the arrogance of Yelp.

    Once again they show how much they care about the businesses they exploit by scaring Yelpers away with their fake warning.

    “”Yelp doesn’t kick the business out of its service, but the embarrassing warning appears on the business listing for three months.””

    Oh, how nice of them to keep them listed. The fact is that businesses cannot avoid being listed, and can NEVER have their listing removed.

    Yelp has removed all my positive reviews. I offered proof of their authenticity and they declined. They have no appeals process. This happened after I refused to advertise with them. Search Yelp Extortion for all the info you need.
    My friend recently had 3 positive reviews removed. Ironically, they took his genuine reviews and left 2 fake reviews.
    Yelp has been proven to be malicious with their methods. Now they have a whole new piece of leverage against businesses.

    Its no wonder a San Diego judge called them “the modern day mafia”

  • itsajoke

    I agree that Yelp is a joke. They do moderate (they say it’s their software but if it’s their software then they need better programmers). If they don’t like a review, they will hide it. I contested it. They said there was not enough substance. So, I deleted all reviews and I’m not going there again. It’s time for Yelp to move on to greener pastures and stick with TripAdvisor and other more reliable websites.

    However, I will caution you that Yelp owns their website. They are entitled to do whatever they want like every other website out there. The only thing we can do is stop using them … like a boycott.

    • doomedby2020

      All my clients were upset to see their reviews had been removed as well. Good for you for contesting it, Yelp needs to know (from a consumer) that their “lie detection” software is flawed and is not an excuse for messing with the reviews. They seem to think its ok for them to remove reviews, but its an absolute sin when they learn a fake review has been posted.
      I recommend Google reviews. Businesses have the choice to be listed there.

  • seventhman

    I haven’t really tried this site but I think that there is a huge potential for abuse here by fake reviewers and nasty competitors who want to put a dent on your brand. Far from perfect– and it all boils down to credibility.

  • brutec

    Yelp is out of control, businesses that are being slandered by yelp will post negative reviews on businesses advertising on yelp to deter yelps advertising stream, its a dangerous game to play, you are really taking a risk with your good will and reputation by even putting your business up on yelps listings, I would stay very far away from yelp if you value your businesses good will and reputation.

  • GaiaLogic

    What companies like this are doing is creating the perfect environment for business warfare.

    We saw it with Google AdWords, with companies hiring people to click away the budgets of their competitors, we’ve seen it with Google registering “malicious” links posted in terrible spammy places by companies to destroy their competition, and now we have Yelp facilitating the warfare too, with companies able to “frame” their competition.

    The fact is, there is ALWAYS an element of consumer risk, but companies create trust in their brand through providing good service. We don’t need review sites like this, we don’t need to be paying for them, we build our reputation and customer base through actual good service.

    I don’t use any of these review sites, I never have. I use companies I know I can trust, and I use common sense. If I’m buying something on-line, those companies still have to abide by trading standards, card companies can still reverse the payment, PayPal can still reclaim your money if the goods are not delivered…

    All these review sites do is stir up a needlessly fearful consumer base.

  • http://www.sbwebcenter.com/ Steve B

    Yelp doesn’t know which reviews are real and which are fake. The only way they can tell a review is fake, is by tracking the IPs from where the reviews are from. But, this is easy to bypass. Simply hire someone in a different state or go to a library and use a public computer.

    Also, a business can hire a “regular” Yelper to write a good review for them, and how would Yelp know unless someone talks??

    Other than that, it’s all assumptions and speculations.

    • cooderbrown

      “Yelp doesn’t know which reviews are real and which are fake.”

      — exactly.

      • Joe

        Read the article. Yelp caught businesses red handed offering money or other Items for positive reviews

  • cooderbrown

    Yelp is a great, but flawed, idea. I found an instance, 2 or 3 years ago of a marketing person bashing a local business because they did not give this person their business. It was 100% transparent. Also sounds like Yelp isn’t aiding it’s own cause either.

  • Daenyuil Archer

    Yelp allows fake negative reviews by people who have never used the business and also ignores good reviews from customers who apparently don’t review enough for yelps tastes. There is no appeal process, Yelp does NOT care about providing accurate reviews, quoting constitutional right s to free speech etc. Free speech does not include slander but Yelp encourages it. I have all the proof they need to remove the negative review but refuse to do so and also refuse to show positive reviews my real customers gave me. This also is because I refused to get “paid advertising ” on Yelp no doubt. They also refuse to remove my business from their listings even though I was the one who ( mistakenly) added my listing with them.
    STAY AWAY from Yelp!!!!

  • http://www.andrewsjewelers.com Andrews Jewelers

    Yelp is lacking one very important quality….ethics. Horribly unethical company and to be quite honest most of the “Yelpers” are hate mongers waiting for an opportunity to smash a local business for the slightest misunderstanding. They fancy themselves as experts on just about every subject and love to have an opinion just to have one. It has nothing to do with having a wonderful random experience with a business and feeling compelled to write about it. It’s about making themselves feel important or empowered, very sick. I have had over 20 customers tell me that they wrote positive reviews only to see them taken down, in fact not one positive review written about my company has remained. However, every negative review does. As for the fake reviews, what a bunch of bullcrap!!! Each market Yelp goes in to and has no presence requires that they hire people to write reviews about businesses to get their website moving in that new market. Isn’t that a fake review?!!!!! A reviewer for hire coming in to your business with no intention on buying because they are paid to be there is a fake review!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! This is exactly what Yelp does when it enters a market, in the beginning they hired hundreds of thousands of fake reviewers. When it suited their business plan that was ok, but now its not. I truly despise these extortionists.

  • marbleheadman

    Yelp is a fraud. I had many positive reviews of my business until I turned down their advertising over a year ago. Since then, the only reviews that show are negative. Possibly the biggest fraud on the internet, worse than malware and virus writers!

  • tvi

    Considerable reviews on Yelp, Amazon etc are fake. I have bought so many products / services based on these reviews and surprised to see them not even close to these glowing reviews. I am sure Yelp and Amazon knows this very well but these reviews are also the reason why people go on Yelp (and on Amazon to some extent). Yelp also shows preferred merchants on top (without telling us), these are merchants to buy membership from yelp – so how can the info we see be un-biased.

  • Jeff Safire

    So many Mom and Pop businesses are being derailed by Yelp’s unethical practices, it’s a wonder why the FTC isn’t doing anything about this. When I first created a Yelp account about 4-ish years ago, I immediately posted 4 or 5 local restaurant reviews in my small town (Pleasanton) – all positive reviews. A month later, they all disappeared plus, my IP address at home was blacklisted. It is still blacklisted to this day and I have written to Yelp 3 times and never a reply.

    Worthliess entity in my view. Yelp is doing more harm to small businesses than good to anyone.

  • Eva D

    I joined Yelp as a business and soon got out – it was worth paying a $1000 early cancellation fee than to be a part of their terrible business model. How anyone can support them is beyond my comprehension.
    Sting operations ?? Really?

  • Bob Arnold

    I tell everyone to ignore Yelp. We had a bad review that was unwarranted and the only way we could appeal it was to subscribe. If I travel, I find restaurants on urbanspoon. I suspect that a lot of the positive glowing reports on Yelp are fake, so for me Yelp has zero credibility!

  • Joe

    I think this is a perfect idea to help stop businesses from posting fake reviews. It sounds like they had proof that these businesses were cheating the system and Amazon should do the same because what’s the point of even giving a review if it’s going to crowded by fake reviews.

  • Glenn

    Yelp doesn’t seem to care about businesses placing fake negative reviews on competitors! Why doesn’t Yelp go after these fake reviews by placing a “yelp warning’ on their business listing reviews, saying this company is known to write fake negative reviews on their competitors”.
    It is not the fake positive reviews but the fake negative reviews which make the difference in review process. It may take ten positive reviews to offset one negative review. Many viewers will scan comments sections for the negative reviews only. One hard hitting fake review can bring a business down. Why doesn’t Yelp go after these people first?

  • martinw392

    Stay far away from Yelp! If you advertise on yelp then other businesses that are being slandered and hurt by yelp will hit yelp advertisers with bad reviews to deter their advertising dollars supporting these ass holes! DON’T ADVERTISE AND SUPPORT THE EXTORTIONIST YELP! Or you will get hit with bad reviews by those that are being Hurt and slandered by yelp as you will be considered part of the problem that needs to be fought and fixed. The reviews don’t come from businesses them selves but fake sock puppet accounts from everywhere that are easy to create and maintain.

  • Angryrestaurantowner

    When I pointed out an obviously fake attack review they wouldn’t do anything about it despite the fact that the “reviewer” did an identical review on another website under a different name and hometown. You can’t talk to yelp on the phone, you can only email and wait 5-7 days for someone to respond, usually with boilerplate BS form emails.