Yelp Strips Businesses Deemed 'Shady' Of Ratings And Reviews

Chris CrumBusiness

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Yelp is cracking down harder and harder on businesses it considers to be engaging in shady practices. It's not only slapping more businesses with consumer alert warnings, but it's slapping many more with a new "reputation warning".

Is Yelp doing a good job of separating shady businesses from legitimate ones? Let us know what you think in the comments.

Yelp has been issuing rounds of consumer alert warnings on business pages since 2012. These last for 90 days and point Yelp users to evidence Yelp found that shows why they consider that business to have been engaging in shady business practices.

An example of one of the warnings says, "We caught someone offering up cash, discounts, gift certificates or other incentives in exchange for reviews about this business. We wanted you to know because buying reviews not only hurts consumers, but also honest businesses who play by the rules. Check out the evidence here."

Then, there's a link for the users to see the reviews anyway.

In January, Yelp issued 85 of these types of warnings on business pages. In June, it issued 51 more. Earlier this week, it announced that it had issued another 51 of them, bringing the year's total to 187.

Yelp’s Kayleigh Winslow wrote in a blog post, “Wouldn’t you want to know that Spokane Laptops was caught threatening customers and offering to pay $50 in exchange for the removal of negative reviews before taking your broken laptop into that shop? Likewise, you’d probably appreciate a heads up that this MedRite Urgent Care was caught twice attempting to inflate their ratings before rushing in with a medical emergency. Similarly, you’d want the tip-off that a large number of five-star reviews for Family Dental Care came from the same IP address used to claim the business owner’s account before heading in to get a tooth pulled.”

“In addition to giving consumers a false perception of the business where they are about to spend their hard-earned money and violating Yelp’s Terms of Service, buying positive testimonials without revealing they were paid for is a form of false advertising," she added.

The consumer alerts fall under a broader initiative that the company refers to as its Consumer Protection Initiative, which also includes its work with government and research agencies as well as its health score information for restaurants.

Since the announcement about the latest round of consumer alerts, Yelp has made yet another announcement about its consumer protection efforts. This one involves slapping another 100+ businesses with a new "reputation warning".

"Although most businesses earn their reputations fairly, some are becoming sophisticated in their attempts to manipulate their online reputation," wrote Vince Sollitto in another blog post. "Fortunately, Yelp is just as committed to protecting the integrity of our content and we are constantly learning and improving our mechanisms to detect suspicious behavior."

He explains, "Yelp has issued a new Reputation Warning on more than 100 listings for moving companies across the U.S. who are connected to the Movers Alliance, a group that operates many mover and relocation businesses under several names and listings on Yelp, other consumer sites, and government databases. We have evidence that this group and the businesses connected to it pressure customers into writing positive reviews (sometimes on the spot) in exchange for a discount, manipulate customers into posting reviews to listings other than the one they transacted with (sometimes in an entirely different state), ask customers to sign a contract preventing them from publishing negative reviews in case of a dispute, and purchase fake reviews online."

For businesses with the "reputation warning," Yelp goes even further than that it does with those with the regular consumer alert. It actually removes the reviews and star ratings for the business, and instead just displays a warning with a link to its evidence.

So just know that this is a think Yelp could do to more businesses in the future if it compiles what it sees as sufficient evidence.

Is Yelp improving things for honest businesses with its ongoing consumer protection efforts? Share your thoughts in the comments.

Chris Crum
Chris Crum has been a part of the WebProNews team and the iEntry Network of B2B Publications since 2003. Follow Chris on Twitter, on StumbleUpon, on Pinterest and/or on Google: +Chris Crum.