Yelp announced on Wednesday that it has issued a new round of Consumer Alerts, the warnings that appear on businesses' Yelp pages informing users that they're not to be trusted. The company didn't say how many it issued this time around, but it did call out a few businesses by name.
The company is also discouraging businesses from asking customers for reviews in-store, which many would no doubt argue is when the experience is freshest in their minds. As far as Yelp is concerned, asking for reviews is pretty much like spam.
Do you think reviews businesses ask for are illegitimate? Let us know what you think.
"Unfortunately some businesses are trying to sneak through fake reviews in an effort to boost their reputations on Yelp and other review sites," says Yelp's Kristen Whisenand. "Others may be encouraging their customers to write reviews from the store, which may not sound all that bad until you ask yourself just how objective you’d be if you were at the dentist’s office and she dropped an iPad on your lap and asked you to write her a quick Yelp review. Solicited reviews are often biased and don’t result in the most accurate overall portrayal of that business. You can also be assured that businesses are almost never asking their unhappy customers for reviews." Emphasis added.
Part of the problem (on Yelp's end) with people leaving reviews from in stores is that they come from the same IP address. It would seem that reviews coming from a single IP address has been one of the biggest factors in the company determining when reviews are spammy. In fact, the company said right in its new post on the subject, that it "looks for businesses that have received a disproportionate number of spammy reviews, like those that originate from the same IP address."
This was actually brought up on Bloomberg recently, when a business owner and a representative from Yelp each presented their side of the story. In that, Yelp’s Vincent Sollitto, VP of corporate communications, said: “Yelp has to recommend reviews that they find reliable. The reason that there are a number of positive reviews for Beverly’s [the aforementioned business owner] business that are not being recommended is because in fact ten of them came from the very IP address that was used to claim her business owner’s account, and one of them actually was for a one-star review of a competing business to hers. And so the problem is business owners try to game the system, and websites that don’t try to filter out or verify reliable reviews can get gamed. That’s probably why Yahoo decided to go ahead and use Yelp as the de facto standard for local search.”
Beverly, who runs a dog training service, responded, “First of all, in some cases, clients are at your house, and can be using your IP address to write something. That is possible. IP address isn’t the best judgment. People can be at a cafe and use IP address, you know. I don’t think the location of a person writing the review is relevant. I had one guy, for instance, that is in my five-star-deleted – i’ve had like 34 deleted five-star reviews now – I mean not recommended – and another fourteen that have been deleted. And meanwhile I only have seven five-star reviews up. So that’s a big ratio. We’re talking a fifty to seven ratio here. I had one guy that had to go to the library and open an account in order to be able to write a review for me because he didn’t have a computer service, and he wanted to be able to review me because I did good work with him, and he was very pleased, and Yelp removed his review because it seemed suspicious or whatever, but he’s a real person.”
Unless Bloomberg cut it out, Sollitto didn't really acknowledge her comments about people legitimately using the same IP address.
"Don't Ask for Reviews" is one of Yelp's guidelines. They have a whole page on it in their support center.
Under the "Why does Yelp discourage businesses from asking for reviews?" section, it says:
1. Would-be customers might not trust you. Let's face it, most business owners are only going to ask for reviews from their happy customers, not the unhappy ones. Over time, these self-selected reviews create bias in the business listing -- a bias that savvy consumers can smell from a mile away. No business is perfect, and it's impossible to please 100% of your customers 100% of the time.
2. Solicited reviews are less likely to be recommended by our automated software, and that will drive you crazy. Why aren’t these reviews recommended? Well, we have the unfortunate task of trying to help our users distinguish between real and fake reviews, and while we think we do a pretty good job at it with our fancy computer algorithms, the harsh reality is that solicited reviews often fall somewhere in between. Imagine, for example, the business owner who "asks" for a review by sticking a laptop in front of a customer and smilingly invites her to write a review while he looks over her shoulder. We don’t need these kinds of reviews, so it shouldn’t be a surprise when they aren’t recommended.
It later goes on to say, "There is an important distinction between 'Hey, write a review about me on Yelp,' [BAD] and 'Hey, check us out on Yelp!' [GOOD]. It's the difference between actively pursuing testimonials and simply creating awareness of your business through social media outlets."
Because, you know, you're going to recommend unhappy users "check you out" on Yelp. What else is a customer going to do when they "check you out" on Yelp besides write a review? If you're trying to create awareness about your business on social media, you're not going to say, "Check us out on Yelp." You're going to say, "Check us out on Facebook" or "...on Twitter," etc.
According to Yelp, recommending that your customers "check you out on Yelp" allows them to "review your online reputation without feeling like they're being forced to write a review."
So, go ahead and suggest that they review your reputation on Yelp after they've done business with you, because that will help them somehow?
"To an established Yelp community member, a reminder of your Yelp presence can act like a dog-whistle prompting them to share their feedback about your business with fellow Yelpers," adds Yelp.
Oh. Just don't suggest that they write a review!
If you've been encouraging people to leave reviews for your business while they're actually at your business, don't offer them up your own device to do it. Luckily, last year, Yelp added the ability for users to leave reviews from the Yelp app.
"Yelpers won’t have to wait until they get home to tell the world why their neighborhood barber is deserving of five shiny stars – they can do it directly from their phones, while they’re on-the-go,” a Yelp product manager wrote in a blog post at the time.
"We have zero tolerance for those who are trying to manipulate their online reputations in an effort to get ahead of hard-working business owners who are playing by the rules," says Whisenand. "We encourage businesses to take a hands off approach when it comes to receiving reviews and take advantage of the free suite of tools Yelp provides business owners who are interested in joining the conversations that are happening about them online."
What do you think of Yelp's policy on asking for reviews? Have you suggested that customers "check you out" on Yelp? Did reviews resulting from that escape the review filter? Share your thoughts in the comments.