Yelp Outs More Businesses With Another Batch Of Paid Review Alerts

yelp-logoYelp’s battle against phony reviews and unacceptable tactics to earn reviews continues today with the company posting another batch of “Consumer Alert” messages on business profile pages.

This is the second time Yelp has announced that some businesses will be outed for trying to game its system. Back in October, Yelp put a message on eight business profile pages saying that those companies were “caught … red-handed trying to buy fake reviews.”

The alert being posted today is slightly different. It tells consumers that Yelp “caught someone offering up cash, discounts, gift certificates or other incentives in exchange for reviews about this business.”

yelp-consumer-alert

Yelp says this message will show on the affected business profiles for the next 90 days. A Yelp spokesperson declined to say exactly how many businesses are getting this alert, but said it’s a “similar number” to the eight that were hit in October.

Among the major local search and directory sites, Yelp has historically been the most strict when it comes to what it will let businesses do to gain reviews. In short, almost nothing. Buying reviews via cash, discounts or gifts is a no-no on other sites, too, but Yelp discourages business owners from even inviting customers to write a review.

Related Topics: Channel: Local | Search Engines: Maps & Local Search Engines | SEO: Local | Top News | Yelp

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About The Author: is Editor-In-Chief of Search Engine Land. His news career includes time spent in TV, radio, and print journalism. His web career continues to include a small number of SEO and social media consulting clients, as well as regular speaking engagements at marketing events around the U.S. He recently launched a site dedicated to Google Glass called Glass Almanac and also blogs at Small Business Search Marketing. Matt can be found on Twitter at @MattMcGee and/or on Google Plus. You can read Matt's disclosures on his personal blog.

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  • RedLeader

    I may be the lone voice here, but I don’t see the issue with incentivizing the act of providing a review via future in store discounts or the possibility of winning cash. Before you all dog pile, realize that this is often necessary for customers, satisfied or not, to take time out of their day to create an account, log in, recount their experience, make sure everything looks good, and post it. Also, understand that nearly *EVERY* type of business does this – look at your Taco Bell receipt next time for the ad about entering to win an iPad with a survey. Check your Walmart receipt for the “chance to win $1,000 in Walmart gift cards” next time you go grocery shopping. This activity is not inherently bad or unique. Many shops simply want to incentivize people to take action, any action (though they’d prefer positive ones obviously) in order to get a conversation started.

    Now, if the businesses are incetivizing only *positive* reviews, THEN you have a conflict of interest.

  • http://www.keshkesh.com/ Takeshi Young

    Sounds like this will leave the door open for competitor abuse. Want to tarnish a company’s reputation? Just pose as that company and offer money for reviews.

  • Joel K

    Of course customers want a reason to review – because the average customer doesn’t care enough to review unless the experience was on one of two extremes (amazing or horrific). Yelp doesn’t even want you to ASK for reviews without an incentive, you’re supposed to politely hint by saying “Check us out on Yelp!”

  • http://www.moderninsider.com/ Ted Sindzinski

    Well said. Yelp isn’t exactly showing massive numbers of reviews for the average business and without the establishment suggesting, that’s unlikely to change.

    What matters is the method: solict from everyone, good, bad or indifferent. Rewards I find less needed and more problematic.

    Seems like Yelp should be doing more to help businesses get reviews in the right way first. Then go after those who do it wrong (as well as non-buyers, competitors, and questions left as reviews).

  • http://www.izoominphotography.com/ Gyorgy Bolla

    Used Yelp for a while to write reviews about the favourite restaurants, but since I don’t use Yelp frequently, some of these reviews were marked as spam and got filtered out. I felt like I waisted my time generating content for Yelp, so I stopped using it and haven’t clicked on any of their listings since then. I reckon there are many users like myself. Other review sites are much more user friendly.

  • http://www.izoominphotography.com/ Gyorgy Bolla

    Exactly. You can buy these dodgy reviews from Fiverr and Ebay as well.

  • CalGal12

    Yelp’s policies are hypocritical. Yelp employs “community managers.” This is a paid position. Community managers can also post reviews. To me, this means that these are “paid” reviews and Yelp is paying for content. http://officialblog.yelp.com/2011/07/day-in-the-life-of-a-community-manager.html Yelp also encourages content from reviewers by offering incentives. If a yelper writes enough reviews, (with the correct mix of 1-5 stars), Yelp will give this reviewer compensation in the form of special perks, parties, and notoriety. Yelp is “incentivizing” reviews by dangling rewards in front of their most prolific reviewers. How is this different from a small business trying to get their clients to write reviews by offering an incentive? The fact is, Yelp’s business model is truly hurting businesses in small towns, rural areas and suburban areas where people are not as engaged with social media and write fewer reviews. The result is that businesses with fewer reviews will probably find a higher percentage of the positive reviews filtered which can have a devastating effect on a small business’s reputations. These small businesses might be desperate enough to try to improve their star rating (unfairly judged by Yelp’s mysterious review filter) by offering clients an incentive to review their business. If you look at business owner complaints about Yelp, they are usually generated by businesses with fewer reviews, or new businesses. I have seen a Yelp spokesman address criticism of the filter by stating that inadvertent filtering of legitimate reviews is “a price Yelp is willing to pay” to keep content useful and credible. A price Yelp is willing to pay? Seriously? What about the price that thousands of small businesses in smaller markets are paying for ruined reputations at the hand of a mysterious review filter? Why doesn’t Yelp unlock reviews for businesses who have less than 50 reviews to give these small businesses a fighting chance? And what about Yelp’s own star rating on its own site? Only 3 stars and probably much worse if Yelp unlocked all of it’s own filtered reviews. (http://www.yelp.com/biz/yelp-san-francisco) Perhaps Yelp doesn’t feel that a 3 star rating with thousands of complaints from disgruntled business owners is a fair representation of their business. Perhaps there are thousands of happy Yelp customers/advertisers but these customers just don’t want to take the time to write a positive review? This is exactly the same dilemma that many business owners face with review sites.

  • treb072410

    I totally agree with you CalGal12..

  • http://DCincome.com/blog Matthew Loop

    Pardon my language… but F*CK Yelp! I get no less than a dozen emails per week from small business owners that are frustrated their positive reviews don’t show. Coincidentally enough, ALL negative reviews stick… because negative reviews all legit.

    Yelp is a sneaky company that hard sells businesses to upgrade to their paid advertising. Most businesses naturally have an assumption that their positive (legit) reviews will finally come-back if they pay Yelp.

    This is hardly the case, though.

    If you’ve had positive, legit reviews filtered… call the FTC and file a complaint.

    Based on working with a few thousand business owners, I can tell you that filtering reviews is a bad practice and hurts WAY more than it helps.

    Yelp is about making shareholders money… period. Anyone that thinks they’re an unbiased company who puts businesses first is naive.

    Let me just say, I do not agree with getting fake reviews at all. Yelp blows this out of proportion, though. 95% of the businesses on their get REAL positive reviews from real customers.

  • alisha652

    as Carlos explained I am impressed that any one can profit $8921 in 1 month on the computer. have you seen this webpage w­w­w.K­E­P­2.c­o­m

  • DP

    How is yelp still ranking in the top 10 and usually top 3 for almost anything they want? They just create new listings for “body shops”, “party venues”, “nail salons” and they shoot to top of the list.

    Not only that but they tend to occupy 2 o r 3 out of 10 listings.

    Google is all bark and no bite. They’ll never punish a site like this.

  • Kretek

    As if Yelp doesn’t already take money for reviews anyways. Their paid accounts get preferential reviewing and they conveniently mask “inconvenient” reviews. Additionally, you’re looking at business owners that Yelp has vilified because they refuse to pay into their scheme. They boost their negative rankings to the top and push the positives ones down until they pay. Such a lovely company.

  • http://www.moderninsider.com/ Ted Sindzinski

    Their model certainly makes it hard to claim to be unbiased and the stories of their “adjustments” by advertising (or not) certainly make it difficult to side with any decisions they make about “honesty.”

    In one extreme case, I saw a new gym solicit reviews for their opening (no reward or incentive, just a big ask)… 50 reviews in total. Some were junk and one could argue Yelp didn’t know the mechanism for them all, but rather than diving into the source of what was mostly quality content, they filtered 100% of them away.

  • Kretek

    I didn’t hear about that one. That’s amazingly horrible.

  • http://www.wish111.com/our-services/professional-seo matthew

    Sure like Yelp i’snt about making money??I have seen some terrible reviews on company’s and wish you could just get rid of them, and I have also seen some great reviews on company’s that i know for a fact were false??the whole thing is just a game..

  • Pat Grady

    Jack: I mean, can you ever really trust another human being, Greg?
    Greg: Sure, I think so.
    Jack: No. The answer is, you cannot.

  • http://www.BarnesFamily.com/ davebarnes

    You are so incorrect. They Yelp filter moves both positive and negative reviews to the bucket. I read filtered reviews all the time.
    You can easily read reviews in chronological order. You have control of the ordering tabs.

  • Jeff

    If you offer a gift cert. for an unbiased review who cares….

  • Paul

    Yelp asks their Yelpers to Yelp them about their elite parties but they don’t want businesses to ask their customers to Yelp about their experience. Why is Yelp so concerned about a business asking for a real review from a real person. Is that gaming the system? Yelp needs to realize that that this is supposed to be a public forum…not a Yelp controlled system to control the reviews for their own benefit. Yelp will crash under their own weight as the public becomes more and more aware of the Yelp control BS.

  • Paul

    Yelp asks their Yelpers to Yelp them about their elite parties but they don’t want businesses to ask their customers to Yelp about their experience. Why is Yelp so concerned about a business asking for a real review from a real person. Is that gaming the system? Yelp needs to realize that that this is supposed to be a public forum…not a Yelp controlled system to control the reviews for their own benefit. Yelp will crash under their own weight as the public becomes more and more aware of the Yelp control BS.

  • Philip La Vere

    How about going after IMDB? I don’t know how many times I’ve seen a bad movie, with dozens of one star negative reviews, and then a sudden burst of shamelessly obvious phony reviews that glow about the film. The producers obviously hire these people…

    Not only that, but even when the average rating STILL comes out to around 3.0 – 4,0 you see movies getting 7.0 ratings. Many friends have also noticed this phenomenon. What’s up with that IMDB?

  • Aaliyah21215

    I would like to add that the “special perks, parties and notoriety” is known as elite and it ain’t what you crack it up to be. Those things aren’t guaranteed. It’s basically an occasional bone thrown at you that you may not be able to take advantage of much if you’re in a big city. There’s no correct mix of reviews. If they see you trying then they don’t mind making you elite. I’ve seen people with 20 reviews make elite. Elite parties typically help smaller venues get clientele. Seems like you get a little more from the businesses eliciting reviews if you choose to go that route.

  • Aaliyah21215

    I would like to add that the “special perks, parties and notoriety” is known as elite and it ain’t what you crack it up to be. Those things aren’t guaranteed. It’s basically an occasional bone thrown at you that you may not be able to take advantage of much if you’re in a big city. There’s no correct mix of reviews. If they see you trying then they don’t mind making you elite. I’ve seen people with 20 reviews make elite. Elite parties typically help smaller venues get clientele. Seems like you get a little more from the businesses eliciting reviews if you choose to go that route.

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