Yelp announced that a number of businesses recently got caught buying or otherwise trying to manipulate or fake reviews and that they would be getting a Scarlet Letter (“Consumer Alert ) on their profile pages for 90 days accordingly:
We’ve seen some pretty extreme chicanery in connection with these businesses, including people buying fake reviews, offering rewards or discounts for reviews or having a large number of reviews submitted from the same Internet Protocol (IP) address (a clue that someone may be trying to artificially inflate their rating). A Consumer Alert message with hyperlinked evidence will be posted on these business’ Yelp listings for 90 days.
Round one of these first appeared in Q4 last year. Although I haven’t seen any follow-up about the impact of those notices, I suspect they delivered a direct hit to the bottom line. Indeed, some businesses might not have survived/survive them — so powerful is Yelp in certain markets.
I don’t know the facts that lead to the punishments in any of these individual cases (Yelp lists the general offenses above). The company suggests however that these incidents are pretty eggregious efforts to game the system. Broadly speaking however I’m sympathetic to the challenges that ordinary business owners face in getting reviews and the confusion and frustration they sometimes feel at the mercy of the Yelp Review Filter.
I was passively watching an email discussion this weekend where seasoned marketers were asserting with authority that Yelp itself manipulated reviews to win advertising and reward or punish business owners. This belief has long dogged Yelp. But as long as the review filter persists — and it will persist indefinitely — there will be dark and magical thinking surrounding it.
I know that Yelp regularly hosts webinars to educate business owners about best practices including regarding review acquisition and negative reviews. But there are some gray areas. For example, running a contest where reviews submission qualifies you for a drawing is prohibited by Yelp but not unethical in my mind. Faking or buying reviews clearly transgresses ethical boundaries, however.
What do you think about these Consumer Alerts? Good practice? Harsh practice? What’s your view?