Yelp Sting Operation Uncovers Businesses Trying to Buy Reviews

Local SearchThe tagline of the Yelp logo reads, “Real people. Real reviews.” However, as a recent sting operation uncovered, this isn’t always the truth. There are now 8 businesses whose Yelp pages have been branded with a “Consumer Alert” warning message. These businesses were branded as such after a Yelp sting operation uncovered they were trying to buy positive user reviews.

According to a report from The New York Times, Yelp conducted this operation by having one of its employees pose as an “Elite” reviewer. This employee then answered ads from the businesses on Craigslist. A direct quote from the article explains:

A pest control company offered $5 to anyone who would post a review that the business itself had written. The moving company was willing to pay $50 but wanted original copy. An appliance repair shop provided a start: “I really appreciate that the service tech was on time, the problem was solved, everything was cleaned up and he was very professional. Please add 50 or more words,” the shop suggested. It would pay $30.

The highest payment was offered by a jewelry store in San Diego, which said it was forced to solicit reviews after others got away with doing it. “We have noticed that some of our larger, corporate run competitors have been unfairly trying to get reviews written for them on Yelp, which puts us at a disadvantage,” wrote Bert Levi of Levi Family Jewelers. He said he would pay $200 for a review of a new custom-designed ring.

The Yelp page of Levi Family Jewelers now has the large warning plastered across its page, and it will remain there for 3 months.

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The blue hyperlink at the end of the warning message contains a link to the entirety of the correspondence between Levi Family Jewelers and the undercover Yelp employee. A screenshot of that correspondence can be seen here:

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There is no doubt that it is wrong for a business to attempt to buy positive reviews, but at the same time, it also serves as an example how competitive review space is right now. The problem is exacerbated by Yelp’s unreliable review filter. The filter tends to be quite random in choosing which reviews it wants to display and which ones it wants to hide. However, the problem is not unique to Yelp. Reviews are also routinely bought and sold on Google+, Amazon, various app stores, Freelancer.com, and many other sites.

Yelp has stated its continued commitment to uncovering businesses who resort to underhanded tactics to gain positive reviews, and as a reminder to our clients, keep your business practices aboveboard and legal!

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