Yelp first revealed the Consumer Alerts program in 2012. It’s a tool designed to fight fake reviews by showing warnings to users on the pages of businesses who have been found to pay for reviews.
Just how much Yelp’s Consumer Alerts are really deterring businesses from writing and acquiring fake reviews remains a mystery. Clearly’ they’re not deterring everyone, including businesses that have already been on the receiving end of the alerts.
Yelp has also utilized the legal system to go after paid reviews. Last year, the company sued the site BuyYelpReview.com, and more recently Yelp sued a guy for planting fake reviews on his business page.
A Harvard Business School study last year suggested that 16% of Yelp restaurant reviews are potentially fake, a figure Yelp says is misleading, as it used reviews Yelp identified as suspicious (not “fake”) to run its analysis.
Yelp doesn’t kick the business out of its service, but the embarrassing warning appears on the business listing for three months. Yelp’s Kristen Whisenand writes:
We normally remove alerts after 90 days, but we won’t hesitate to renew them if we continue to see suspicious activity. That’s exactly what happened for two businesses this time around. We again found something amiss with two of the locations for Chicago-based nail salon, Azure Nails. And someone was caught red-handed yet again trying to buy reviews for Evergreen Carpet Cleaning in Los Angeles.
This type of activity not only hurts consumers, but also honest businesses who play by the rules. Yelp’s main line of defense is our automated recommendation software which works behind the scenes at all times to recommend reliable and useful reviews. It’s unfortunate that some people are so set on gaming the system (and misleading consumers) that the additional step of posting Consumer Alerts is necessary. That said, we take our responsibility of providing trusted information very seriously, and we’ll do whatever it takes to ensure that Yelp remains helpful to consumers.
The company did say last year that the study’s findings “shouldn’t come as a complete surprise,” and “as consumers increasingly turn to online reviews to find a local business, the incentive to artificially improve one’s reputation also increases, but neither should the fact that Yelp has been on guard against these very same reviews from our earliest days.”