The world of online reviews is an incredibly influential place. Studies show that the majority of consumers (85%) rely on the internet and review sites to find local businesses and decide where to spend their hard-earned money. According to Google Analytics, an average of 108 million monthly unique visitors turned to Yelp last quarter to connect with local businesses and potentially make a spending decision, but we also know that there is an unfortunate group of businesses out there who are looking to cash in on this traffic by paying, or otherwise incentivizing, people to write fake reviews which may, in turn, mislead consumers. Which begs the question: what good are online reviews if you can’t trust their authenticity? Spoiler alert: not much good at all.
We’ve always taken the quality of content on Yelp very seriously – our automatic review algorithm, user support team and flag system work overtime to monitor the content on our site. We’ve gone to extensive measures to make sure that the consumers who come to Yelp can trust those reviews to reflect the real life experience they will have with that business.
The latest of these efforts is our Consumer Alerts program, which we launched in October 2012 and are continuing today with a new round of posted alerts. 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.
This kind of activity happens to be illegal (see what the FTC has to say about disclosing compensation for reviews here), and it's pretty darn unethical, too.
There will always be fraudsters out there who try to game the system, but we’re doing our best to not let that ruin the value so many millions of people get from Yelp – the trust that allows 4 out of 5 Yelp users to feel confident when consulting our site before spending money at a local business. In the end, it’s up to consumers to choose a business that fits their needs, but the Consumer Alerts program is our attempt to inform them of suspicious behavior we have clearly identified.
With great power comes great responsibility. Whether you want to quote Spiderman or Voltaire on that one, wiser words have not been spoken, and you can rest easy knowing we’re holding up our end of the bargain.