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Yelp Sets Up Sting to ID and Label Businesses Who Manipulate Reviews



Yelp is certainly an Internet success story. Part of how we know just how successful it is involves the level of controversy that is often associated with the company directly or those who are looking to use the review site to their best business advantage.

The local business online review space is rife with abuses, allegations, misuses, and more and Yelp is a major player so may look to how they handle the more troubling aspects of the local review space as an industry standard or, often much more accurately, that lack thereof.

The most recent action taken by Yelp to help ‘clean up’ after those businesses that are trying to game the system comes in the form of a sting operation to catch businesses trying to buy reviews in the act then giving them the Yelp equivalent of a scarlet letter to make that point to Yelpers everywhere.

The New York Times reports

Like every Web site that depends on consumer critiques, Yelp has a problem with companies trying to manipulate their results. So it set up a sting operation to catch them. The first eight businesses — including a moving company, two repair shops and a concern that organizes treasure hunts — will find themselves exposed on Thursday.

For the next three months, their Yelp profile pages will feature a “consumer alert” that says: “We caught someone red-handed trying to buy reviews for this business.”

Businesses have learned to work the Yelp system quite effectively so Yelp simply played along with the game in their sting operation.

To have the best shot at getting a solicited review onto a profile page, a sneaky business needs to find someone with a track record on the site, whom Yelp has called an “elite” reviewer. It does this by advertising on classified sites like Craigslist.

That was where Yelp went to conduct its sting. A Yelp employee posed as an elite reviewer and got the businesses to reveal themselves. The size of the promised payments varied widely, and so did the work required.

From that point on for the eight lucky winners of “Let’s Play Catch the Review Scammer!”it will only get worse. They will be tagged with a consumer alert when their profile comes up that looks like this

There will also be a history of the email correspondence that went on between the undercover Yelpers and the businesses that were offering anywhere from $5 to $200 for a review when soliciting reviews. I guess it’s less harmful than soliciting other activities but it sure sounds bad, doesn’t it?

The eight businesses are being publicly shamed starting today for a 90 day period.

Do you think this kind of threat will slow down the use of these tactics or will people simply take the risk as a ‘cost of doing business’ with Yelp? Personally, I don’t think this can scale to become enough of a threat to those employing these tactics to feel truly at risk.

Your thoughts?