Regular readers will know how much we dislike the “fake ‘user’ review” phenomenon, so we’re somewhat encouraged to report that Yelp, that notorious bastion of foodie self-promotion, recently made some big moves to crack down on the cheaters.
Want to see the practice in action? Here’s a craigslist post specifically offering to pay for positive Yelp reviews. The site’s famous review filter can only get rid of so much of this stuff.
OK, we get it: Yelp is extremely influential within the hyper-competitive restaurant world. Bad Yelp reviews can be worse for business than negative editorials in local papers. We can see why the temptation to encourage friends, employees and paid “freelancers” to post glowing write-ups might be hard to resist, but that doesn’t make the practice acceptable. It’s fake, cheap PR.
In a possible attempt to justify its dubious “Real People. Real Reviews.” tagline and acquire something resembling credibility, Yelp decided to adopt an unusual strategy: publicly shaming any businesses caught cheating.
Here’s the deal:
If Yelp researchers find evidence of a business attempting to pay for positive reviews, said business’s page will bear a “mark of shame” for 90 days, presenting users with evidence of the transgression in question. Yelp claims that employees will investigate and respond to all related solicitations by going undercover to catch the perpetrators.
This move will certainly not eliminate the practice, because there’s no real way to prove whether a reviewer has actually visited a given business—or whether this individual might have ulterior motives for writing a positive review. What if Yelp makes a false judgment? And what if a business tries to falsely accuse a rival of soliciting reviews?
For what it’s worth, we still don’t find Yelp’s (almost always) poorly written reviews very helpful. Still, the company has certainly taken a step toward improving its reputation.