The major user review and local search website is already naming and shaming businesses. Those that get caught will have to suffer the embarrassment of having a red warning label placed across their Yelp listing.
"We caught someone red-handed trying to buy reviews for their business. We weren’t fooled, but wanted you to know because buying reviews not only hurts consumers, but also honest businesses who play by the rules,” the Yelp box reads, before linking to the bogus reviews in question.
Yelp vice-president Eric Singley says the alert will be removed from the business’s page after 90 days, unless evidence of on-going malpractice is discovered. “We think consumers have a right to know when someone is going to great lengths to mislead them,” he adds.
While policing the millions of comments posted on review sites may seem a gargantuan task, advances in technology are allowing companies to develop complex filters and algorithms that weed out fakes. It is also understood that some sites are even considering baiting businesses with ‘would you like to buy positive reviews’ solicitations.
The review sites are responding to significant pressure from businesses to get their houses in order. TripAdvisor was recently the subject of a Channel 4 documentary that revealed how easy it was to post large numbers of fake reviews.
The programme’s findings were backed up by hospitality consultancy Visionary Dining, which exposed various flaws in TripAdvisor’s security system – it was able to post multiple reviews by downloading an IP address changer and setting up multiple email accounts.
TripAdvisor has since defended its policies, saying that it has robust fraud detection systems.
“Until recently it has been too easy for opportunistic businesses to enhance their online reputation,” says Mark Hall, managing director at Gotjuice, an online reputation management consultancy. “That ride, however, is now over and we welcome the naming and shaming of those that abuse the system. It’s a form of fraud and it can seriously damage other hard-working businesses.”
Another common gripe from restaurateurs regarding review sites is malicious, inaccurate or false posts from customers.
Currently, there is little a restaurant can do to remove critical posts unless they are libellous (for example those that accuse an operation of serious hygiene breaches or employing staff illegally) although some sites do offer restaurant owners the right of reply.
One strategy – that has been suggested by Visionary Dining managing director Gordon Cartwright – is to put cards on the table politely requesting that customers put till receipt numbers at the end of reviews.