San Francisco–Internet business review juggernaut Yelp has recently announced new plans for cracking down on fake reviews.
The changes include new methods for identifying suspicious reviews and users, as well as a new sanctions for businesses and users suspected of violating Yelp’s policies on soliciting and making phony posts.
According to an article on Bloomberg Businessweek, Yelp has recently begun this process by identifying over 150 businesses suspected of soliciting or posting fraudulent postings. The sanctions taken against these businesses and those identified in the future include a “red flag” of sorts, in the form a “Consumer Alert” posted prominently on the business’ page warning users that the reviews on the page are suspicious.
Additionally, reviews suspected of being fake or misleading can also be relegated to less-visible portions of the page. Yelp says approximately 20% of reviews are hidden in this manner.
Flagged businesses can earn their way back into Yelp’s good graces by turning over a new leaf. Those that remove the fake reviews and keep their noses clean for 90 days can have the Consumer Alert tag removed from their page.
Yelp and the Fraud Fight
While Yelp taking steps to fight fraud and abuse of their site is nominally a good thing for the company, investors do not seem convinced. Investors Business Daily’s Investors.com blog noted that shares fell 2.1% on the heels of the announcement.
This may be fueled in part by investors’ skepticism regarding the sanctions. While Yelp has flagged over 150 businesses, this is a very small amount compared to the total size of the site, with around 108 million users posting over 42 million reviews about millions of unique businesses.
Yelp admits that while it identifies credibility issues a significant business risk in its regulatory filings, it cannot investigate all the suspected reviews. It mainly relies on algorithms to identify suspicious consumer postings. Yelp also confesses the red flags are mainly aimed at the worst offenders with the goal of encouraging lower-level mimics to enact self-reform.
Fire at Will: Green Light Given to Mobile Reviews
These changes aren’t the only ones Yelp has recently announced, however. Shortly after announcing the crackdown on fake reviews, Yelp also publicly and conspicuously reversed its long-held stance of not allowing users to post reviews from the company’s mobile app.
Until this announcement, Yelp has consistently refused to allow mobile reviews on the grounds that they will be predominantly negative, often for groundless reasons.
Forbes quickly noted in an article that these two changes may be related. As it pointed out, Yelp’s fake review issues can be thought of partially being caused by a lack of negative reviews. As Yelp itself has maintained, allowing mobile reviews will increase the amount of negative reviews.
The review site has contrived a way to redress this imbalance while seeming to be merely giving users something they have been demanding for years. Marketing Land also pointed out that Yelp is avoiding fully committing to mobile reviews by enacting a policy where shorter or otherwise deficient reviews may still be posted as “tips”, an option that mobile app users have had for some time. This also has the effect of driving traffic to the actual website because users whose mobile reviews post as tips will have the option of returning to the review on the site and expanding and then posting it as a full review.