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“Operation Clean Turf” Paves Way For Competitors To Commit Stealty Sabotage

Craigslist Ad looking for active yelpers to write reviews.

Craigslist Ad looking for active yelpers to write reviews.

Online review sites are flourishing, but new studies prove upwards of 25% of all reviews are bogus, flat out fakes! Good or Bad, the inability to distinguish real reviews is taking it’s toll on consumers.

Most people think of the internet as a useful resource, with the answer to any question just a query away. But there is a seedy underbelly, much like the backroom brothels in Vegas nobody talks about, it’s the money making side of the internet, where anything can be had — for a price.

New York State Attorney General Eric T. Schneiderman is the first of, I hope, many state officials to see the significance of how fake reviews can hurt business. Either by elevating the ranking of a bad business, or lowering the ranking of a good one. A quick peek at Fiverr.com easily reveals dozens of people who will happily create fake reviews and testimonials for you, for only $5. And the “legit” ones tell you, they have to #ad next to the tweet, unless you pay a $20 upgrade, then they’ll forget to put that on! There’s really only one word for it…

And the company at the forefront of this debate is Yelp! Yelp claims that their review filter will weed out these fraudulent reviews and even slap a badge of dishonor on the business if Yelp deems their business has been buying fake reviews. And that’s a problem.

Ask any business member about their faith that Yelp will protect their business and very few would give the review giant a thumbs up. This is a company that doesn’t answer the phone, allows competitors to write fake reviews and filters legitimate reviews, frequently putting good honest businesses out of business.

The rumor mill is full of legitimate stories of business that claim they got a fake bad review, and then the phone rings and it’s a Yelp salesperson offering to take care of the problem. One person who contacted me claimed to have been hired by a Yelp salesperson to write bad reviews and then remove them once the business signed up for advertising. I asked for proof and am still waiting. But it fits with the hundreds of stories of businesses feeling victimized after they get “the call” asking them to advertise. And if they decline, all their good reviews go missing. We will never know the truth of those claims with a thorough code review of the processes at Yelp, and that will never happen. EVER.

And while they stand behind the Communications Decency Act to protect them from litigation, they’re now stepping squarely in the thick of it. The Constitutional Right to anonymous free speech was to protect political dissidents from retaliation. Not a disgruntled diner who thought their waitress shouldn’t wear a nose ring.

A little background on the idea of stealthy sabotage…

There used to be an easy way to get rid of a Google result you didn’t want coming up: you simply bought a bunch of really bad, slimy, cheap backlinks for the site and viola, it vanished, slapped by Google for violating their rule to not attempt to manipulate the rankings. But it became so commonplace that Google now allows business owners to verify their backlinks to protect them from this unethical business practice.

Now imagine how Yelp will handle it… go ahead, try to imagine a company that won’t answer the phone or remove a review that says, “I went in because of the cute outfit in the window and the sales girls was so rude” when the business is run out of a house, with no storefront! Clearly a competitor, a mistake, but Yelp doesn’t have the bandwidth or the commitment to deal with such trivial things as a fake/defamatory review that hurts a businesses bottom line. In essence, Yelp will make it easier for competitors to destroy the competition because there is no way to determine who bought what. All a competitor need do is buy reviews and have them posted. And the more easily recognizably fake the better.

There is only one solution: move away from the anonymous reviews with no context and toward friend to friend word of mouth, like upstart FlypList. When I write a great review of a restaurant, all my friends know it must be a great place. Why? Because I’m a foodie. A gluten free foodie with allergies who demands awesome and friendly service. I’m not the person you would ask about Laundromats because I never go there. Or tattoo parlors. And my friends know this. And their friends can easily figure it out. I have expertise in variety of subjects but not all, and that’s where the current selection of online review sites fail. There is no context. If you prefer 5 star hotels and get stuck in a 2 star in the middle of nowhere, you might rate it 2 stars. But it could be a 5 star hotel in its category. Get it? Context!

Weeding out fraud is important and I applaud all the efforts, but for every advance, it just opens up a new wave of profiteering from the internet underbelly, a new way to game the system. Only when word of mouth is taken back down to the personal level, where people stand by their word, will it ever be truly authentic. So while Google has replaced the card catalog for nearly everyone, Reviews will become more personal.

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About the author

Adryenn Ashley

Adryenn Ashley is the mediagenic founder of Wow! Is Me. As an award winning filmmaker and actress she is used to transforming herself and others into riveting onscreen characters. Now she uses her well honed techniques to transform everyday entrepreneurs into wildly successful business celebrities. As a mentor to CEOs worldwide, she is directly responsible for adding significant revenue to her client's bottom line. For information on how you can work with Adryenn Ashley, go to http://wowisme.net.

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16 comments

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  1. sean

    Yelp review
    I recently posted review about rogers outrank on a few web sites, but when I googled title " rogers outrank review" i saw yelp.ca came on top, so i went and put my review in yelp.ca
    my review was removed than i posted again, and saw that one was removed as well, while I was trying post another one i saw Brett Hall from Calgary, AB's posting too "3/11/2014

    Signed up for 3 months and kept getting calls for other offices. They claimed to have addressed the problem twice and I kept waiting for the leads to come in (leads actually looking for my office not someone else!), but they didn't come. After the 3 months and a lot of money the program finished and I didn't want to continue

    obviously but when I spoke with a manager about their performance and all the issues he kept saying that they did everything they were supposed to and couldn't see where the problem was. That's great for them but I just lost out on a lot of money with nothing to show after. Stay away and work with someone you can meet with personally to give a quality product and service! NEVER AGAIN!" also was removed.

    I emailed Yelp asking if Yelp has conflict of interest with Rogers outrank.

    Hi there,

    I'm writing to let you know about our Support team's decision to close your user account. Your account has been closed because of Terms of Service (http://www.yelp.com/static?p=tos) violations, including creating multiple accounts.

    Please note that we do not provide further details on account closures.

    Regards,
    Zvone
    Yelp User Support
    San Francisco, California

    so if one looks at yelp.ca Rogers outrank has 2 positive reviews and no negative reviews to this date this was posted.

  2. sean

    I recently posted review about rogers outrank on a few web sites, but when I googled title " rogers outrank review" i saw yelp.ca came on top, so i went and put my review in yelp.ca
    my review was removed than i posted again, and saw that one was removed as well, while I was trying post another one i saw Brett Hall from Calgary, AB's posting too "3/11/2014

    Signed up for 3 months and kept getting calls for other offices. They claimed to have addressed the problem twice and I kept waiting for the leads to come in (leads actually looking for my office not someone else!), but they didn't come. After the 3 months and a lot of money the program finished and I didn't want to continue

    obviously but when I spoke with a manager about their performance and all the issues he kept saying that they did everything they were supposed to and couldn't see where the problem was. That's great for them but I just lost out on a lot of money with nothing to show after. Stay away and work with someone you can meet with personally to give a quality product and service! NEVER AGAIN!" also was removed.

    I emailed Yelp asking if Yelp has conflict of interest with Rogers outrank.

    Hi there,

    I'm writing to let you know about our Support team's decision to close your user account. Your account has been closed because of Terms of Service (http://www.yelp.com/static?p=tos) violations, including creating multiple accounts.

    Please note that we do not provide further details on account closures.

    Regards,
    Zvone
    Yelp User Support
    San Francisco, California

    so if one looks at yelp.ca Rogers outrank has 2 positive reviews and no negative reviews to this date this was posted.

  3. RB Nazari

    “There is a new site called casetree.com where consumer can post their lawsuit with a review on companies such as yelp for all consumers to view and see. It is legit reviews based on real lawsuits.”

  4. Cindi Richardson

    This is the whiniest website I've ever seen. If you have bad Yelp reviews, your business is most likely in need of improvement. No, I don't work for Yelp, but yes I do heavily rely on Yelp when trying out new businesses. And I'm smart enough to weed through the obvious way too negative or way too positive to be true reviews. If these cry-baby businesses spent the same amount of time improving their business as they did bitching about unfair Yelp reviews, they'd be a lot better off.

    1. yelp-sucks.com

      You have clearly never been the victim of bullying, or had to run a profitable business. Yelp was built for people just like you, who have no concern for how things get done, just that they are done the way they want. You are Yelps ideal customer. Congratulations.

    2. Mike

      No that is rarely the case. I had a disgruntled employee tattoo us on Yelp and had to go round and round with Yelp. I had real customers post real reviews and they were taken down by Yelp. The system is a disaster. Yelp’s state of quality mimics another more traditional medium for communications. Those listings that can be found on the bathroom walls of bars and bus stations. They have built a brand that gives the impression of fairness and authenticity without actually delivering either.

    3. Jeremy

      Congrats you are a Yelper a follower of the cult yelp. Jeremy Stoppeman would adopt you and make you his slave.

    4. paul

      I quess you never had these BAFFOONS hammer you on their scam of a site.The pulled this same bully crap on me and when I said get lost they deleted 28 good comments.SCUM!

    5. mce

      I bet that you are a person that is always leaving a bad review, what do you do for employment? I hope you are perfect in your job or do you just like to be critical of everyone else? Sounds like to me your review is pretty whinny!

      1. yelp-sucks.com

        Nope, I'm a generally very happy person that spreads social media love and takes pics and leaves awesome (and funny) reviews when I'm impressed. And I rarely leave bad reviews. I give the owners a chance to rectify the issues, but if they are boneheads or assholes, I don't have a problem sharing that information with the world.

  5. Layla M.

    I am confused about your site. It's titled "yelp-sucks.com" but you seem to be an avid Yelp user. 125 reviews and the most recent one written just last month. It doesn't seem like you think Yelp sucks. And while most of your reviews are 5 stars, you do have some 1 and 2 star reviews that are probably part of the reason business owners call you "every week" saying "Help! Yelp is ruining my business!”

    1. yelp-sucks.com

      Yes, I have written good and bad reviews. I maintain my presence on Yelp for a reason, to keep up on what's happening, changes they are making, and the user experience. Being well versed on the site allows me to help look at business owners profiles and figure out if they are being targeted or if they really have a problem with their business that needs to be fixed. The only time i have written a bad review is after trying to resolve an issue with a business, or when I thought there was a significant public safety risk. What you don't know, is that when I started this site in 2008 I sent a list of recommendations (you could call them demands) and that so far, many of those have now been implemented. While I would love it if Yelp suddenly transformed into an ethical company, I don't hold my breath that this will happen any time soon. So in the meantime, I aim to give business owners a place to vent, where they are not alone, and to learn better business practices to help eliminate Yelps power over their bottom line. When I started the site I was mad. So were many others, and the site title seemed appropriate. If you'll notice, I've changed the header since then to be more empowering to businesses. They find me because they are angry, but instead of just venting, many gain the knowledge they need to move past the anger and move on in their business. My dream is that Yelp has a moral crisis and turns into the site I know it could be, with the right leadership. A site that helps business do better, protects consumers from bad businesses, and adopts ethical business practices that actually benefit the community. So while I am a vocal detractor of many of the business practices of Yelp, you could say I've moved past anger and am now at the kill them with kindness phase. 🙂

  6. @DavidKyle

    This article had me ROFL for the last 10 minutes. You got a mention too. WTG!
    http://www.reuters.com/article/2013/10/30/idUS197

  7. @DavidKyle

    This news article has had me ROFL for the last 10 minutes. You got a mention too. WTG!
    http://www.reuters.com/article/2013/10/30/idUS197

    1. yelp-sucks.com

      Thanks! I totally missed this one! And if you look at the underlying law, its not as crazy as it sounds… this will be interesting to see how it flushes out!

  8. Anon

    Earlier this week, a Harvard Business School study (PDF) titled “Fake It Till You Make It: Reputation, Competition, and Yelp Review Fraud” found businesses that don’t have a good reputation online try to “fix” the problem by submitting fake reviews. This was quickly misconstrued by some publications as a claim that the percentage of fake reviews featured on Yelp is growing.
    A quick look at the study, however, shows that this is not in line with the findings. In fact, Yelp today confirmed the study is accurate and noted its algorithm, also referred to as its review filter, only selects about 75 percent of the service’s 42 million contributed reviews:
    This means about 25% of the reviews *submitted* to Yelp are not published on a business’s listing or recommended to consumers. Among these reviews are the ones the Harvard study found likely to be fakes submitted by businesses themselves.
    We’re not sure where the confusion started, but this sentence in the conclusion may have done it: “We show that the problem is widespread – nearly one out of five reviews marked as fake, by Yelp’s algorithm.” This was twisted to say that 20 percent of reviews on Yelp are fake. As you can see in the quote above, that’s not true.
    In fact, the paper’s authors themselves note that measuring the percentage of Yelp reviews that are fraudulent is not within their abilities. “Because one cannot directly observe which reviews are fake, we focus on reviews that Yelp’s algorithmic indicator has identified as fraudulent.”
    The paper’s abstract breaks down its findings more succinctly:
    •Roughly 16 percent of restaurant reviews on Yelp are identified as fraudulent, and tend to be more extreme (favorable or unfavorable) than other reviews.
    •A restaurant is more likely to commit review fraud when its reputation is weak, i.e., when it has few reviews, or it has recently received bad reviews.
    •Chain restaurants – which benefit less from Yelp – are also less likely to commit review fraud.
    •When restaurants face increased competition, they become more likely to leave unfavorable reviews for competitors.
    In summary, a business’s decision to commit review fraud is driven more by competition and reputation incentives “than simply the restaurant’s ethics.” None of this is very surprising; if, however, a study comes out showing how many fake reviews slip past Yelp’s algorithm, we’ll be much more intrigued.

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