HOUSTON – Customer reviews can make or break businesses. A glowing endorsement can help them get more customers; while negative posts can drive consumers away. But sometimes, those reviews, good or bad, are fake.
Now Yelp is cracking down.
Today it is posting 232 "consumer alerts" on business Yelp pages as notices of extreme attempts to manipulate business ratings and reviews on the platform. One of the businesses is a Houston dog day care called the Houston Bark Park.
Yelp says the business sent out a newsletter to its customers offering a free day of day care for every positive review on Google, Yelp or Facebook. The newsletter went further. "In honor of our three year anniversary, if you give us a 5-star review this month, your pup will be eligible to win a free week of daycare."
Those offers are what Yelp calls review solicitation, and they make it difficult for consumers to trust reviews online because they don't know if the poster only made the comments because they were paid for it.
When people go to the Houston Bark Park's Yelp page today, they will see a picture that reads, "Consumer alert: We caught someone offering up cash, discounts, gift certificates or other incentives in exchange for reviews about this business." The alerts will generally be removed from the affected Yelp business page after 90 days if the offending behavior stops.
We reached out to the Houston Bark Park to give them a chance to give their side for this story, but no one returned our phone calls.
Yelp also posts alerts when a large number of positive reviews for a business all come from the same IP address just so consumers realize there may be something hinky going on.