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October 18, 2012

Consumer alerts: because you might like to know...

The value of Yelp for business owners has been proven time and again and is thanks in large part to the high quality content on our site. The review filter, content guidelines and terms of service are all in place to make Yelp a better, more useful place for everyone, business owners and consumers alike. That said, the allure of a page full of five-star reviews can turn even the most ethical business owner starry-eyed and persuade some to attempt to game the system by paying for reviews.

This pretty much breaks every rule in the book, not to mention it’s just wrong to mislead consumers with fake reviews. To combat this, we’ve put on our detective hats, tracked down these rogue solicitations and are now giving you a heads up. Starting today, when we’ve determined that there have been significant attempts to pay for reviews, you may see a warning (like the one below) that some shady practices may be at play.

Consumer Alert Screenshot
The alert will be removed from the business’s Yelp page after 90 days (unless we uncover any renewed efforts to mislead consumers). Initially, nine businesses will have the consumer alert message posted on their profile page, but the company will be posting alerts like these on an on-going basis, as warranted.

Why are we doing this? We want to make sure consumers are making informed decisions. Yelp’s automated review filter is working around the clock to flag these types of biased reviews, and we believe that you deserve the right to know when this type of activity is taking place behind the scenes.

As efforts to game the system continuously evolve, so do our methods for combating it. An independent Businessweek report confirmed the success of Yelp’s efforts to protect consumers. The article details the efforts of a Texan business owner who purchased 200 online reviews in an attempt to artificially bolster his business’s online reputation. The report found that Yelp’s review filter returned “impressive results” catching every purchased review, while the shill reviews remained up on seven other review sites.

Beyond alerting consumers to attempts to purchase reviews, the next step will be to let consumers know if a business has had a large number of reviews submitted from the same Internet Protocol (IP) address, which can be a helpful indicator that they lack authenticity. While the review filter already takes this type of information into account, we believe that consumers also have a right to know if this activity is going on.

To help put this in perspective, the large majority of businesses on Yelp play by the rules and work tirelessly to provide the best customer service and products to their clients. We salute their efforts and entrepreneurship. They inspire us to work even harder to protect the site from faux reviews, so that they have a fair opportunity to bask in the glow of their shining stars.

Rest assured we are not going to let a few bad apples spoil the bunch.