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Review Fraud and Yelp’s Counterattack

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With the rising importance of consumer reviews, the incentive for fraud is also increasing. A good review and a high rating are becoming so sought after that an industry has developed based on paying individuals to write fraudulent reviews—either positive ones for themselves or negative ones for their competitors.

This kind of activity not only erodes consumer confidence in the rating itself, but it also calls into question the reputation of the review platforms found on Yelp!, Google+, Amazon, and TripAdvisor. These companies have an interest in keeping their sites maintained with authentic reviews, and have always had layers of filters to help weed out the fraudulent ones.

Yelp Publicly Exposes Fraud
Yelp has even gone so far as to show everyone evidence of review fraud with a simple click. Bring up a business on Yelp and it may have a Consumer Alert Box where you can see the evidence of fraud. It’s a way for Yelp to assure its users that they can have faith in their platform while punishing a business that doesn’t play by the rules. Needless to say, a business exposed for fraudulent reviews could be devastated.

An Already Wary Consumer
Today’s consumer is much more wary of what you tell them directly through advertising, and so they rely on reviews to get at the truth:

  • According to Yankelovich Consumer Report, 75% of people don’t believe companies tell the truth in advertising.
  • 92% of Internet users read product reviews and 89% say that reviews influence their purchasing decision. (Source: e-tailing group)

According to a BrightLocal survey:

  • Consumers are placing more trust in online reviews than ever before. 88% (versus 79% in 2013) trust them as much as personal recommendations.
  • 32% will trust a customer review just as much as a personal recommendation as long as there are multiple ones to read (7% increase from 2013).
  • An additional 30% say that they will trust a customer review just as much as a personal recommendation if they believe it to be authentic.

Authenticity is Key
A large part of the success of review sites such as Yelp, Amazon, Google+, and TripAdvisor is the public’s trust in the validity of the reviews on their websites. If consumers don’t believe they are authentic, they will lose interest in their sites. Users can smell a rat if they look at your reviews and find nothing but glowing praise.

Some common signs of a fake review:

  • A lot of superlatives and not much description. Phrases like “a must-read” and “life-changing” are giveaways.
  • References to other people such as “my family” or “my husband.” Keep in mind, if the person writing the review is making it up, the story tends to stray farther away from the actual property.
  • More frequent use of the first-person singular. Fictitious assessments tend to include the words “me” and “I” more often, as if to make the review seem more credible.
  • Exclamation points and positive emotion. Truthful reviews use other kinds of punctuation, including the dollar sign.
  • People who have written only one review on the site.
  • People who write only five-star reviews.
  • Reviews that sound like a marketing brochure from the company or use the full official name of the property.

Don’t Resort to Review Fraud
If your service is sound and your business consumer centric, you need these review sites to remain authentic; to be a place your prospects can go for accurate information. Ensure that your team is generating legitimate online reviews by reiterating that they never:

  • Pay for reviews
  • Offer perks to write reviews
  • Write fake reviews about their competitors

Most review sites also offer ways to flag a review—another way to keep your reputation in tact. This doesn’t mean they will remove negative reviews, but there is a good chance they will remove the review if it violates the guidelines.

Combat fake reviews by ensuring your entire team is engaged in an internal advocacy program and trained on how to effectively ask your happiest customers for online reviews. You should have a reputation management solution in place to:

  • Aggregate social media reviews automatically
  • Respond to reviews within 24 hours
  • Invite new customers within 72 hours
  • Promote reviews on your website

Takeaways

  • Yelp’s fraud identification program is designed to keep its site pure, but it is also an admission that fraud is getting worse—bad enough that Yelp has to take additional measures to help prevent it.
  • Consumers place a great deal of faith in online ratings and reviews, but the spread of review fraud can damage that.
  • If you are considering posting fake reviews, Yelp’s response is clear: It’s not worth it. The best way to get a great review is to be great at what you do and ask your customers to write a review about their positive experience.

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