For business owners, having a page on popular user-review site Yelp can be a blessing or a nightmare. A page full of five-star reviews can help drive business. A page stocked with negative reviews, however, can turn potential customers away. To boost their ranking or bury negative ratings, some business owners have paid people for making positive reviews, and that's not playing by the rules, Yelp says.
In an attempt to put a stop to these fraudulent reviews, Yelp has announced a new "Customer Alert" system. A warning message will appear on business pages when Yelp believes that a company has paid for its reviews. One indicator that a business is engaging in this type of activity is if it has a large number of reviews submitted from the same Internet Protocol (IP) address, Yelp says.
Stamford, Conn.-based research firm Gartner predicts that by 2014 as much as 15 percent of reviews on social media sites could be paid-for fakes.
"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," Yelp said in a blog post announcing the new system. The alert will be removed from the business's page after 90 days, unless Yelp detects "any renewed efforts to mislead consumers."
In general, business owners have had a love/hate relationship with managing Yelp reviews. Some companies have alleged that reviewers attempt to "extort" money or other services from them in exchange for not posting negative reviews. Yelp, which has denied the allegations, has also faced complaints that it offers businesses positive reviews in exchange for purchasing advertising on the site.
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