Yelp Deploys “Secret Ops Team” to Snuff Out and Expose Fake Reviews

The New York Times has reported that Yelp has been conducting secret sting operations to bust businesses who are soliciting paid company reviews through Craigslist.org. Businesses that are caught paying for reviews will have a giant “Consumer Alert” post inserted across their existing reviews. The alert reads “We caught someone red-handed trying to buy reviews for this business. We weren’t fooled, but wanted you to know because buying reviews not only hurts consumers, but also honest businesses who play by the rules.” According to searchengineland.com, businesses caught paying for reviews will have this Consumer Alert tied to their Yelp listing for 3 months.

We regularly receive email solicitations from companies who claim they can create and post testimonials for our clients to relevant review sites throughout the web, including Google, Yelp, and Citysearch. Most bar associations prohibit attorneys from paying their own clients to provide testimonials. I suspect that paying for fictitious testimonials from clients attorneys never actually served could be grounds for disciplinary action.

Over the the last few years, localized search returns incorporating star ratings and consumer satisfaction scores have dominated the top of the organic search returns. For a number of years Yelp’s star ratings were a regular inclusion in Google Places local search returns – until a dispute between Yelp and Google over fair licensing ended their relationship.

In July of 2012, Yelp and Apple had struck a deal making Yelp Apple’s primary business data provider for the Apple Maps application incorporated into the iOS6 operating system. With Apple iPhones hovering around 25% of all smart phones, it is easy to see why some business owners would be motivated to pay for more reviews in the hopes of appearing more prominently in local and map searches.

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