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Should You Buy Yelp Reviews?

How important is a Yelp score? In the fall of 2012, some researchers set out to determine the answer to that question, and the results are likely to scare many small business owners. In essence, the researchers found that Yelp tends to use rounding when determining a company's overall review score, and that score is used when Yelp chooses to recommend a business to a consumer. That average, and the recommendation, is placed in a prominent position on the company's Yelp page, but the rounding could cause serious damage to some business owners, as the difference between a ranking of 3.24 and 3.26 could mean the difference between "recommended" and "not recommended." See the whole paper (including scary charts) here.  Studies like this make it clear that even the opinion of one person matters, when it comes to Yelp, and some business owners might be tempted to skew the math by hiring writers to craft positive reviews of their companies. It sounds like a great solution, but it can be really dangerous.

Fake reviews on Yelp are sometimes sequestered in a no-man's-land where they simply can't be seen, and the ranking in these hidden reviews doesn't count toward any overall score. Companies that hire could pay money for reviews that are buried, and that don't lift a ranking at all. These buried reviews can also be found if users choose to click on a specific "see more reviews" link and then enter a small series of letters and numbers. Users who follow these steps, and who are greeted with pages of phony reviews as a reward for their work, might vow to never visit that company again.

The average user can also spot fakery, and if an article in CNET is to be believed, it's relatively easy to sift the fake from the real. In a real review, for example, users focus on the small details of the experience, like the soaps in a hotel or the napkins in a restaurant. Fakers, on the other hand, tend to focus on generalities and adjectives, without specifying anything at all. If Yelp users are really this savvy, fakery could easily be spotted, and the reputation damage might be extreme.

In some cases, hiring writers could result in public embarrassment. The Federal Trade Commission, for example, published guidelines in 2009 stating that endorsements published online must be factual and truthful, those who do not comply may be visited with a fine. That's what happened to a Tennessee company in 2011, according to news reports, when the company hired writers to craft positive reviews. When the FTC discovered this issue, the company was smacked with a $250,000 fine. It's possible that fines like this could strike companies who choose to fake their own Yelp reviews.

There's no question that Yelp reviews are serious and important, but deception isn't the only way to deal with an attack on this site. In fact, there are legal routes companies can use to deal with fraudulent and harmful reviews on this important site. If you'd like to know more about how we can work with lawyers and online reputation management to clean up your Yelp page, visit us at www.internetreputation.com

Reviewed by author: Ashley Adams

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