Nearly all consumers say they read online reviews when evaluating local businesses – a whopping 98%, including 77% who say they read reviews “regularly” or “always,” according to research from BrightLocal. With statistics like these, it’s no wonder that more and more businesses are harnessing the power of online review management as an adaptable, cost-efficient strategy for gaining and retaining customers, building up trust and positive buzz, and of course, delivering the best possible customer service experience. But what happens when a business or agency tries to take a shortcut by posting or purchasing fake reviews, like fake 5-star ratings or duplicate comments?
We’ve cautioned our readers against the dangers of fake reviews in the past, pointing out that fraudulent reviews are not only prohibited by various platforms, but even more seriously, could lead to fines or legal issues for your business (not to mention the associated bad publicity). And in the future, using fake reviews may become even more difficult — and possibly, have even greater consequences — for businesses that engage in these tactics.
According to a recent blog post from Yelp General Counsel Aaron Schur, Yelp is “call[ing] on other online platforms to take action” as part of the platform’s ongoing effort to “crack down on compensated reviews,” not only on Yelp but “across all online platforms,” including “social media or classifieds sites.” Learn more about how Yelp is working to identify and combat fake reviews; some of the sanctions or consequences that noncompliant businesses can face; and, most critically, how review generation services can provide digital marketing agencies, brands, and small businesses with a better alternative.
Yelp Blog: Platform is Cracking Down on Fake and Fraudulent Online Reviews
As our response scribes have pointed out in previous blog posts, fake reviews are considered to be deceptive endorsements, which is a violation of federal regulations designed to protect the rights of consumers. The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) has even gotten involved, issuing warning notices to more than 700 businesses — and settling with one brand, Fashion Nova, for $4.2 million after the company “used a third-party online product review management interface to automatically post four- and five-star reviews to its website and hold lower-starred reviews for the company’s approval.”
Yelp has been taking actions to fight (and penalize) fake reviews for more than a decade, such as using a system of Consumer Alerts “to warn users when we’ve detected abnormal activity or attempts to mislead them.” While some alerts are designed to warn users about issues such as racial discrimination or threats against reviewers, Compensated Activity alerts specifically warn Yelp users “that someone has offered cash or other incentives in exchange for a review” of the business. According to Adweek, Yelp posted more than 2,500 consumer alerts “about egregious attempts to manipulate ratings” in 2020, which was “up 93% from 2019,” when approximately 1,300 warnings were posted — an extreme surge in the number of alerts being utilized, which almost doubled.
In April, on the heels of new marketing regulations in the U.K., Yelp published a blog post urging “more online platforms to step up and prioritize investment in curbing fraudulent review commerce taking place in their ecosystems,” adding, “[Yelp] regularly take[s] action against these deceptive review tactics by educating consumers and businesses, closing offending user accounts and removing their reviews,” and flagging businesses with Consumer Alerts. To reiterate, noncompliant accounts can be shut down by the platform and lose all of their reviews, depending on the nature and severity of the violation and whether appropriate corrective actions are taken. (As Yelp explains in one support article, “This [Compensated Activity] alert will generally be removed from the business page after 90 days if the offending behavior stops.”)
Yelp called on other websites to take similar actions, requesting “the partnership of other, larger platforms to work with us” against fraudulent and deceptive business practices. “We invite other companies to work together with us,” wrote Schur, “to thwart illegal compensated review activity taking place on their platforms in exchange groups, forums, direct messages and more.” As the post also cautioned, the platform has “repeatedly served as a resource for social media platforms, government agencies focusing on consumer protection issues, and the media” — a statement which should make agencies think twice about posting fake reviews. So what can you do instead to help your clients get more reviews, the legitimate way?
Book a Demo of Our Review Generation and Review Response Service for Digital Marketing Agencies and Brands
Retailers and review platforms aren’t the only entities that face scrutiny from Yelp (or the FTC). As Schur also pointed out in the post, the platform “proactively investigates deceptive reputation management companies that market five star reviews to local businesses.” This can escalate well beyond a cease-and-desist letter, with the platform “occasionally going to court to put [vendors] out of business and reporting them to the FTC” — not to mention additional agencies that serve as consumer protection groups. In fact, as recently as January 2022, the FTC sent warning notices to 10 different review management platforms, targeting companies whose practices could deceive or influence consumers unfairly.
These recent events highlight how important it is to choose a reliable reputation management company to generate and manage authentic reviews for your clients, like Shout About Us. We work with brands and agencies like Talentcare, V Digital Services, Suds Creative, 411 Locals Business Services, G5, Curious Jane, and more to effortlessly automate the process of review-gathering — and whether the reviews are positive or negative, our expert review response team will provide a personalized review reply that’s aligned with your messaging and values.
Learn more about the benefits of working with a review generation and review reply service to help grow your agency and brand in order to take your clients further. Book a demo of our platform to get started.
Emily Homrok is a freelance copywriter with more than seven years of writing experience. She joined the Shout About Us team as a content strategist in 2020.