Yelp has just issued a warning to all businesses buying fake reviews: They’re coming after you.
The user reviews and recommendations site has issued a warning to businesses saying if it discovers companies are buying reviews in order to pump up their ratings, it’ll slap a warning on their page telling users exactly what it thinks the company is doing.
The move is a testament to how far businesses will go to improve their social reputation – and highlights just how important online reviews are to restaurants.
Recent research from the American National Restaurant Association found that 27% of restaurant goers have either viewed or posted reviews on sites like Yelp, and other research indicates they play a big part in buying decisions.
In its blog, Yelp said it’s wrong for businesses to be paying for five-star reviews and that it’s going to clamp down.
“This pretty much breaks every rule in the book, not to mention it’s just wrong to mislead consumers with fake reviews,” vice president of consumer and mobile products Eric Singley wrote.
“Starting today, when we’ve determined that there have been significant attempts to pay for reviews, you may see a warning (like the one below) that some shady practices may be at play.”
The warning looks like this:
So far there have only been nine businesses slapped with the warning – although the company says that number will increase as it finds more.
It also references a recent BusinessWeek report which covered a business in Texas that tried to purchase 200 online reviews. The Yelp filter caught all of them. As Singley explains, it’s quite a complicated process.
“Beyond alerting consumers to attempts to purchase reviews, the next step will be to let consumers know if a business has had a large number of reviews submitted from the same Internet Protocol address, which can be a helpful indicator that they lack authenticity.”
“While the review filter already takes this type of information into account, we believe that consumers also have a right to know if this activity is going on.”
The process of buying Yelp reviews is similar to the idea of buying social media followers – a practice that experts have cracked down on as it artificially inflates a company or personality’s reputation.
This story first appeared on SmartCompany.