Monthly Archive March 2013

Yelp That Hurts

As a small company with limited advertising resources, I try to leverage everything I can to make myself visible on the Internet. One of the most important tools a small business can use besides Blogging is getting positive reviews from major sites. One of the bigger sites with a large influence is Yelp.com. If you are new to a town or just visiting Yelp is a great way to find out if that service you are planning to use is well thought of. Well the Web being what it is, people soon realized the importance of reviews on Yelp, and before long people were gaming the system. So Yelp fought back and came up with algorithms to fight fraudulent reviews, the arms race has begun.

Think about it, the accuracy of reviews is critical to your trusting a review sight. What would you think if you used a service that had great reviews but in reality that service was just the opposite. Yelp’s popularity grew initially not because of the accuracy of the reviews but the ease with which one could post those reviews and share them with others. The 800 pound gorilla that Yelp has become has made it a target for manipulation. Think about the last time you went to a hotel review site and bought a cheap room that looked too good to be true and in fact was, not good, not good at all.

Yelp introduced several anti-fraud measures to help control reviews. They added the ability to respond to a negative review, the put a waiting period for someone new coming into the system and several other not so obvious controls. Yelp of course will not disclose how their algorithm’s work, it’s the secret sauce that helps them control the content just like Google search algorithm’s. There are problems of course and that’s where it hurts. Yelp considers a review from a reviewer to be fraudulent after thirty days if that reviewer does not post any further reviews. Logical I guess, since it stops a fake user from being created just to post a positive review, except guess what there are companies that have created hundreds of reviewers that are fake and that are for hire. How do I know this, my doctor has to use such services to prevent his reputation from being besmirched by an angry doctor shopping, prescription drug abuser. These patients know that they can screw with a doctor by leaving a negative review, and tell the doctor as much during the appointment, so how does the doctor combat this, he hires a reputation agency.

The reputation agency has hundreds of fake users with seemingly real backgrounds, containing pictures, biographies, Facebook profiles, etc. The agencies merely flood the doctor’s reviews with many positive reviews and it drives the algorithm to push the low review to the bottom. In order to prevent Yelp from detecting this theses agencies consider these fake reviewers part of their tools so the encourage/pay their employees to post reviews to fake accounts so that not all the reviews are of one category or all positive.  They have this down to an art, gee and you were worried about an arms race with China.

In my case I do not have the budget or requirement to bury negative fraudulent reviews, but Yelp has marked all of my reviews as fraudulent since every client that has posted a review did not post any more. My clients need help with their computers and are too busy running their business to be running a muck on the Internet telling everybody about their last bowel movement or the latest gossip about their neighbor. In short my typical client does not participate in the social frenzy of the present generation.

So what does one do in this situation, well for now it’s a work in progress? I am trying to use other review sites that are not as popular as Yelp, but never the less seem to drive some traffic. Sites such as Thumbtack.com, Manta.com, etc. are places I suggest for my clients to leave reviews. I know it’s only a matter of time though before these sites have to adopt counter measures to unscrupulous companies and individuals. Even so I find that I have to do an enormous amount of free stuff some times to get someone to do a review, and I guess that’s just the price of doing business.  Someday I guess I will get a client that will leave a positive review on Yelp that will stick so for now Yelp that hurts…