Gaming on Yelp?

The SF Chronicle has an interesting article on how business owners were trading positive reviews (networking, quid pro quos) and were removed from the site for the practice:

Last week, Yelp purged an undisclosed number of accounts after finding that the business owners had swapped positive reviews with other business owners. Yelp also regularly deletes reviews it believes are phony. The move sparked an outcry among local businesses, and has even led some entrepreneurs to band together with thoughts of a class-action lawsuit. Their reasoning is, if they legitimately spend their money and patronize a service, why can’t they review it?

This is a very gray area (and a thorny issue for Yelp); the reviews many be entirely legitimate in many cases. But, as the article points out, it underscores the influence and impact of Yelp. It’s very much like Google and people trying to game or improve their ranking on Google because of how that maps directly to the bottom line.

There’s probably an opportunity for Yelp here to “make lemonade” from these lemons if they can deftly negotiate the controversy.

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18 Responses to “Gaming on Yelp?”

  1. drumat5280 Says:

    ApartmentRatings.com has being dealing with that issue for a long time, you should give Jeremy a call and get his take.

  2. Will Scott Says:

    Greg,

    I’ve got a little rant on this over on my blog: http://www.searchinfluence.com/blog/2008/07/yelp-makes-small-businesses-scream/

    I think these free offerings need to start showing some of the responsibility of the purveyors of dead trees.

    And equally important is for SMBs to not put all their eggs in one, often capricious, basket.

    Will

  3. Greg Sterling Says:

    I agree that SMBs have to spread their online marketing love around for efficacy. There also need to be clear rules at these sites to that SMBs understand the “Hows” and the “Whys” of these systems and they’re not surprised by something they thought was OK.

    Problem is in some cases the purveyors of these sites are making it up as they go along and as new challenges arise.

  4. Quick Followup to Yelp / Scream | Website Promotion is not Voodoo Says:

    [...] In a reply to my comment Greg Sterling says: [...]

  5. The Click2Map™ Blog » Blog Archive » SMBs’ Confusion with Online Social Promotion Tools Says:

    [...] Greg Sterling calls this a gray area: The reviews may be entirely legitimate in many cases. But, as the (SF Chronicle) article points out, it underscores the influence and impact of Yelp. It’s very much like Google and people trying to game or improve their ranking on Google because of how that maps directly to the bottom line. [...]

  6. Kudzu Introduces Business Networking « Screenwerk Says:

    [...] version of this emerged organically on Yelp, with businesses trading favorable reviews. But that was shut down by Yelp as gaming. The Yelp [...]

  7. Yelp: Higher Profile, More Heat « Screenwerk Says:

    [...] of removing positive reviews that were written by business owners or their friends. Yelp previously shut down trading of positive reviews among business [...]

  8. Mihmorandum | 5 Steps for 5 Stars: Reputation Management for Small Businesses | Local SEO Says:

    [...] Yelp has caught a TON of flak recently for its rather unsavory handling of a review controversy highlighted in the San Francisco Chronicle on July 4th of this year. Fellow Bay Area media outlet CBS5 followed up with this thorn in Yelp’s side almost exactly a month later. (More on the Yelp controversy from Greg Sterling). [...]

  9. Hendrik Says:

    The reviews may be entirely legitimate in many cases. But, as the (SF Chronicle) article points out, it underscores the influence and impact of Yelp.

  10. Adryenn Ashley Says:

    Well, Yelp has had months to make lemonade as you suggested, and they have refused. Every day that goes by another victim steps forward. Every month that goes by another issue is raised that raises our eyebrows. The concern now is more than just a simple apology, now the question includes: how is the site coded? Does it allow a sales rep to simply click on a negative review and flag it suspicious to make it disappear? or is that flagging process closely guarded? Also in the deletion of accounts, who and how is that managed and documented? Despite the companies assertion that every account that is deleted is vigoursly investigated, that is an absolute untrue statement and I believe meant to spin the press.

    Keep your eyes on Yelp. With the money being burned like its 1999, no acquisition on the horizon (or likely if my sources are correct), it won’t be long before we see a dot bomb. That is, unless they make a radical change and reinvigorate their base. Think Sarah Palin for Yelp. Yelp cannot survive without business owners buying sponsorships. Treating them like they are slaves is the wrong way to inspire them to invest!

  11. bostondiy Says:

    We’ve seen some Yelp gaming in the Boston metro region by rental agencies. Nothing you can prove, just stuff you’re about 99% positive is fake. What’s amazing is that a few dozen people can create content which drives a lot of business one way or another–again, as the Craig Newmark’s Craigslist, if you give away something for free which has the power to alter the way people do business, you can expect to get into the playground monitoring game.

    It’s painfully obvious that as we speak groups of English speaking folks in Mumbai are creating ‘YELP brigades,” invisibly creating impeccable fake identities with tons of friends and ‘authenticating’ content, and selling this black hat SEO product to the highest bidders.

    The first to buy will be businesses which everyone assumes are scummy away. Why? They have nothing to lose! Reputation? What reputation! Can you get 1000 dollars worth of clicks for 10 dollars? Sign me up!

    The only answer to all this is the creation of new internet based on authenticated identity of some sort. Right now, the only authentication we really have on-line is gated or closed communities filtered by payment by credit card. This violates the ‘everything has to be free’ rule created by Craig Newmark and others, and as such, this model won’t come into it’s own until something happens to shake out the free stuff in some way.

  12. Mihmorandum | A Framework for Thinking About Local Search Campaigns | Local SEO Says:

    [...] up with regularity, but many of them are staying and actually starting to make money.  The controversies surrounding Yelp and the recent introduction of the generic 10-pack continue to raise the profile of Local in the [...]

  13. A Framework for Thinking About Local Search Campaigns | Florida Search Local - SEO Internet Marketing Services Says:

    [...] up with regularity, but many of them are staying and actually starting to make money.  The controversies surrounding Yelp and the recent introduction of the generic 10-pack continue to raise the profile of Local in the [...]

  14. Managing and Improving Your Business’s Reputation Online - Infoseek Technologies Says:

    [...] Yelp has caught a TON of flak recently for its rather unsavory handling of a review controversy highlighted in the San Francisco Chronicle on July 4th of 2008. Fellow Bay Area media outlet CBS5 followed up with this thorn in Yelp’s side almost exactly a month later. (More on the Yelp controversy from Greg Sterling). [...]

  15. Lacie Media » Managing and Improving Your Business’s Reputation Online Says:

    [...] Yelp has caught a TON of flak recently for its rather unsavory handling of a review controversy highlighted in the San Francisco Chronicle on July 4th of 2008. Fellow Bay Area media outlet CBS5 followed up with this thorn in Yelp’s side almost exactly a month later. (More on the Yelp controversy from Greg Sterling). [...]

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  18. 5 Steps for 5 Stars: Reputation Management for Small Businesses | MeetingroomReviewResearch Says:

    […] Yelp has caught a TON of flak recently for its rather unsavory handling of a review controversy highlighted in the San Francisco Chronicle on July 4th of this year. Fellow Bay Area media outlet CBS5 followed up with thisthorn in Yelp’s side almost exactly a month later. (More on the Yelp controversy from Greg Sterling). […]

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