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Yelp on the look-out for dodgy reviews

If you’re the kind of business owner that’s posts fake reviews on consumer advice sites, you’d best watch out. They’re upping their game.

You can understand why a business would might engage in this kind of behaviour. After all the allure of a page full of five-star reviews can is more than enough incentive to cause some to attempt to game the system by paying for reviews.

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The latest salvo in the battle for accurate reviews was fired by Yelp, which has announced that it will begin warning users about reviews that it thinks are fake.

To combat this kind of behaviour, it says, “we’ve put on our detective hats, tracked down these rogue solicitations and are now giving you a heads up. 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”.

Any reviews it thinks are fake or bought will come with the following warning:

It reads:

We caught someone red-handed trying to buy reviews for this business. We weren’t fooled, but wanted you to know because buying reviews not only hurts consumers, but also honest businesses who play by the rules. Check out the evidence here.”

Yelp says it will remove the warning after 90 days, but only if it doesn’t cover any new misleading reviews.

This kind of policing is undoubtedly necessary. The phenomenon of people paying for fake reviews is a growing one.

According to tech research company Gartner, anywhere between 10 and 15% of reviews that appear on social media could be fake by 2014. Increasingly large numbers of businesses, it says, will pay for positive reviews.

“With over half of the internet’s population on social networks, organizations are scrambling for new ways to build bigger follower bases, generate more hits on videos, garner more positive reviews than their competitors and solicit ‘likes’ on their Facebook pages,” said Jenny Sussin, senior research analyst at Gartner. “Many marketers have turned to paying for positive reviews with cash, coupons and promotions including additional hits on YouTube videos in order to pique site visitors’ interests in the hope of increasing sales, customer loyalty and customer advocacy through social media ‘word of mouth’ campaigns.”

Founded in 2004, Yelp has an international base of nearly 78-million unique visitors, supplying looking up reviews for businesses Canada, UK, Ireland, France, Germany, Austria, The Netherlands, Spain, Italy, Switzerland, Belgium, Australia, Sweden, Denmark, Norway, Finland, Singapore and Poland.

With the warning in place, it can move a little closer to the ideal of providing accurate reviews for the people visiting it:

We want to make sure consumers are making informed decisions. Yelp’s automated review filter is working around the clock to flag these types of biased reviews, and we believe that you deserve the right to know when this type of activity is taking place behind the scenes.

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