It’s no big secret that online reviews help shape consumers’ decisions. A positive online reputation online helps customers trust businesses, converts searches into leads, and boosts local search rankings. In fact, 91% of 18-34-year-olds trust online reviews as much as personal recommendations.
Online reviews can make or break a business: 42% of consumers won’t use a company with a poor rating online. The significance of online reviews as a ranking and purchase influence measure has helped to create the fake review industry.
Yelp Ghost Algorithm
Yelp started aggressively targeting businesses with suspicious reviews in October 2018. Craig J. Mount referred to this as Yelp’s Ghost Update. Yelp reported that it placed consumer alerts on 232 businesses for engaging in questionable review practices. I have had several businesses contact me to complain about Yelp ghosting their reviews. One business lost all 18 of its Yelp reviews.
Don’t ask for Yelp reviews, period
Yelp wants reviews to be posted naturally. It is a violation of Yelp’s Terms of Service to ask your customers to review your business.
I get asked a lot about Yelp and reviews in very creative ways, but the answer is always the same: YOU CAN’T ASK FOR YELP REVIEWS.
Yelp’s Ghost algorithm has gotten really good at identifying and detecting reviews in which businesses asked their customers to leave a review. Yelp will filter out reviews that appear to violate their TOS or don’t appear as natural and place them in its “not recommended” section.
How to spot fake Yelp reviews
While Yelp has been super-aggressive attempting to remove fake or suspicious reviews, fake Yelp reviews still get posted.
Here are some tips for identifying fake reviews:
Look at the reviewer’s profile photo
Click on the user’s profile and perform a reverse image search on their profile photo. A lot of profiles engaging in review schemes tend to use stock photos for their profile photos. Admittedly, just because a user is using a stock photo it doesn’t automatically mean that their reviews can’t be trusted, but their reviews will lose credibility with me.
Look at the other businesses the reviewer has reviewed
The next thing to do is look at the profiles that posted reviews. Start by clicking on the profile and looking at the businesses that this person has reviewed. The patterns of suspicious activity tend to fall into two behaviors:
- posting reviews in multiple states
- reviewing several businesses in the same niche
For example, if a profile reviews five garage door companies in three different states, there’s a high chance that this person is engaging in fraudulent activity. You should also look at several profiles and if you start to see that several reviewers are reviewing a handful of the same businesses, then those businesses are engaging in fake review schemes.
Look at the uploaded customer photos
Finally, take a look at the customer photos that reviewers post. Users like to use stock photos in their Yelp reviews. While Yelp will remove the review or move it to the “not recommended” section, they will allow the photo to be counted and displayed for the business.
The best practice is to click to see all the photos and look for the customer-submitted photos of the work. Perform a reverse image search by right-clicking on the image and selecting “search Google for image”. Among the businesses whose reviews you want to thoroughly investigate are home remodeling companies; stock images being passed off as original work is a red flag.
Since a higher value is being placed on online reviews today, consumers have to perform better research. The online review space is being gamed at an alarming rate as businesses are looking for any ranking advantage they can get over their competitors.
Consumers are now reading an average of 10 reviews before making a decision and businesses are trying to trick you into reading the reviews that make them look better while pushing down actual negative reviews.
As a consumer, you must become super savvy to avoid being ripped off or completely taken advantage of by businesses that can’t stand on their own merit. And as a business you need to do what you can to report these fake reviews to Yelp.