Wednesday, November 22, 2017

Why Yelp is a horrible website full of fake reviews

By C.M. - November 22nd 2017.

One of the things I have noticed about the website Yelp is that the reviews posted on there are increasingly fake.

And there are several different categories of fake reviews on Yelp.

#1. Fake reviews written by the owner / manager of the company.

These usually emphasize a particular product or service, and while they sound really good, it is pretty obvious the reviews are there to tempt people reading the review into buying the product or service. It is basically just another form of advertising.

#2. Fake reviews written by the company's employees.

Employees are expected to want their company to do well, so they write a nice review but fail to mention that they also work there.

#3. Fake reviews written by competitors.

To make the competing company look bad, obviously. This doesn't really need much explanation. Depending on how much competition there is in a particular field, this could be pretty cutthroat with far more fake reviews being written by competitors.

eg. Imagine 10 companies that all sell "Super Spicy Edible Widgets". If each company then writes 1 positive review about themselves, but 9 negative reviews about all their competitors you will end up with all 10 companies having 9 horrible reviews and only 1 positive review - excluding anything written by actual customers.

#4. Fake reviews written by the employees of competitors.

Same reason as #3.

#5. Fake reviews written by former employees.

If a former employee is angry at their former employer, one way to further burn bridges is to post a negative Yelp review - possibly targeting a manager or co-worker that they despised in an attempt to get that person fired.

#6. Fake reviews written by "Yelp Privateers and Pirates".

I am coining some terminology here... Yelp Privateers and Pirates are hired thugs who either try to make a particular company look good, or try to make a different company look bad. The border between what makes a Privateer and what makes a Pirate is a bit blurry.
  • Privateers are hired to post positive reviews, using multiple Yelp accounts.
  • Pirates are hired to post negative reviews about competitors.
Often the two can be the same person, but may be using multiple accounts to avoid suspicion.

Brand Reputation Management

From an advertising perspective, a lot of what goes on above falls into the categories of "Marketing Brand Management" or "Brand Reputation Management", and being executed by amateurs who don't actually work in the advertising/marketing industry.

In which case there are some tricks that companies can do to combat negative fake reviews.

#1. Claim the reviewer is a former employee.

If someone posts a really nasty fake review, a company can claim that the person posting the fake review is actually a former employee. It isn't true, but that doesn't matter. Yelp has rules about former employees posting fake reviews, and this is ultimately a quick and easy way for companies to get rid of negative reviews.

#2. There are a variety of ways to flag negative reviews:
  • If the post contains false or out of date information.
  • If the post is by someone affiliated with the business (employee, business partner, loan shark, etc).
  • If the post is from a competitor.
  • If the post contains any kind of threats, lewdness or hate speech.
  • If the post isn't even about a personal experience.
  • If the post is a violation of Yelp's privacy standards (naming the names of employees, etc).
  • If the post contains advertising.
  • If the post is for a different business.
 Any one of these reasons could be used as grounds to get rid of a negative post.

#3. Report a specific profile.

If a person has only a few reviews and they are all negative, they are probably a fake profile. In this case the whole profile could be reported and deleted. All of their reviews for your company and potentially others could be deleted, all at once.

Conclusions regarding Yelp

It is very easy for companies to manipulate their reputations on Yelp, and to damage the reputations of competitors. The more reputation savvy a person or company is, the more they can take advantage of Yelp's system.

Which ultimately means the more useless and horrible Yelp is as a company itself, because it has become flooded with fake reviews.

Which is why I am giving Yelp one star out of five. For being utterly useless.

6 Ways to Improve Yelp

#1. Add a GPS requirement to Yelp.

Under this new rule, people submitting a Yelp review have to be in the immediate vicinity of the location. This would reduce the number of fake reviews submitted dramatically, and put Yelp Privateers/Pirates out of business.

Or failing that, people who include a GPS component to their Yelp review should have their review "valued more" than reviews that were written a significant distance away or did not list their GPS location at all.

#2. Add a time limit to reviews.

If a review is older than 1 year, it should be deleted. The person who posted the review would need to revisit the location and post a new review.
#3. Algorithms designed to spot fake or suspicious reviews.

It would not be too difficult in my opinion to design a computer program that looks for fake reviews. All they need to be looking for is:
  • An imbalance between positive and negative reviews (eg. a person who only posts negative reviews or a person who only posts positive reviews.
  • A person who posts a positive review of one company and a negative review of another company should be flagged as suspicious.
#4. Suspicious reviews should be downgraded.

Pushed further down the list of reviews - and their star rating should only count for half or less than half if they are flagged multiple times.
And if they are flagged 3 times or more for being suspicious, they should be removed entirely.

#5. Banning the accounts and personal IP addresses of individuals caught posting fake reviews.

Once they recognize an account that has too much suspicious activity, they need to be deleted, banned and blocked.

Obviously you would not be blocking IPs from public libraries, Starbucks, or internet cafes, but that is where the GPS requirement comes into place... If GPS location is required, then they won't be able to use public IP locations like libraries, Starbucks or internet cafes anyway.
#6. Video reviews should count for double.

If a customer posts a video of them reviewing the company, it should count for more. At least double in my opinion. Same goes with reviewers who take photos. Their reviews should be valued more, like perhaps 150%.

Final Commentary

Honestly, if Yelp doesn't start making changes to improve the quality and honesty of reviews on their website then people should just stop using Yelp. The website has become bogged down with useless fake reviews, and the more people realize that Yelp is useless, the more people should stop using it.

A 2013 Harvard Business School study determined that 16 percent of Yelp reviews are fake. Four years later, we expect the percentage of fake reviews has gotten higher. Anecdotally, we estimate the number of fake reviews on Yelp is now between 20 to 30%.

Yelp isn't the only company which has problems with fake reviews. eg. Amazon also has severe issues with people posting fake reviews. So this is an issue that effects multiple companies and can be expected to get worse before it gets better.

But if there was a GPS requirement and video/photo reviews were valued more, this could change dramatically the quality of the review system Yelp currently has to one that is held to a higher standard.

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