Yelp is on the hunt for businesses that try to game reviews, and they've got a kicky little detective icon to prove it. According to the New York Times, the company has organized sting operations in which "a Yelp employee posed as an elite reviewer" in order to catch businesses soliciting positive reviews. These businesses — nine to start, but oh will there be more — then have what Yelpers are already calling the "badge of shame" posted on their Yelp page. These "consumer alerts" will remain on the offending business's Yelp page for 90 days.
The alerts contain a link to evidence that the business has been soliciting reviews. For example, the Craigslist ad below, which was posted to the now-shuttered Manhattan nightclub La Pomme's Yelp page. Yelp staffers responded to the ad, and were offered (in this instance, the amount varies) $30 for about 100 glowing words.
Of the businesses that have already been accused of buying good reviews, some vehemently denied any wrongdoing when asked by the Times. One Chicago salon owner said she hadn't purchased positive feedback and she wasn't worried about the badge: "People are kind of wary about what they read these days."
Why on earth would a business owner choose to go rogue and pay for reviews? Eric Singley, Yelp's VP of Consumer & Mobile Products, writes on the company's blog, "the allure of a page full of five-star reviews can turn even the most ethical business owner starry-eyed." According to one family-owned jewelry store that was soliciting ads, they did it because "we have noticed that some of our larger, corporate run competitors have been unfairly trying to get reviews written for them on Yelp, which puts us at a disadvantage."
Yelp is not stopping at these sting operations, either: Singley says plans are in the works to "let consumers know if a business has had a large number of reviews submitted from the same Internet Protocol (IP) address." He added, "Rest assured we are not going to let a few bad apples spoil the bunch." According to the New York Times, one in five new Yelp reviews is filtered, most of them by first-time posters.