Businesses Buying Positive Yelp Reviews Get Branded

Yelp slapped a scarlet letter on eight businesses recently–only, in this case, the A stood for Alert.

Search Engine Land reports that Yelp’s ongoing quest for real, honest reviews has led them to add prominent consumer alerts on offending pages, complete with links to the incriminating correspondence.

In response to ongoing criticism of their filtering practices, Yelp has discussed their methods while being necessarily cagey about what will set off their filter. In their statement about these consumer alerts, Yelp states that these notices will stay up for 90 days–so long as the review-shopping businesses don’t become repeat offenders.

Yelp is in an odd place in the online economy. Other companies, such as Expedia, know their conversion rates are solidly tied to the trustworthiness of their reviews, making user-generated content a means to an end. Yelp’s product, however, is their audience, something that can only be fed and grown by curating a crop of reviews people can trust. So it makes sense that Yelp has gone on the offensive, scouring craigslist and other sources of freelancers to find companies fishing for paid reviews. With their recent partnership with Bing making Yelp the search engine’s go-to provider of useful, highly local content, they’re being put up against the likes of Zagat in the wake of its sale to Google.

Their veiled methods of choosing which reviews slip past their filter also touch on their history of unhappy would-be advertisers, further complicating the issue. With the ways of cultivating and exploiting user-generated content constantly shifting, Yelp will continue to demonstrate the direction that reviews and their uses are taking as companies figure out how best to present a full, true account of whatever they’re selling–as well as the perils that come with exploring that frontier.


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