Wednesday 06 Aug 2008
Greg Sterling has posted a thought-provoking article summarizing current negative publicity centering on Yelp and its alleged extortion of local business owners. This CBS coverage features quotes from several small business owners who claim that Yelp representatives offered to push negative user reviews down the ranks in exchange for a monthly fee. Yelp’s response has implied that the business owners were simply being offered a premium-type listing.
Whatever the truth may be, one small facet of this controversy really caught my eye.
One of the local business owners was apparently accused of being a racist by a user who left a Yelp review. According to the business owner, Bill Kellinger, when he and his wife began paying Yelp’s $350.00/month fee, the negative review was pushed down. However, Kellinger’s small company then received further negative reviews as well as some positive reviews. The positive reviews were deleted and the new negative ones were allowed to remain.
How did Kellinger know that his customers had left positive reviews?
In going to Yelp, I found an answer to this question.
A Yelp spokeswoman says the reviews were removed because the company’s security system detected suspicious activity connected to the posts.
“It was identified that there was some activity in terms of gaming the system, or manipulating the review…”
Kellinger says he can explain. His wife keeps a laptop at the store and sometimes asks customers if they’d like to write a Yelp review. The favorable reviews removed by Yelp were all written at the store.
Read That Last Part Again
Recently, I’ve been thoroughly enjoying getting to know Michael Jensen of SoloSEO.com, and I was really impressed by a fantastic suggestion he gave for making it easier to get user reviews for local businesses. Here is David Mihm’s paraphrase of Michael’s tip given at the recent SMX Local Event:
…provide an incentive to motivate them (customers) such as offering free WiFi in your waiting area where the landing page defaults to your ‘Leave a Review’ page.
I love this suggestion, but maybe at this point you’re beginning to see where this blog post is going.
As I read it, Yelp is claiming they removed a local business owner’s positive reviews because they were all coming from the same laptop – likely the same IP address. Yelp may just have revealed one of their spam signals.
And, this has to make you wonder whether Google and Yahoo! may have similar spam policies operating behind the doors of Google Maps and Yahoo! Local.
I am writing this in order to ask you, my valued readers, whether you think that using a single company computer for the purpose of facilitating multiple user reviews might set off warnings in the spam-detecting regions of our favorite search engines?
And, if you do think this is possible, is there any way for a local business to safely implement Michael’s very cool suggestion?
I’d like to hear from you.