Yelp can be the best friend or the worst enemy to a restaurant. A few good reviews can set you off right, a great one can make your location a destination to eat at, and if a noted reviewer likes your location and decides to put a review up on Yelp, all the better. On the other hand, a few bad reviews may steer people away, a horrific one can scare people from visiting (and spread a negative word), and even a disastrous review from a noted critic can spell doom and gloom for your diner. While it may seem like a good idea at the time, though, you never want to pay for a positive review. While it may increase your rating on Yelp, the scandal, fines, and possible lawsuits to come from it aren’t worth the chance.
New York State just fined 15 fake review companies $350K, according to Eater. While these companies weren’t limited to Yelp, they are the most clear and present company to view reviews from. The companies faked reviews by either coming up with new accounts by faking IP addresses, or just outright paying established reviewers to leave the reviews and scores they desired. These fake reviews are considered false advertising, which can lead to legal action.
Senior Legal Council for Yelp, Aaron Schur, says
We take many steps to do this, including the use of automated filtering software, leveraging our vast user community for tips about suspicious content, undercover sting operations, legal action, and cooperation with law enforcement. We applaud NY Attorney General Schneiderman for his willingness to tackle the issue of illegal fake reviews head on, and for his success in shutting down these operators. We look forward to continuing to cooperate with the New York Attorney General’s office and any other interested law enforcement office or regulator to protect consumers and business owners from efforts to mislead.
Writing these fake reviews comes with a science all of its own. According to The Huffington Post, reviews seemed more realistic when they used less superlatives, better grammar, slang, and seemed about more of a personal story. Their article also points out the importance of Yelp reviews to restaurant sales, as boosting a restaurant’s score by one star could possibly increase sales by 9%. The fake review companies are also fighting an uphill battle against technology, as the web sites that host reviews are ever-increasing their false-review checking practices.
This doesn’t mean that online review sites are completely worthless. For the every day restaurant, you can still find benefits in real reviews. Actual reviews published by true consumers will let you know your high points and low points; if reviews consistently mention a certain dish as their favorite, you’ll find out that it’s a big hit for you and can possibly advertise it even more. On the other hand, if you’ve found out that one dish is constantly disliked, or even an employee is constantly causing enough trouble that it’s being mentioned in reviews, you can start to see problems and understand how to take care of them.
Online reviews can be your friend, but only when they come from real consumers.