Buy Yelp reviews? Don’t. Here’s a better way.

Posted 6 months ago in Small Business Tips
by Jessica Reschke

Yelp reviews — especially good ones — can be vital to a successful local business.

In fact, a survey conducted in 2017 by BrightLocal found that 85% of local consumers rely upon online reviews (such as on Yelp) as much as peer recommendations.

Because online reviews have the potential to skyrocket a small business’s leads and revenue, fake reviews have started creeping their way into the internet. In the same study, 79% of local consumers believed that within the last year they read a fake review online, and of that 79%, 25% believed that they read a lot of fake reviews that year.

And they’re right: in 2013 nineteen companies in New York alone were caught for writing fake reviews and they were fined more than $350,000.

But as tempting as it may be, paying for fake reviews is NOT the right option. Here’s why:

1. Yelp monitors and punishes fake reviews

According to the BrightLocal survey, Yelp and Facebook tied for the honor of being the highest trusted site for reviews, with 20% of consumers trusting Yelp the most and another 20% trusting Facebook the most.

Yelp’s system is set up with a filter that can detect when people are trying to cheat the system with fake reviews. It takes into account the amount of reviews a person has written in the past and if the person will give drastic rating differences between businesses—such as a five star review for a hotel and then a one star review for its local competitor. Yelp can even detect certain wording that might seem suspicious and be a fake review.

Once Yelp detects fake reviews, they take action. A Consumer Alert notice will be on your business’s Yelp page for 90 days saying:

Obviously, this is far worse than having a few bad reviews: instead of a company with an imperfect review profile capable of honest mistakes (or just one that has some really difficult customers), consumers will view you as an untrustworthy business before they even read the reviews. So don’t buy Yelp reviews because Yelp can find you out!

Google punishes businesses that pay for fake reviews too. They don’t put an alert on the business page like Yelp, but they will delete the review (and there are rumors, if not direct evidence, that Google will shut down accounts for fake reviews as well).

In addition, there are many cases in which fake reviews actually cost businesses more than they gained from having a “positive” review. Between 2015 and 2016 Amazon sued more than 1,000 people who were paid to write fake reviews, even if it was for as little as $5. One suit demanded more than $25,000, which included the profits the person made on Amazon, damages, and attorney fees. Buying fake reviews is definitely not worth it!

2. Buying reviews may be illegal

According to the Federal Trade Commision (FTC), it is illegal to endorse someone to write a fake review. This isn’t just an issue of ethics (though it is that, too). Though this should go without saying, if your goal is to succeed in business, you need to follow the law.

3. Your business lives and dies on customer trust

Even with these mitigating steps, fake reviews still make their way onto the internet all the time. In 2012, data-mining expert, Bing Liu from the University of Chicago-Illinois, approximated that of all customer reviews online, one-third are fake. And a report from Harvard Business School reveals that the amount of fake reviews on Yelp increased by 15 percent from 2006 to 2013.

But here’s the thing: even if sites like Yelp and Google don’t automatically catch fake reviews, a customer might. And if a customer realizes that your reviews are fake, you have zero chance of gaining that customer. That customer can then spread the word to other potential customers as well.  

4. Do what’s right because it’s right

Besides all the other reasonings for why you shouldn’t buy fake reviews, essentially you shouldn’t do it because you want to do what is right.

You will feel better about yourself and your business if you earn reviews organically. When those positive reviews come, they will be more rewarding because your business rightfully earned them.

How Consumers Detect Fake Reviews

So can consumers even tell if review on Yelp are real or fake? The short answer is yes.

People can often tell simply by gut instinct if something doesn’t seem real. Maybe the Yelp review greatly contrasts with other reviews for the company or maybe on the reviewer’s profile he or she gives lots of positive reviews for small companies. Also, if the review is in English, the language might be just a bit off—a sign that the company is outsourcing cheaper offshore labor to write the fake reviews.

A recent study sought to create a model for identifying fake reviews. In the study, researchers looked at the correlation between the amount of accounts that reviewers have and the amount of fake reviews. They found that if users have 10 or more registered accounts then they are more likely to be posting fake reviews than those who have fewer accounts. If a customer is able to tell if a user has lots of accounts, then it’s a giveaway that the reviews are likely fake.   


How to get real, positive Yelp reviews

Since people can be motivated to write fake reviews, then how can your business motivate consumers to write real reviews?

1. Have Excellent Customer Service!

The people who write reviews are typically very passionate—they either had a really bad experience and want to share their opinions or they had an excellent experience and want to encourage others to use your business’s services. Often, the best way to make a customer so passionate that they write positive reviews is to give them an extraordinary customer service experience.

Imagine two scenarios: in the first, let’s say a customer goes into a fast food restaurant, has an interaction with the cashier, orders and pays for hamburger, gets the hamburger, and then leaves. The customer didn’t have a bad experience, but it wasn’t outstanding. It’s highly unlikely this customer’s going to head to Yelp or Google and leave a review.

Here’s the second scenario: the customer walks into the restaurant, is greeted, has a meaningful (yet sweet and short) conversation with the cashier, orders her food, which comes out quickly and includes a special coupon, and is thanked with a smile. How much more likely is it that this customer goes home to write a positive review?

Two simple and effective ways to up your customer service game include implementing specific training programs for emphasizing customer service and recognizing and rewarding employees who go above and beyond.

Though customer service is a fairly simple concept, it can go a long way in enabling customers to write positive reviews and encourage others to use your business’s services.

2. Open Your Mouth and Ask

One of the easiest ways to get real reviews right there and then is by opening your mouth and asking a customer to write a quick review.

If customers are asked to write a review in person, then they are more likely to do so because they can immediately write the review and don’t remember when they get home. Plus, if the customers have a great experience with an employee, then they will be more than happy to give a review if the employee asks them.

Personally, I remember one experience where I ate at a sit-down restaurant, and at the end of the night the waiter gave me a paper and asked if I would write a review. The waiter was excellent, so I left some positive feedback. If he hadn’t asked me to write a review, I probably wouldn’t have done so later on my own.

3. Online Reputation management

While asking for reviews in-person can be very effective, generating reviews is more scalable and more process-oriented.

Many companies are finding success by sending out emails to the customers on their email list, thanking them for being a loyal customer and asking them to write a review. Texting is even better: 98% of people open text messages whereas only 20% open emails. So asking for people to leave a review via text can be a very effective option.

Companies like ZipBooks and Vendasta offer reputation management tools to help automate this process. For example, ZipBookers on our Growth plan can automatically follow-up successful transactions with a review invitation. Using software that puts your growth on auto-pilot will save your business a lot of time and it will bring in the reviews more quickly.

4. Jump on the Social Media Bandwagon

In this technology driven-world, you can hardly walk out of your house without seeing someone on his or her phone scrolling through Facebook or Instagram.

If your business doesn’t have social media pages yet, create them! Social media is an easy way for your company to be seen since people are constantly looking at their phones. With business social media accounts, you can promote your services and deals. You can also create interactive posts with questions that invite users to respond to the posts. When you have engaging posts users will remember your company and might respond to posts with feedback.

Facebook even has a specific section where customers can give your business star ratings and write reviews. Social media not only is a great way to get the word out about your business but also to receive real reviews that are readily available to the public.

How should you handle negative reviews?

Even if you establish ways to get real reviews, the reviews might not always be positive. It happens. There will always be customers who occasionally aren’t satisfied and will leave a negative review. Though negative reviews might not look great for your company, it is better to have some real negative reviews than fake positive reviews. Real negative reviews will show that your business is authentic and that a variety of types of people are using your services.

Even if you have some negative reviews, the likelihood is that the majority of the reviews will still be positive. Researchers from MIT and NYU performed a study in 2013 that revealed that people leave and are more influenced by positive reviews than negative reviews. So it’s okay. Negative reviews will be there, but as long as they don’t overpower the positive ones they shouldn’t have a major impact.

But when your business receives negative reviews, you can still do something about them. You can respond to the people who left the reviews, apologize for their situations, and strive to do what you can to resolve the problems. If you show sincere effort to resolve an unhappy customer’s issue, you won’t just show that customer you care—you’ll also show other potential customers online! Often, unhappy customers are the most passionate—if you’re able to effectively resolve their problems, there’s no small chance they’ll decide to turn around and write a positive review instead!

Promoting the positive

Along with responding to negative reviews, responding to positive reviews shows good customer service. You are showing customers that you are grateful for their feedback and that all reviews are valuable.

Another tactic to ensure that customers see the positive reviews is by asking for reviewers’ permission to highlight their positive reviews on your website. That way people online will immediately see the good things that people have to say about your business when they look for it on the internet.

When your business is starting up or it is struggling to get reviews, don’t fret. Don’t give into buying fake Yelp reviews and remember that Yelp monitors reviews, it could end up costing you more than what you paid if you get caught, it could be illegal, and you want customers to trust you.

Instead, try different tactics to get the real reviews rolling in, such as stepping up your business’s customer service, asking for reviews in person, establishing online-review methods, and having a strong presence on social media. And even if you occasionally get negative reviews, tastefully respond to them, do your best to help the customer, and highlight positive reviews.

If you don’t give into temptation of buying Yelp reviews and you do your best to organically get real reviews, your business will soon be getting the five stars that it deserves!

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