Dealing With Fake Reviews on Yelp

Yelp tends to get flak from business owners, largely due to accusations that Yelp extorts businesses into paying for advertising services by burying positive reviews.

Yelp is still the most popular venue for finding business reviews, making it a valuable source of leads. In fact, a large percentage of our business is due to referrals through our Yelp page.

The flip side of this is that, due to Yelp’s ongoing popularity, it’s a target for scammers looking to tank your business with reputation attacks. We found this out for ourselves early last month, when we received a one-star review from someone who had clearly never been a customer of ours. Given that we have a perfect record of 5-star reviews on Yelp, we didn’t take kindly to having our reputation besmirched, especially in a dishonest fashion.

Here’s a quick guide to the approach we took to successfully get this scammer’s review removed from our Yelp page.

Build a Case Against the Yelp Reviewer’s Legitimacy

Odds are that if someone posts a fake negative review about your business, simply contacting them and asking nicely won’t convince them to remove their remove. So we went on the offensive, and started looking for evidence that would prove that the reviewer was a scammer.

The first thing we did is look at the reviewer’s profile information, which is quickly accessed by clicking on the name or image next to their review. We quickly noticed three issues:

  1. The person in question had zero Yelp friends. This is actually a metric that Yelp itself uses to detect fraudulent reviews.
  2. Their profile was only four days old. Again, this is suggestive of an account created with the specific purpose of posting fake reviews.
  3. They had posted two other 1-star reviews, on the same day as they posted the review on our page–for other local web developers.

All of this is evidence of fraud. But now what?

How to Flag a Review on Yelp

Before you do anything, take a breath. If you’re rude, or try and jump on Yelp and threaten to take them to court for defamation, they’re going to push back. And chances are, they’ll never help you out again. They’re a big business, and their lawyers are bigger than yours. Don’t do anything that might inspire Yelp to view you in a bad light.

Now that you’re in the right frame of mind, go to biz.yelp.com, and log into the Yelp account that manages your business’s Yelp page. If you’ve never claimed your business on Yelp, you’ll need to do so before you go any further. It takes a little time, but it’s worth the effort to be able to interact with your customers on Yelp, and to get alerted to new reviews.

Go to the reviews section of your business Yelp account, and find the fraudulent yelp review. To the right of the “send private message,” there will be a small button with a grayed out flag. If you hover over it, a pop-up will appear saying “report this review.” Click on the button, which will open a “report review” menu.

Crafting Your Argument for Having the Fake Review Removed

The “report review” menu will give you a drop down list of reasons for reporting the review. While the obvious choices would be “it contains false information” or “it was posted by a competitor or ex-employee,” this might not necessarily be the best choice.

Why? Because very large businesses–such as Yelp–have to prioritize the issues they respond to. Issues that pose a valid legal concern, or that might offend visitors, are likely going to go to the top of the list of problems to address. There are two key reasons for reporting the review that you should take a close look at:

  • “It contains threats, lewdness, or hate speech.”
  • “It violates Yelp’s privacy standards.”

A review that breaks that first rule could potentially be a legal issue, AND be cause for visitors to be offended. So look carefully at the fraudulent review in question. Do they use curse words, or at least words that you wouldn’t want to use in front of your grandmother? Do they make threats, obvious or otherwise? Do they say anything that could be construed as hate speech against people of certain races, genders, religions, sexual orientations, etc.?

If not, let’s take a look at the second item. Yelp has privacy standards in place to protect both reviewers, and people who work at the businesses that are reviewed. This is due to fact that someone could potentially use information posted on Yelp to track someone down and cause harm. On Yelp’s Content Guidelines page, they have the following to say about privacy:

Don’t publicize other people’s private information… and please don’t post other people’s full names unless you’re referring to service providers who are commonly identified by or commonly share their own full names.

In the review, do they identify anyone by their first and last name? Do they say anything that could potentially be used to identify a specific person at your business? As long as that identifying information is not published on your business’s website, then you have a case for showing that the reviewer violated Yelp’s privacy guidelines.

If there’s a valid rationale for saying that the fake review violates on of those two rules, select that option. If not, then be honest and choose either the “it was posted by a competitor or ex-employee” or “it doesn’t describe a personal consumer experience” option.

Once you choose an option, a box will appear below, in which Yelp asks you to provide details about the issue.

In our case, we were rather fortunate. The reviewer in question had chosen to use some rather inflammatory language that included a couple mild curse words. So in our submission to Yelp, we went with the “contains threats, lewdness, or hate speech” option, and highlighted the offending bit of language. And then in addition, we described all of the pieces of evidence we had that the review was fake.

Shortly after we submitted the report, we received an email from Yelp saying that they agreed with us, and the review was quickly removed.

Now, there’s no guarantee that Yelp will remove a review. If the review is in poor taste and might reflect poorly on Yelp, your odds are pretty good. But otherwise, all you can do is include as much information as possible, and hope that things work out.

In the meantime, it’s a good idea to respond to the review on your Yelp page, so that you can at least get your side of the situation out there for visitors to see. But make sure that your tone is calm and professional. You aren’t speaking to the scammer; you’re speaking to everyone else. Explain your rationale for why the review is false (list your evidence), state that you’re dedicated to ensuring that every customer has a positive experience, and leave it at that.

We hope that this little guide helps, and we wish you the best of luck in successfully managing your reputation.