If you’re scouting Yelp reviews to decide where to dine or which moving company to hire, you’ll likely be duped or even misled, according to Georgios Zervas, coauthor of a recent study, which concluded that a minimum of 16% of the reviews are fabricated. The team found that the “most wanted” rogues are movers seeking to neutralize negative write-ups. At the same time, some companies resort to low ground tactics by posting phony and deceitful reviews for establishments that are competing for the same customer base.
Even though they make strong efforts to adhere to the trustworthiness of their content, review sites such as Yelp and Angie’s List among others remain easy prey, concludes Zervas, assistant Professor of marketing at Harvard Business School.
If you are deciding which mover to use, the first thing you’ll probably do is read online reviews by consumers. But can you really trust them, especially after this discovery by Zervas and his team?
According to another study conducted this year, Yelp has 145 million unique visitors every month to find out what others think but are these reviews reliable and trustworthy?
There are loads of websites that allow users vent about their experiences and surprisingly, Yelp is still the most sought-after site. Barring a few exceptions anyone can write anything about anybody, so should you believe what other consumers have to say?
Fake Review of a Mover Posted on Yelp
Tom Dudek, owner of West Coast Moving, a popular moving company based in San Rafael, serving people mainly in Marin County, was baffled to see a review about him on Yelp. The so called consumer had everything under the sun to grumble about. The review stated that things were broken and wrinkled, with the crew taking a relatively longer time to get the work done. Lorraine T, the reviewer, had written that the moving firm had done a poor job in May 2014 while moving her to Cupertino from Palo Alto. However, Dudek said that his firm was not involved in this incident and he hadn’t moved anyone to Cupertino so far. He frustratingly called Yelp and spent a great deal of time on the phone to no avail.
According to Dudek, many movers have similar names as that of West Coast Moving as shown by a Google search. He told the support team at Yelp that the reviewer must have used one of these companies. Sadly, they kept on reiterating that nothing could be done now.
Why You Shouldn’t Trust Yelp Reviews
Here are some reasons why you shouldn’t rely too much on Yelp reviews:
- Place for the vocal minority
Yelp is a place that has unearthed a huge amount of knowledge through crowdsourcing reviews. It’s not surprising that you turn to your Yelp app every time you want to know about a new place/company. But always remind yourself that Yelpers basically comprise of the vocal minority.
It’s extremely tricky to judge the accuracy of reviews on Yelp in comparison to actual public opinion because of the emotional valence entrenched in these reviews.
Companies are not able to solicit reviews, so consumers will apparently only review the firm if they were insanely disappointed or ecstatic. Of course, these opinions do not reflect the experience of the general public with the venue.
- Inaccurate reviews and extreme experiences
If you check out LA Moving Company’s Yelp score, you’ll find that it has a mediocre 2/5 stars. However, they have been featured on the top 60 moving companies in Los Angeles on Angie’s List, with their Google Local Rating edging on 5 stars.
Granted, most of their reviews on Yelp are 3 stars since they are a wonderful company. That said, there is a bunch of flaming reviews that say things like, “worst moving experience,” “the worst experience of my life” and “stay away from LA Moving Company.”
Yelp magnifies voices like this since it encourages people with the most extreme experiences to be vocal. However, there are reviews of the same company that say things like, “extremely professional,” had a great move with the help of these guys” etc, making it tough for people to come to a strong decision. Clearly, these are inaccurate reviews and should not be relied upon.
- Companies pay for fake Yelp reviews
Eric Schneiderman, New York Attorney General, recently announced settlements with Machinima, a global YouTube network that focuses on gaming and three other firms in separate probes regarding the firm’s role in posting fake content on the internet. And this included fraudulent Yelp reviews.
Finally, Machinima agreed to pay $50,000 for failing to disclose the payments to gaming giants endorsing Xbox on YouTube.
According to the AG, companies solicit people to write positive reviews through ads on Craiglist in exchange for free vouchers, and other types of compensations even if they never used their services. One ad read like this-“Do you have a powerful Yelp account? Want to make some extra cash writing reviews?”
In 2007, the CEO of Yelp Jeremy Stoppelman told the New York Times that there was a time in the earlier days when the company experimented with paid reviews in cities outside of San Francisco.
Now here’s a shocker. An anonymous firm posted an ad on Craiglist soliciting Yelpers to post fake reviews in exchange for money.
You might read that and say, “such comments are coming from actual customers.” However, this is the time you should cautiously put on the brakes since the comments are not coming from actual customers. This also goes against Yelp’s slogan, which reads, “Real People. Real Reviews.” The site bills itself as an unbiased dispenser of truth. Sadly, they relentlessly solicit companies to “advertise” on their site with the aim of improving their star rating.
Given their corrupt method of operation and standard, it comes as no surprise when a fraudulent firm tries to circumvent the middleman and get awesome reviews.
- Yelp does not ask for business license
If you ever want to hear a particular business rant, just ask the owner to grab a cup of coffee and casually bring up Yelp!
The controversial firm’s name generates a wide range of emotions-often the negative ones with a tinge of despair. Getting started with Yelp is a cakewalk. All a business owner needs to do is visit the Yelp for Business Owners page and then click on “claim my business.” Following this, he’ll be asked to fill up a form and enter his contact number. Yelp then sends a verification code to the number, which has to be entered at the time of registration.
This way, even if a person doesn’t have a business, he can still get listed on the company’s website since Yelp never asks for a business license except the phone number. Here’s a story of how a person created a fake business account and built a massive online reputation using some social sites and Yelp.
So if you go to Yelp to read reviews on moving companies and find one with attractive reviews, you may be baffled to know that the company does not exist in reality. This is why we suggest you to check out the MTR number at the Transportation Carriers Lookup page. The page also has a link where you can download licensed movers across the US.
The Yelp Filter
In order to weed out low-quality and fake reviews, Yelp recently introduced an algorithm known as the Yelp Filter. The filter favors quality over quantity and filters out almost 25% of all reviews.
The algorithm has two purposes:
- Include reviews from real customers
- Ensure that the reviews are interesting and provide value to the Yelp community
After a review passes through the filter criteria, it’s labeled a “Recommended Review.” Such reviews are easily visible on Yelp and take into consideration the overall star rating of a company. If a review fails to pass through the filter, it gets listed as “Not Recommended Reviews.”
The Yelp Filter runs daily and takes into account many complex algorithmic factors. The results are updated every day and it’s possible for an old genuine review to be tucked away in the “Not Recommended Review” section.
A review can be filtered because of the following reasons:
- If it comes from a person who has posted just a single review on Yelp
- If it’s from someone without any profile info (link to social sites, profile picture etc.)
- Short and inadequate details
- Strongly slanted in a positive or a negative way
- If the review comes from a place other than where the business is actually located.
To conclude, the Yelp Filter can weed out most of the fake reviews, but can be a frustration to business owners, particularly when feedback from actual consumers does not pass through the filter.
Where to Look Next?
Yelp may be your top source for reviews, but have you ever considered the alternatives? Here are some of them:
- Consumer Affairs
Consumer Affairs is a non-governmental, private entity that gives the average citizen an opportunity to speak out on issues ranging from unsafe chemicals to dangerous products and also unreliable moving companies. They never endorse the products and services listed on their website. The Moderation Team studies each and every review and image to ensure that they fulfill the stringent guidelines before publishing.
The site also has a “star rating,” which is calculated using the entire ratings submitted by consumers. They emphasize more on recent ratings and do not include those from reviews that are fake or spam. Before becoming a member at Consumer Affairs, a person has to confirm his email address and log in through social media sites like Twitter or Facebook. Verification ensures that reviews are written by credible members of the community.
- Moving Company Reviews
Founded in 2012 by Doug Breaker and Shannon Cullins, Moving Company Reviews verifies every single review with a move receipt, commonly referred to as “Bill of Landing.” This ensures that the review was written by a real customer for a genuine move.
Customers get free pizza as a mark of gratitude on the moving day if they share their moving experience through an automated and easy phone review system. The site features more than 7000 movers and more than 1000 of them get free leads when customers request for a quote from them. If you ever see a mover on the site with a caution badge, it indicates that they have demonstrated a history of dishonesty or poor service and/or don’t have the required license.
- My Moving Reviews
My Moving Reviews offers a unique opportunity to carefully study a mover you are considering before the actual move. This significantly reduces the risks of any unwanted surprises. The inspiration to create the website sprung up from the many horror stories that you see every day on the internet. The main objective of My Moving Reviews is to eliminate as many poor moving experiences as possible, and also support companies that offer great moving services.
The team at My Moving Reviews is candid enough to state that even though they filter out fake reviews that fail to comply with their terms of service, no algorithm is perfect enough to wipe out fraudulent reviews.
Ensuring honesty and sincerity on the internet is of paramount importance to customers since reviews have a tremendous effect on the purchasing decision of consumers. A recent survey discovered that 90% of consumers’ buying decision is influenced by online reviews. Many such studies have stated that reviews can either make or break a company.
The Federal Trade Commission determined in 2015 that Yelp should abstain from rewarding companies that advertise with inflated reviews or chastise those who do not buy ads. Legally speaking, Yelp can withhold positive reviews, a technique that could possibly be used by sales department to boost ad revenue. Hence, perpetuating this concept of Yelp as a trustworthy source of impartial reviews stands tainted. Yelp states that they have never practiced this technique. However, when it comes to businesses spread across the US versus the review firm, it’s challenging to trust Yelp.