We’re not going to advocate anything illegal, and posting fake reviews really is illegal.
But if you own a small business and have not considered cheating Yelp then you must be crazy.
A 5-star rating guarantees a line of customers out the door, while a 1-star rating assures you won’t see me or tens of millions of other Yelp users.
And it seems so easy. Post a few good reviews for your new restaurant and suddenly everyone in the neighborhood will want to try it. Even an established restaurant could conceivably post a torrent of fake reviews to alter its ratings. You could use fake reviews to inflate your rating or to trash your competition.
What’s to stop you?
1) The Federal Trade Commission could bust you, but it doesn’t seem likely. Since the FTC banned undisclosed paid endorsements in 2009, there have been only a few enforcement actions and those have been against relatively large companies.
2) Yelp could bust you, but what’s the worst that could happen? Yelp has sophisticated software that identifies dubious reviews and removes them from the rating, as described by NYT’s The Haggler. But the software can’t catch everything. Just be careful that your fake review shenanigans can’t be tied back to your company account.
3) Cheating is immoral. No way around this one.
There are a few ways to go about cheating Yelp.
The simplest is to create fake accounts and write fake reviews yourself. You’ll need to be a smart, creative writer to pull this off. Be sure to include a few grammatical mistakes and maybe one or two complaints to fool the censor.
If you want to save yourself the trouble, there are paid services that will write fake reviews for you. Websites like Fiverr.com let you hire people to do simple tasks which may include writing reviews. The Amazon-owned website Mechanical Turk also offers cheap workers for simple tasks which (though against site policy) have been known to include writing fake reviews.
Another scheme recently detailed in the NYT is to offer customers rebates when they write reviews. The company VIP Deals allegedly included a letter when mailing their product that offered a 100 percent rebate in exchange for a review, which, they implied, ought to be positive: “We strive to earn 100 percent perfect ‘FIVE-STAR’ scores from you!”
Again, we don’t advocate cheating Yelp, but if we owned a small business and business wasn’t hot, we would lie awake at night thinking about it.
There’s also a legal way to improve your rating.