Regardless of what type of business you own, Yelp reviews and other popular reviews platforms have the power to make or break your online reputation. Since its creation in 2004, approximately 184 million reviews have been logged on Yelp. When your potential customer is looking for insider information about your restaurant, beauty salon, or car dealership, Yelp is often their first stop. This makes it an essential tool for business owners who want to make a good impression—and for those who need to actively fight a not-so-stellar online reputation.

The importance of Yelp reviews

In today’s digital age, Yelp reviews can make or break a local business. Customers turn to Yelp for honest feedback about businesses in their area and can be swayed by the opinions of fellow customers. Positive Yelp reviews can help a small business attract new customers, while negative reviews can deter potential customers from visiting. On the other hand, businesses that respond thoughtfully to customer complaints on Yelp often build trust with potential customers and demonstrate their commitment to customer service.

How does Yelp collect reviews?

Yelp populates both star ratings and text reviews. Star ratings are a simple rating of one to five stars that are a quick and easy way for consumers to rate their experience. Text reviews are personal testimonials that accompany the star rating and can give you valuable feedback on the quality of your customer service, your online and in-store experience, and general customer satisfaction.

Why does my star rating on Yelp matter?

Yelp uses the star rating from each of your reviews to calculate an average rating. This rating is very important and can affect how often consumers see and interact with your Yelp business listing.

For instance, if you own a restaurant that consistently receives 5-star ratings, your restaurant is likely to pop up most often in an online search among “best-rated” restaurants nearby when hungry customers are looking for a place to eat that has great reviews in their area. Google often ranks Yelp’s reviews near the top of the first page in organic search. And many consumers use the Yelp app to directly search for reputable local products and services.

Can you buy Yelp reviews?

While buying Yelp reviews is possible, businesses should avoid this practice as it is illegal according to the Federal Trade Commission.

When and why would I want to buy Yelp reviews?

  • If You Want to Boost Your Star Rating on Yelp Quickly

Consistent 5-star reviews on Yelp leads to a higher overall stars ranking. Having a high stars ranking means more visibility in organic search with search engines like Google and Bing, and on the Yelp app. Buying 5-star reviews can help your business rise in the ranks faster.

  • If You Want to Bury an Atypical Negative Review

Maybe your business gets consistently flattering 5-star ratings, but you had a bad apple employee who caused some damage by being rude to customers. One bad day in business can mean a scathing Yelp review that leaves a scar in your online reputation. While you will want to immediately respond to the poor review and make it right with the customer, they may still never change their review. In this case, you can buy positive reviews to bury the atypical negative review.

  • If You’ve Inherited Many Negative Reviews

When a business changes leadership, new management often inherits poor reviews. Maybe you just bought a car dealership and the previous owner has accumulated one-star Yelp reviews that accuse your business of selling Lemons, not honoring warranties, or other serious reputation-damaging issues. One way to quickly turn things around and combat a negative online reputation is to buy positive Yelp reviews until you can begin generating them yourself.

  • If a Competitor Has Left Fake Negative Reviews

Unfortunately, the ease of creating a Yelp account and leaving reviews is sometimes used against honest business owners. Just as you can buy positive reviews on Yelp, your competitor can also either incentivize reviewers to leave negative reviews or pay a third-party to leave one-star reviews on your business listing.

How to buy Yelp reviews 

If you choose to ignore Yelp’s guidelines and buy fake reviews anyways, you’re likely to go down one of these paths.

1. Pay a Third Party to Write Positive Yelp Reviews

According to the New York Times, some businesses have successfully hired a third party using services like Mechanical Turk to populate Yelp reviews for their business.

Some who buy Yelp reviews even go so far as to supply the text of each review for the third party, including natural typos, to make the reviews look more genuine. The last thing companies who buy fake reviews want is multiple positive 5-star reviews with very similar language—which is what businesses often end up with when they pay third-party services to create false reviews.

2. Have Your Employees Craft Positive Yelp Reviews

It’s not uncommon for businesses to pay their employees or friends to generate positive reviews. Some companies also pay employees to create fake Yelp accounts and leave reviews while away from the office. This gives businesses a bit more control over the quality and frequency of the reviews that are left—but it doesn’t take a detective to connect the dots if all of your positive reviews are from employees.

3. Incentivize Your Customers to Submit Yelp Reviews

Incentivizing customers to leave positive Yelp reviews is a popular practice. Many businesses achieve this by offering the incentive in person at their location—offering them a free gift or coupon for their next visit in exchange for a Yelp review. This is against Yelp’s review guidelines and could lead to the removal of your listing.

It’s not hard to understand why so many businesses take this illegal action—it can result in diverse, often positive reviews from real customers. But, you would not want to blast your Facebook page offering fans a discount for positive Yelp reviews. Doing this would be a very obvious violation of the law.

What are the risks of buying Yelp reviews?

Yelp’s algorithm has been cracking down on businesses who engage third parties to craft false reviews or incentivize customers to write positive reviews. But what are the consequences if you get caught buying reviews or are suspected of manipulating the system?

1. Wasting Your Money

If Yelp’s algorithm suspects that a review is not genuine, it automatically bumps the review to the second page, where customers will not likely see it. This is disappointing and a complete waste of your money.

2. Losing the Trust of Your Customers

If you continue to attempt to purchase false reviews for your Business Page, Yelp may take action through Consumer Alerts by flagging your business. This is basically the equivalent of a Scarlet Letter on your profile. A huge red box appears on your Business Page notifying customers that you’ve been caught attempting to manipulate reviews. As you can imagine, having a formal Consumer Alert on your profile damages public opinion of your business and results in a negative online reputation that is hard to recover from.

3. Breaking the Law

According to Federal Trade Commission guidelines, paying for reviews and endorsements without public disclosure is illegal. If it’s suspected that your business has been generating paid reviews, you could potentially be fined.

While buying false Yelp reviews is risky and illegal, it can be done. There are many situations in which a business owner might consider paying for positive Yelp reviews, but Yelp’s algorithm has gotten much more sophisticated in recent years. Instead of risking the dreaded Consumer Alert, consider generating positive Yelp reviews organically with an Interaction Management Platform like Podium.

How to get more Yelp reviews without buying them

Local businesses can collect more reviews on Yelp by taking the following steps:

  • Regularly ask customers and clients who have had positive experiences to write reviews on Yelp.
  • Post Yelp stickers at checkout locations or in bathrooms to remind customers to leave a review.
  • Send out text messages after each transaction asking for feedback and reviews on Yelp.
  • Engage with the community of reviewers on Yelp, responding to both positive and negative feedback thoughtfully.
  • Offer incentives like discounts or rewards for those who leave positive reviews and alert management of any negative reviews immediately so they can address them quickly and professionally.

How to remove fake Yelp reviews

Identifying and removing fake reviews can be a time-consuming process, but it is important for maintaining the integrity of your business’s Yelp page. To identify fake reviews, look for language that is overly positive or negative, reviews with few or no details about the actual experience, language that is uncharacteristic of normal customer comments, and multiple 5-star or 1-star reviews in a short period of time.

Once you’ve identified potential fake reviews, you can flag them to Yelp by clicking the “report review” button. Yelp will then investigate and take appropriate action based on their analysis. Additionally, some companies offer services to help businesses monitor and respond to Yelp reviews more effectively.

Nico Dato
Nico Dato Executive Vice President of Marketing

Nico Dato is the EVP of Marketing at Podium, the premiere messaging platform that connects local businesses with their customers. He fuses his passion for statistics, design, and digital marketing to produce measurable results.

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