Yelp, the popular review site known to make or break local businesses, will start publicly branding companies it suspects of buying fake evaluations.
The San Francisco-based website, which already tries to filter out dubious appraisals, said it will now start posting visible consumer alerts on websites suspected of soliciting reviews-for-hire to boost ratings.
The alerts will stay up for at least 90 days – longer if the suspicious activity continues, according to Yelp.
Users, many of whom consider Yelp to be the last word on whether a business is worth visiting, can click on the alerts for more details.
Yelp also said it will start informing visitors when a business has a slew of reviews posted from the same computer – often a red flag for inauthentic reviews.
The site now posts reviews from across the country and in several other nations. Its 78 million monthly visitors can be a "strong incentive for some businesses to try to game the system," the company said in its Thursday announcement.
Because of Yelp's clout, "some businesses will go to extreme lengths to bolster their reviews," said Eric Singley, vice president of the site's consumer products and mobile division, in a statement.
Modern consumers have a near dependence on peer review sites such as Yelp, Zagat, Chowhound, TripAdvisor and more. Good web reviews now weigh so heavily on spending decisions that satire group the Onion recently spoofed the phenomenon with an article titled "Brave Woman Enters Restaurant Without First Looking It Up Online."
But getting duped is easy and, some say, common. Most reviewers post anonymously. Business owners have been known to inflate their ratings with glowing testimonials submitted by friends and employees.
Up to 40% of online reviews are sketchy, according to experts.