Online Reviews

Yelp, TripAdvisor, Vitals, and many other online review sites now are the go-to resource for customers to check out a company. This is especially true for those companies that get researched from mobile devices. Learn how to legally deal with both the good and bad sides of this relatively new phenomenon.


How Businesses Should (and Should Not) Generate Online Reviews to Protect Against Online Review Attacks

Most companies understand the power of online reviews today – whether in terms of attracting business when reviews are mostly positive, or perhaps steering potential customers away when reviews are mostly negative. Indeed, studies have recently demonstrated just how much they can influence revenues. For example, in 2013, a Harvard professor and a Boston University PhD candidate studied ZocDoc, a medical scheduling website that integrates patient reviews of doctors. The study revealed that, on average, a half-star rating change (on a five-star scale) impacted the likelihood of doctors filling an appointment by 10 percent. Similarly, a 2011 study of restaurants from the Harvard Business School found that a one-star rating change on Yelp impacted revenue by five-to-nine percent.
Considering the significance of online reviews and ratings today, this is an area where businesses are vulnerable to substantial damage from an online attack. Indeed, most anyone can go onto the majority of online review websites and post negative or defamatory reviews about a business. At the same time, businesses that are able to improve their reviews can not only protect themselves against online review attacks, but they can also potentially increase their revenues.
One of the keys to mitigating the risk of an online review attack is to generate a high number of online reviews for the business, so that a rouge attacker cannot significantly impact the business’s rating on the particular review site. Similarly, a business can potentially grow its bottom line as a result of receiving large numbers of positive reviews. Many businesses are finding, however, that customers are not regularly leaving reviews and thus, the online review websites do not have a high number of reviews to protect them. For this reason, among others, businesses are regularly looking for ways to increase their number of online reviews.
While there are a number programs or tactics today for generating reviews, many of them create substantial legal and public relations risks for clients, and can get businesses in serious trouble. Part II of this whitepaper, therefore, describes methods for increasing online reviews that businesses should avoid because of the serious legal and/or PR risks they can create for businesses. Part III then describes methods that business should consider for generating online reviews to protect against online review attacks.


How Businesses Should Respond to Negative, False, and Fake Online Reviews

Considering the number of consumers who research businesses before making purchasing decisions, the trust consumers are placing in online reviews, and the impact reviews and ratings can have on revenues, businesses today can ill-afford to stand idly by while third parties publish negative, false, and/or fake online reviews. Ultimately, businesses will want to try to minimize the effects of such harmful reviews and, when possible, remove these reviews from the internet.
From responding to customer complaints to potentially pursuing legal claims, when necessary, this whitepaper provides recommendations for how businesses should respond to negative, false, and fake online reviews. Part II will discuss responding to negative reviews, while Parts III and IV will address dealing with false reviews and fake reviews, respectively.
Fair or not, online reviews and ratings are very much a part of a business’s online reputation today and, in turn, its overall reputation. Online reviews often provide potential customers with the first impressions of businesses, even though most reviews are not verified and many include false statements or are fake (created by someone purporting to be a legitimate customer). Businesses cannot afford to let harmful online reviews just sit there online and cause perpetual damage to their reputations and, thus, their bottom lines. By following the recommendations of this whitepaper, businesses should be better equipped for handling negative or otherwise harmful online reviews – whether dealing with a more routine customer complaint or a much more harmful review.


How to Handle the Unfair Manipulation of Online Reviews by Competitors

As mentioned in the whitepaper “How Businesses Should (and Should Not) Generate Online Reviews to Protect Against Online Review Attacks,” there are a number of tactics companies are using to improve their online reviews. While many methods of improving online reviews are lawful and encouraged, there are other ways that businesses may seek to influence online reviews that actually violate website policies and perhaps even federal and state laws and regulations. Due to the legal risks, possible ramifications from review-based websites such as Yelp, as well as potential public relations consequences, we strongly advise that business refrain from any deceptive tactics used to generate positive reviews.
Since a positive online reputation that features positive online reviews can offer a substantial competitive advantage, many businesses do and will continue to cross the line by using unlawful or other frowned upon tactics in hopes of getting a leg up on the competition. This includes offering incentives (including financial enticements) to generate positive reviews among other tactics that run counter to website policies, Federal Trade Commission (FTC) regulations, and actual laws. If businesses and their vendors are able to get away with unlawful practices, they can gain a clear advantage over their competitors, which will impact their bottom lines. Accordingly, we recommend that businesses implement programs to monitor industry competitors for signs that they may be using unfair and deceptive tactics to obtain greater online reviews and ratings.
Part II of this whitepaper describes methods for identifying unlawful online review generation tactics used by competitors. Part III sets forth different actions businesses can take to stop competitors from employing such tactics, and colleting damages if appropriate.


How to Identify Anonymous Posters on Yelp

Founded in July 2004, Yelp has become the largest and arguably most popular review-based website. According to data released on September 30 2014, Yelp is home to approximately 67 million reviews. Not only are countless reviews being published each day by “Yelpers,” but they are also being widely read before people decide to dine at a restaurant, shop at a store, attend an entertainment venue, or make a similar decision. Add in the fact that Yelp has a score of 94 on’s 100-point “Domain Authority” scale, meaning Yelp listings will typically rank among a business’s top few search engine results. Thus, given the popularity of Yelp reviews and their high rankings in search results, businesses can suffer substantial harm if they are victims of false and defamatory reviews.
Although Yelp reviews can only be published by registered users of the website, reviewers are not verified as legitimate customers and registrants may provide a fake name (opening the door for fake reviews). Therefore, when a business is the subject of a disparaging review, pursuing potential legal claims generally requires issuing a legal subpoena to Yelp in order to unmask an anonymous poster’s identity. This whitepaper offers a detailed explanation of how to go about issuing a subpoena to Yelp for identifying an unknown poster and what to request, as well as a discussion of two alternative strategies.
By following the steps and recommendations discussed in this white paper, a business has a favorable chance of obtaining the desired information about an anonymous Yelp reviewer. The good news is that the desired solution for a harmed business is often simply removing the review from Yelp, and Yelp does allow for the removal of reviews. First, the author of the review can edit or remove any review, which is a possibility even without determining his or her true identity. Second, even when Yelp objects to a subpoena, it is frequently willing to remove a harmful review if the requesting party can demonstrate that the review violated Yelp’s Terms of Service and Content Guidelines, for example. A business, citing these provisions, can contact Yelp and often can convince Yelp’s counsel that the harmful reviews should be removed from the website. In short, follow our recommendations for identifying anonymous Yelp posters, but know that a harmful review can potentially be removed from the website even without disclosing the identity of a poster.