Georgios Zervas’s Research on Fake Yelp Reviews Spotlighted in BU Today

in Emerging Research, Faculty, Faculty in the News, News
November 4th, 2013

Assistant professor speaks on reviewer dishonesty

Zervas

BU Today spotlighted assistant professor of marketing Georgios Zervas regarding his research that found Yelp to be steeped in fake reviews (at least 16 percent). The piece notes that, following New York attorney general Eric Schneiderman’s recent Operation Clean Turf initiative that uncovered manipulation in the reputation management industry, Zervas’ study elicited a response from Yelp’s vice president for communications and public affairs on the site’s official blog. The study “confirms something we have long known: businesses that don’t have a good reputation online will try to create one by submitting phony reviews,” the response reads. Senior writer Susan Seligson spoke with Zervas about the study he coauthored, Yelp’s impact on businesses, and how consumers can be more critical of online reviews.

BU Today: Did you discover anything particularly surprising in your study?

Zervas: One thing that was slightly surprising, not so much to me but to most people, is the proportion of suspected fake reviews that Yelp removes—approximately one quarter of all reviews submitted to Yelp are not published. That’s about 10 million reviews.

What are some of the concerns your study raises?

The main concern is for firms like Yelp and TripAdvisor. Platforms that crowd-source reviews rely on the integrity of these reviews, and fraudulent reviews pose a major threat to their trustworthiness. Furthermore, consumers should be concerned that fake reviews are leading them to suboptimal choices, and businesses should be aware that some negative reviews might come from their competitors.

How much of an impact do sites like Yelp have on a business?

My coauthor Michael Luca did a great study on this and found that having an extra star on Yelp causes the revenue of a business to rise by 5 to 10 percent, so there’s a direct connection between Yelp ratings and a business’ bottom line.

How can consumers view these sites more critically?

I think there are many signals on Yelp that consumers can combine to make up their minds. The way I use Yelp is, I read individual reviews, trying to be aware not just of whether they’re fake, but beyond that, whether they come from consumers who are like myself. There are plenty of biases in reviews besides their being fake or real. The other thing I look at is the number of reviews a business has. I have a lot more faith in a business with 3½ stars and 100 reviews than I do in one with 4 stars and just 3 or 4 reviews. That’s common sense. Also, when available, you can use sites, like Expedia, that allow consumers to review a business only once it’s confirmed that they are paying customers.

Read the full conversation here.