Ilya Marritz covers business for WNYC.
New York Attorney General Eric Schndeiderman has settled cases with nineteen companies that tried to game online ratings on sites like Yelp, Citysearch, and Google. Schneiderman says in some instances “Astroturf” reputation managers sold reviews that were as fake as the “grass” in Met Life stadium.
But three diverse businesses told WNYC they had never been approached by anyone selling “Astroturf." Instead, a spa, a butcher, and a restaurant each reported receiving calls from Yelp itself, promising them a better online presence if they purchased ads on the website. Sometimes, they felt pressured.
“They tried. They called like every day for six months,” said butcher Salvatore Cinquemani.
Other businesses said they had the feeling they could get a bad review removed if they bought an ad, though it wasn't stated explicitly.
Yelp said it does not tinker with ratings to please advertisers. The company does work hard to weed out reviews that are phony, and it cooperated fully with Attorney General Schneiderman’s probe.