Review Solicitation – Dumb and Dumber

Yesterday I highlighted a review service that was managing the review process for SMBs and posting the good ones into Google, Yahoo etc… an idea that is sure to have a short shelf life and one that is not a good long term strategy. Well here is another.

Aggressive marketers often engage their mouth long before any cognitive activity has taken place. This is an example of that and makes one realize why the process of review gathering is often referred to as “solicitation”.

Ben notes on his website:

Chiropractic Marketing Exposed: We’ve launched a breakthrough new Google Booster Experiment on the Forum in which members promote each others Google Maps listing to get very high rankings on Page One of Google. Watch this Video explaining the whole thing and how to get involved. Watch it NOW!

If you don’t have time to watch the whole video or happen to find the the presenters enthusiasm overbearing, essentially he is recommending that Chiropractors that frequent his forum leave reviews for each other on Google Maps……

Chris Silver Smith had this to say:

Review-swapping, like vote-swapping, strikes me as wrong for the same reasons, albeit on different levels of scale/seriousness. In my opinion, this is a thinly-veiled attempt to exploit reviews for ranking purposes, despite his suggestion of not putting false reviews. I believe Google Maps would perceive it that way, too, which makes it a dangerous tactic to be involved with.

I believe that Google Maps is either not been weighting reviews and numbers of reviews all that heavily (in favor of other ranking factors which I’ve recently been writing about), and they also have means of telling when exploits of this sort are used. I have heard stories of people having their accounts disabled due to detection of exploits in Google Maps reviews.

And Will Scott, Search Influence in New Orleans noted:

We work with a couple chiropractors and there is some serious snake oil out there. These guys are well educated, with years of rigorous training, but they seem overly susceptible to shortcut marketing.

Will’s phrase “shortcut marketing” really says it all. Any review process needs to be part of a well thought long term effort to improve your company’s visibility across the whole local ecosystem.

Please consider leaving a comment as your input will help me (& everyone else) better understand and learn about local.
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30 thoughts on “Review Solicitation – Dumb and Dumber”

  1. Isn’t it a shame to witness the giving of very bad advice in action? Like the real estate marketing fiasco of some years ago, this has all the earmarks of something that will crash and burn, leaving a lot of disgruntled SMB professionals in its wake. Mike, I hope this post can managed to rank well for this topic so that chiropractors who are considering reciprocal reviewing will look at the reality of what they’d be doing in a saner light. Their own professional integrity is at stake, as well as, potentially, their inclusion in Google Maps.

  2. @Miriam

    Its interesting being in a business where, like the wild west, there are not yet any rules….as I noted in the last post, I would rather set the standard than let Google do so….thats because of course I think that I (and of course you) know best. :)

  3. Wow… feel like I need to take a shower after watching that video.

    Ok… so this guy actually recommends that Chiros use their GMail accounts to post reviews for fellow Chiros… the same Gmail accounts used to claim their Google Local Listing?

    Nope… don’t see how Google will ever trace these search shenanigans.

    From a marketing and sound business practice, this approach is wrong on so many levels.

  4. Wow. I think I need a shower now, too. Great article, Mike. Agree with the comments from Miriam and Walt. I think it will just take time and exposure to champion the charge of creating and teaching best practices. Thanks, Mike!

  5. Ditto with the others and I can’t believe someone would actually make a video to promote that idea. Stuff like that makes the Interwebz cry.

    Hopefully, by making that video this guy just gave the keys to Google and said “Here, bust me and my 2010 version of a link farm”.

    Users are smart, too. Anyone can see through the most thinly attempt at false promotion.

  6. I think we’re seeing the polar sides about online reviews. Yelp is on one side saying we don’t advocate any businesses to ever ask their customer for an online review and than there’s the polar opposite side of slime ball marketing as noted in this post.

    What happened to honesty, integrity and authenticity?

    I applaud your efforts in this series on online reviews with the intent to educate and start a conversation on best practices. Don and I have been thinking about this a lot lately as well with our own clients and started http://www.myreviewspage.com with the intent to promote , educate and build a community to talk about best practices in this area.

    In the end I think customers are smarter than that and will be able to realize when someone is trying to pull a fast one.

    Plus for a business to take short cuts and fabricate information like this could lead to short term gains but ultimately pay a heavy penalty down the line which will ruin their reputation for a long term.

  7. OK, I’ll be the bad guy again.

    I agree this is a dumb strategy, but you have to give the guy credit. The video is quite well done. It’s well laid out and could be pretty convincing for the average customer.

  8. @Tym
    Yes it is compelling and from what I can gather a number of his “followers” have in fact followed his advice. Folks are always looking for a shortcut and he seems to be offering it. But just because he packages it up nicely and he may be making money at it, it is bad form to be making money from bad advice. He probably doesn’t even realize that it is bad advice. Which makes the whole thing worse.

    @Tom
    glad you liked my quote :)

    @Randy
    Good luck with your review site.

    Re the integrity ? It is America after all…every body is looking to make money.

    @Ed & Walt
    Go play a good game of ball so at least then the shower is for a good purpose and does double duty :)

    When you strip out the lack of integrity and the likelihood of Google putting the kabob on this shortly…one has to wonder what exactly goes through a Chiropractor’s head…. I mean here’s a person that can make significant money for every minute that he is with a patient…yet they think that spending their time posting reviews for some other Chiropractor will have some huge payout…

    Would not their time be better spent setting up an internal system where a staffer emails a preformatted email requesting the review? Then the customer does the work. And the chiropractor can do something more productive.

  9. what I meant to say, was like others above, I too think I need a shower….

    this kind of “phony” review process is a model that I’m fearing that many will ‘buy into!’ but for naught…

    G will undoubtedly find same and devalue all….

    ….sigh….

    :-(

    Jim

  10. Umm… stupid to promote this the way the guy did but… I know of several others doing pretty much the same thing they just don’t publicly solicit others to join the scheme. The only problem here is that the guy didn’t do it on the QT.

  11. @Terry
    The problem is actually larger than that. Any technique that violates the spirit of the review process will come under scrutiny by the review sites. These types of reviews will/are fairly easy to spot and will be some of the first to be identified and removed by Google…the likes of Yelp already target these.

    The issue for me is that not only does it cross ethical boundaries by effectively misleading the customer with bogus reviews and leave a huge footprint that an algo could easily spot, it is not a wise way for the Chiropractor to spend his time…unless of course he is such a bad actor that he can’t get a good review any other way….

    It makes no sense to me for the principle of an organization to be taking the time to do this when his (hopefully happy) clients would do it for him and give him real reviews.

  12. Agree Mike to some extent except that ethics is subjective especially in business. The assumption is that “solicited” reviews are misleading. If they aren’t then it’s no worse then me asking friends to post a review…. where’s the line between ethics and morality?

  13. There is a whole spectrum of behaviors along the continuum of review soliciting….they range from making it easier for the real customer to leave a review to fabricating a review and posting it…
    1-Facilitating leaving a review for all clients
    2-Facilitating just happy clients to leave a review
    3-Incenting some or all clients to leave reviews
    4-Asking clients to leave a review via a terminal on site
    5-Posting reviews on known professional peers who have done work for you
    6-The business owner or a proxy posting testimonials from real customers to the review sites
    7-Posting reviews of unknown professional peers for a return review
    8-Posting faked reviews

    There may be more variations in this continuum but I think these 8 give a good sense of the range. Where you fall on that spectrum is in fact your choice…

    That being said and leaving any ethical consideration out of the equation for a while, then any choice that leaves a footprint that is easily discernible by the review sites will only provide short term gain but will at some point in the future be “dinged”. My sense is that most from 4 on leave that footprint.

    So you have a choice as a business or professional advisor, participate in activities that provide some sort of short term gain or participate in those that provide sustainable long term gain.

    Now assume that both of the two activities take about the same amount of time to set up….which one would you choose?

  14. Not only is this stuff unethical, in some cases it is outright illegal. Remember that plastic surgery business in New York last year that got slammed by the Attorney General to the tune of $300,000.

    http://blumenthals.com/blog/2009/07/15/plastic-surgery-co-settles-with-nys-over-false-reviews/

    “These tactics constitute deceptive commercial practices, false advertising, and fraudulent and illegal conduct under New York and federal consumer protection law”

  15. @Stever

    Great point….certainly on the continuum above 7 qualifies as illegal. Do you think that 6 does?

  16. Mike: Congrats on your new job at Google; House Philosopher. I hear your first task is to walk the halls of the googleplex w/ a lantern looking for the truth.

    Good luck. ;)

  17. @Earlpearl

    Clearly there are many lenses through which to view business behavior….but as I was explaining above, even if you make a different cut point than I on the ethics side there are still legal, time and business case issues to consider.

    In this situation almost all of them point to 1 or 2 on the chart as the appropriate activity…

    So even though I fall at one on the ethics scale I might understand why someone might come in at 3,4 or 5 but even if they do, they need to reconsider their position…

  18. @Earlpearl

    Clearly there are many lenses through which to view business behavior….but as I was explaining above, even if you make a different cut point than I on the ethics side there are still legal, time and business case issues to consider.

    In this situation almost all of them point to 1 or 2 on the chart as the appropriate activity…

    So even though I fall at one on the ethics scale I might understand why someone might come in at 3,4 or 5 but even if they do, they need to reconsider their position… based on all of the other issues.

  19. I am very dumbfounded this guy is doing this in the public eye. This is clearly blackhat, no ands/ifs/buts about it.

    -“I will take down this thread if I see fake reviews that are based on fake patient reviews”
    “This is obviously an untrue review”
    _____

    Wow what a nutjub. Would be awesome if a google rep was given access to that section and laid the hand of reckoning to the exploitation.

  20. #6 might be a maybe when it comes to legal or not. Depends on how it’s actually implemented. The reviews may be legitimate opinions of real customers, but somewhat misrepresented in terms of how they are published and the perceived identity of the reviewer. ie. who’s user account are they being submitted through or who’s name are they being accredited to?

    Another possible can of worms in that scenario is if the person that did originally provide a testimonial felt that they got misrepresented in how it was later used as a published review.

  21. I agree that #6 is unlikely to fall into the illegal category but it certainly is 1)very obvious to the Google’s of the world and 2)not in the social spirit of the review process….

    In fact I am not sure that these are the only possibilities but they represent a range of possibilities that cover many situations…but you can see as you go down the list as the ethics become sketchier the footprint grows larger and the time to implement on a regular basis increases

  22. Too funny, a guy who promotes what amounts to vote spamming on his blog.

    Hey Matt Cutts. Get a load of this: Chiropractors reviewing eachother.

    Let’s see. “Dr. Spam really did a great job cracking my back.” ‘(Signed Dr. Review’ [Dr. Spammer's friend].) :-)

  23. Reviews are meant to help consumers pick the bad businesses from the good. If the reviews are being contaminated to help a business then it should be illegal to post false reviews

  24. @josh: I agree that “illegal” reviews should not be allowed. How do you suggest Google police this activity?

    My thoughts were Google should:

    (1) Allow a business to “opt out” of the review process completely;

    (2) Have a fair process to remove bogus, or allegedly bogus reviews (both favorable “friend” reviews and “unfavorable “competitor attacks”, “defamatory or false customer reviews”;

    (3) Create viable, non vague and non ambiguous guidelines and re inclusion rules before punishing ANYONE for violating these yet to be created policies, procedures and guidelines.;-)

    Have you any other ideas?

  25. Because of guys like this it hard for me to rely on reviews. They want you to believe it’s an actual customer with an honest review, but in reality it’s fake. I like to use websites like tripadvisor.com, but I feel that some of the reviews on that website are fabricated to increase thier rankings. Where can the consumer get an honest review these days?

    Word of mouth is still and will always be the best review!

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