Reviews: Lipstick on a Pig Leads to User Backlash

Reviews have become important. Having them helps with rank, the good reviews bury any negative comments and create higher averages. Good reviews and good rank lead to sales. I am a big believer in actively managing a review solicitation process. It is a winning combination if done correctly and respectfully of customer needs.

The pressure to get reviews and make them look good has led to a number of businesses to take short cuts. They have started to write reviews themselves, work with services that filter out bad reviews, trade reviews with peers or engage sock puppets to increase their volume. I am not a big believer in faking reviews, filtering them or otherwise attempting to game the system. In fact I think that it is a terrible idea.

Here is why:

Faking reviews by whatever means,  makes assumptions that just don’t hold up in the real world. The first one being that customers are idiots and can’t tell the difference. The second being that you can put lipstick on a pig and she will instantly be beautiful.

Consumers are neither stupid nor any longer passive. Fake reviews will sooner or later come back to haunt any business that goes that route. And it will come back in spades. Customers seeing faked reviews will respond vociferously in reaction, as they should.

In the brave new world of reviews there is no short cut to getting good reviews. In the business world prior to the internet it was important to know your customers and treat them right. In the post review world, as I often say, “know your customers and treat them righter”.

The penalties can be severe.

Please consider leaving a comment as your input will help me (& everyone else) better understand and learn about local.
Reviews: Lipstick on a Pig Leads to User Backlash by

26 thoughts on “Reviews: Lipstick on a Pig Leads to User Backlash”

  1. Great! So how do you get reviews Mike? Just smile and wait? You’ve got to have SOME kind of system, right? (I’d really like to know.)

  2. I do have a “system” and I have written about the dos (here, here & here) and the don’ts (here and here) extensively.

    Step One: Provide Great Service
    Step Two: Make it very easy to provide reviews
    Step Three: Ask for reviews.

  3. Mike,

    I totally agree with your sentiments on faking reviews. The only problem is the opposite is also true; your competitors or their sock puppets can and will submit negative reviews about your business. I see just as many fake negative reviews (especially in ultra-competitive niches) as I do fake positive reviews.

    I understand that a business needs to take an organic approach to getting positive reviews; asking your customers or giving some incentive for writing a review. But until Google figures out a way to filter out the fake positive reviews, I can’t blame SMBs who don’t totally “get” local SEO to hire a firm to write positive reviews for their business.

  4. hehe I’ve seen a few people fall foul of ‘fake’ reviews as well. I’ve had a few clients panic when recieving bad reviews, but ultimately it just makes for a more realistic overview of the business and builds trust.

    Also, I always suspect a bit when you see a ton of reviews where the posters all only have ever made one review but with a request process in place this is inevitable. IMO it’s important to ensure clients ask customers to place reviews in other Google trusted review sites too.

  5. @Jason

    I have my own opinions about your situation but I would love to hear what others have to say as the best tactic in your situation.

    @Julian
    Some of those reviewers that leave but one will become regular and consistent reviewers. I agree with you that it makes sense to have reviews at other reviews sites. Which are your preferred ones?

  6. Good point Mike.

    Well, as the majority of my customers are local to me I tend to advise on them using local review sites. Every now and then I’ll look at local reviews near me and see what google has picked up on. The main ones I point at though are Qype, TouchLocal and ThompsonLocal.

    Lovely blog btw, I read it regularly but rarely find time to comment I’m afraid. Keep up the great work =)

  7. @Mike- Not saying I’m in this situation with any of my clients (thankfully). As a user of Google local search, I do take reviews of businesses into consideration when I am choosing where to spend my money. Since I do local SEO for clients, I like to think I have become pretty good at spotting fake reviews- both positive and negative. It’s just as easy to spot the fake negative reviews.

    Regarding other local review sites, I have a Google doc that I have compiled with the top 10-15 review sites per niche. Most of this research was done by examining the top local businesses in each niche, and seeing where their reviews/citations are coming from.

    judysbook
    insiderpages
    citypages
    yelp

    You also have niche-specific, like Edmunds, dealerratings (car dealers) and urbanspoon, Zagat, Dine.com (restaurants).

  8. @Julian

    It took me a sec but I realized that you were referring to Euro based review sites of which there are fewer and the “review culture” seems less far along… do you agree?

    @Jason

    I would suggest that a better tactic for dealing with competitor reviews would be to engage your clients in helping respond rather than you responding yourself. The reasons are simple: 1)Ethics…. why would a customer trust you if you go to the trouble of faking reviews and 2)Coming from clients, the review responses would be more compelling… 3)Nothing for Google to fault or ding so it is a long haul solution

    re. Reviews I would add Yahoo to your excellent list as a review there leads to improved ranking and it showing on the main search results page… if it shows there and at Google in the 7-pack aggregate you will get maximal exposure for the business (see Which Review Sites Should You Use).

  9. @Andrew
    Our experience is that a very small percentage of companies post fake reviews. Over time, I think they stand out as “fakers” and the periodic backlash (e.g. Mikes post above, NY AG’s suit against the plastic surgeon, FTC action, etc.) slows down most of the would be fakers.

    @Mike
    I don’t see a big differentiation in fake reviews at 3rd party sites vs Google. Do you?

  10. @Mike: The problem I have with reviews is the same problem I have with SEO companies. Too easy for a competitor, or a blackmailing SEO company to DESTROY your business. Google needs to have a feature that allows a business owner to bury, or remove Bullsh*t reviews.

    Are you of the same mind?

  11. I’m seeing the effects of the new layout of SERPS. A lot of my friends are now asking their SEO Team to make changes on their maps and strategy to cope with the changes. It seems it is a bad move for Google because a lot of people will definitely SPAM reviews and will definitely bury the legitimate businesses.

  12. @John. Yeah it is a no brainer. There are already companies in India, Vietnam and Phillipines doing this with adwords.

    It makes sense that your SEO guy would use these tactics to bury his competitors. Basing local rankings on business reviews is super stupid. Unless, or course, your in the business of taking down competitors.

  13. It seems to me that Google could greatly reduce spam reviews by diluting the impact of the number of reviews on the rankings. I think more people spam for the rankings benefit than the value of a high quality rating. Many markets seem to just boil down to an “arms race” of who has the most reviews.

  14. Great read, Mike. Wonderful example of something very oink-oink going on, but until Google can catch its pig, the scenario is unfairly slanted towards the spammers. Google, catch that pig!

  15. @Miriam….

    – that’s funny girl!!!!

    :-)

    One other thing, up here on google.ca almost ALL of the “names” of the reviewers have disappeared….ie they used to show the string of stars and then the name of the reviewer. Clicking on the name brought up all the reviews they’d ever posted….least back 6 months I noted…and you could see that they’d posted like handfuls of 5 star reviews…phony of course….

    Now — and I mean today, that string of stars is followed by NO clickable name…

    Dang it was so easy to check on the veracity of the reviews that way..

    ie go here — http://maps.google.ca/maps/place?cid=7919429068500582673&q=new+car+sales+Hamilton+ON&hl=en&view=feature&mcsrc=detailed_reviews&num=10&start=10

    – at least they’re not ALL gone…

    :-)

    Jim

  16. Hey Jim :)
    Now that’s bad that you can’t look up the reviewer’s history. Why is Canada so plagued with this stuff? But, then, reviews are probably the most bug-ridden part of the system, no matter where you are.

  17. @Jim. I begged a few clients to set up Google accounts just to review me. I actually have had to help clients set up accounts for the purpose of reviewing our law firm.

    People over 50 are not into it too much. So your saying anyone who has only reviewed one business is a spammer, or is this just a factor in determining potential spam?

    Not everyone out there is a Googler. Just try and get a person over 50 to sign up at Judy’s Book to rate you. Good luck!

  18. @panzer…really? you find that the “50″ number is the threshold?

    well, fyi, I’m 61 and just about all my SEO clients are in their 40′s or 50′s and ALL of them are actively getting reviews from their own clients or customers….especially the professionals like lawyers, accountants and yup even plumbers too!

    seems to me – based on my own exp, that after the age of 50+, you KNOW innately that good reviews or testimonials can help you….

    as far as asking an SEO client to review me, if that’s what you mean, that happens monthly when their cheques come in….or annually when they just email me and say “huh? dang right we’re renewing! sales have never been better!”

    :-)

    Jim

  19. @Jeff: No not the threshold, but the vast majority of my clients. Ladies who slipped and fell on a cruise ship, an old guy who might be a plumber, for example, are terrified of computers.

    I can see how SEO clients would be more sophisticated though. So you are lucky. It is hard for me to get reviews, as many of my clients are old school.

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