Positive Only Review Services Come Under Scrutiny in Main Stream Media

Bruce from Aim Marketing in Denver pointed out an article and an investigative news report that highlights a positive review only service posting positive reviews on behalf of their client’s customers . Essentially the Denver based service surveyed the clients post sale for a number of Denver businesses and posted 4 star and higher reviews to Google. The story covers the legality of the process very superficially and doesn’t note at all that the practice violates Google’s TOC. They did note that the businesses subscribing to the service were not aware that negative reviews were not being posted (I am not sure I believe that).

The story does not cover any new territory but it is interesting in that the problem of positive only review services and fake reviews from online marketplaces has risen to the level of visibility that it is being covered by the investigative news world of local television.

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Positive Only Review Services Come Under Scrutiny in Main Stream Media by

20 thoughts on “Positive Only Review Services Come Under Scrutiny in Main Stream Media”

  1. I have seen more of these companies popping up over the last year. Google’s inactivity on this topic has created a mini-industry of spammers.

  2. The excluse they give sure looks shady. “Even though she made up multiple Google user accounts, Jones claims the comments were compiled from real customers, who consented to sharing.” Yikes.

  3. I saw that story Sunday and am working on a post that references it, but am coming from a different angle. But it’s a really long one involving several sources and I’m not as quick as Mike and Nyag. ;-)

  4. Mike,

    I would be curious as to the overall opinion on taking written testimonials that a client has and with permission posting those testimonials in various review sites for the client.

    The reviews are real and have permission to be reproduced online. I have been asked to do this a few times and its one of those areas that throws a monkey wrench in my “I don’t do fake reviews” policy.

    Curious if anyone else has had this come up and how they handled it.

    Thanks

  5. Chris,
    I solve this problem by saving each review that’s emailed in and posting it on the testimonials section of the business’ website. If you mark it up with schema then Google will recognize it as a review and list it as such in the SERP with stars and everything.

    Paul,
    I’ve talked to a few upstanding business owners and until I explain everything to them they truly don’t see an issue with posting reviews from customers on Google Places. I don’t think the average business owner can reasonably be expected to know the ins and outs of the ever changing Google Places TOS.

  6. @Chris

    To me it is a no brainer. I think that it is a bad practice.

    1)It violates the guidelines of most review sites. Thus in posting on behalf of clients’s customers you are putting the business at risk.

    2)Just because one customer gave permission doesn’t mean that you can post the content anywhere you like. It is totally legitimate to post it on the business’s website and position it as a testimonial. But posting it on a review site requires that you tell the review site that you are somebody you are not. I have a hard time understanding when deceit is a good business practice.

    3)It minimizes the value of reviews at google to future customers (the real purpose of reviews). Honest reviews are a way for new customers to find the right businesses. Even if occassionally they are negative that educates future customers about who is the right customer for the business.

  7. Mike,

    I agree with your points. I also can see the side of honest businesses that have long standing history in the community with many letters of great testimonials to back of their service now have to start from scratch online.
    Real reviews regardless of who is posting them would still be valuable to users.

    Again, I’m not arguing your points I can just see both sides of it. This was an actual discussion I had with a client recently. I took up points similar to yours and this was their response which I had to admit made me stop and look at it a little deeper.

    I think it’s a good topic to discuss but the outcome will be the same.

  8. Jesse,

    Thats good advice. I do that as well. I also am starting to have my clients make a scanned copy of any letters that they have and making that a thumbnail pdf so the user can actually see the customers actual letter on their clients letter head. I just feel that with all the anonymity of the net everything is being watered down. I have started having my own clients leave reviews on my facebook page so there is at least some credibility with the posters identity.

    Thanks for responding.

  9. @Bob N

    Clearly the business or someone they hired is rekeying Demandforce reviews into Google in violation of the TOS. Because each is done on a different reviewer and the reviewer is not reviewing other businesses it has flown under the radar of the Google spam algo.

  10. How about this suggestion, Google/Yelp/others only score the trusted reviews and grey out (but still show) the untrusted or unverified reviews.

    Use a basic algo that requires trusted reviews to meet minimum ever changing specifications, logged into account within x months, has created multiple reviews, is tied to another product (gmail, android, etc in Googles case). This would allow for open signals to users that a business might be artificially trying to manipulate the results, plus making much harder for the spam account guys to operate. Yelp use to simply hide these reviews and I always though a better approach would of been to show them but grey them out.

  11. That was an interesting piece, Mike. Thanks for linking to it.

    In situations like this, I have to wonder if a service like this is created in the absence of knowledge of the guidelines, or, in complete awareness and with a willingness to violate them.

    Also, have to say, paying someone $125/month for any professional service is not a surefire way to acquire a high level practitioner.

  12. @HORNSWAGGLED
    Yelp essentially does what you suggest but puts untrusted reviews in an area accessed via a link.

    I think that Google is fearful if they make it obvious wha the algo thinks is the “bad” review that spammers will take more advantage of their system then they already do.

    @Miriam
    I think there is a general wink and a nod between the business owner and the service provider. It is hard to understand what either are thinking.

  13. Chiming in late – I recently had a client who was given an award (like Reader’s Choice) and part of what was included in the “Premium Package” was just this kind of service. They thought it was a bit fishy and asked me my thoughts – thank goodness, in case they got caught.

  14. @Dana
    What is curious is that this practice, while unehtical and deceptive and in violation of google’s TOS, does not appear to be illegal.

  15. Nope, not at all. The way it was pitched to the client is that you send the review company reviews that you’ve received and then the review company will “have our SEO team integrate them into popular search engines such as Google, The Yellow Pages and Web Local.” (real quote)

    They also said it was a way to help manage your online reputation.

  16. Mike,

    I agree with your points but I think the discussion really brings the obvious question to light.

    With the growing importance of reviews for all businesses, how will the industry as a whole monitor and verify that reviews are a real customer writing a real review? I don’t believe that this can be accomplished successful using an algorithm. (even for super smart Google).

    I believe that reviewers will somehow need to be “verified”. Maybe through a very small credit card transaction, phone verification, or something similar that would insure a real person wrote the review.

    I’d love to hear others thought on this.

    PS. As far as legality, I’m sure the FTC wouldn’t approve of “helping” the review posting process.

  17. @Dana

    I did check with a lawyer that specializes in internet law and he did feel that ANY deception in the review process would be viewed askance by the FTC AND State AG’s.

    @Bryan
    I would agree that whenever SEO/Review Management businesses perceive that an economic gain is on the the table an algo is often not up to the task of preventing abuses. These folks will figure out a way around it.

    Although Google is moving in the direction of author rank with the rollout of Google + so this might fulfilll your ideal of a verified reviewer at least for them.

    The reality is that the industry is unlikely to agree on common verified user system. Like with business verification it might end up as Google against everyone else.

    But in addition to a verified user, there is a need (in my opinion) for a clear legal framework AND some enforcement. Otherwise there will continue to be companies that push the limits of the process.

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