Need Help Getting Reviews? Its only $299/mo and a ‘little’ cheating

Counterfeit_moneyGoogle, in their ever increasing focus on reviews, has created a marketplace where abuse of their review system has economic rewards. This is not new but the companies working in the space of getting reviews at any cost have become somewhat more sophisticated in circumventing Google’s filters and refining their pitch. And for as many opportunistic companies that look to help businesses “get” reviews by hook or by crook there seem to be plenty of small businesses anxious use their services.

I received this email four times over the past two months:

Subject: Re:here r your bad reviews

Your business reputation is in jeopardy!

I found a negative review about your business on Google. It only took a few short minutes to find a negative review about your business on other credible directories, and it didn’t take much longer to find even more.

No matter what kind of advertisement you do, people look you up in Google and other popular directories before contacting you and as soon as they see the negative reviews, they stop contacting you. If you want to safeguard your online reputation – and protect the steady growth of your business – then monitoring and responding to negative reviews like the ones posted on Google, Yelp, Citysearch, InsdierPages, Yellowpages, Mantra etc is crucial. According to the latest research at the Harvard university, 72% of local consumers trust online reviews as much as a personal recommendation.

Don’t let your bad review influence hundreds of potential customers. Reputation Management has quickly moved from being an option to a necessity.

We are Reputation Marketing experts and I want to send you a FREE custom Reputation Report that will reveal in detail your company’s online reviews. To get your free report call us at (866) 966-7396 and we can begin to rebuild your 5 star online reputation together.

Warm Regards,

Roland Sahak
Reputation Marketing Expert
Tel: 866-966-7396
Direct: 818-570-3363
Professional Optimizer

When I received it again last week, I couldn’t resist calling to see exactly what these reputation marketing experts offered. Any business that starts their sales efforts with spammy deception has to have an interesting tale on their route to finding and dealing with clients. I wasn’t disappointed. When I called, Roland himself answered the phone and this is what I learned:

  • “We have tools that tell us what business have negative reviews and send the email to those companies.”
  • “According to research at Harvard University, they did research on this and they found that people google businesses’ names before contacting them.”
  • “We go to all of them [local directories] and we submit 5 star reviews to all of them”
  • “We have a page that we integrate to your website and when people go to that site, it makes it extremely easy to submit a review. Which come to us. We do the submission, we do all of the hard work on the back end and submit them to all of the popular directories.”
  • “If you ask the client to submit a 5 star review somewhere they will never do that… And most of these directories they have filters and 99% are going to get filtered out.”
  • “We work with Google and we know how to do the submissions in order to bypass the filter and [have the reviews] stay there.”
  • “We monitor all of the directories and as soon as we get a negative review there we post more 5 Star reviews there and we respond to that negative review so that people will see both sides of the story.”
  • “All of the reviews submitted to the [client] page come to us and we submit them to Google and the other directories. We know how to do the submission to bypass the Google filter and [have it] stay there. We go to all of the popular directories. You can seem them …[here]“
  • “Yes we submit our own reviews too because we want you to get going from the beginning.”
  • The cost is $299/mo and there is no minimum commitment.
  • “Yelp has a very strict filter. Yelp is like the only directory that people then have to submit the review.”

In a look at the client that Roland referred me to as an example of his work, it would appear that his claims of having figured out how to outwit Google were in fact true. Likewise his inability to garner Yelp reviews. As much as folks complain about Google’s review filter, it would seem that it is still an easy mark and one that company’s like this go after and offer as a “feature” of their “review system”. And clients like this “celebrity dentist, Millenium Dental” seem to buy.

I am not sure where the answer lies. Long haul this sort of pervasive cheating will decrease the value of reviews for everyone.

It is not clear to me that the client understands that they have stepped into illegal territory by knowingly paying for fake reviews. Additional government enforcement actions and activities might educate them.

Certainly, Google needs to refine their filters to do a better job of taking down the fake ones while leaving the good ones. As Phil Rozak has noted and which I totally forgot, I have previously suggested some actions Google could take to at least make the above email less enticing to an SMB by proactively alerting businesses to their reviews.

Shoppers need to become more discerning.

Most importantly small businesses need to stop thinking that there is a magic bullet, other than great service, that will solve their reputation woes.

Please consider leaving a comment as your input will help me (& everyone else) better understand and learn about local.
Need Help Getting Reviews? Its only $299/mo and a 'little' cheating by

26 thoughts on “Need Help Getting Reviews? Its only $299/mo and a ‘little’ cheating”

  1. @Dennis
    I doubt that the client is totally innocent but he may or may not be aware that he is breaking the law.

    @Chris
    Anybody that uses deception to get an SMB’s business is fair game. Whether that is Yelp or Roland. I did think long and hard about calling out the client more overtly and decided that a no follow link would be the most appropriate way for everyone to fully understand how this system was implemented.

  2. Only $299/m?! What a deal. It’s sad that businesses fall for this kind of thing. For far less than $299/m you can get a simple feedback/review strategy in place to encourage REAL reviews from real customers.

  3. @Darren

    I agree that there is no reason to spend this kind of money but I assume that the businesses that “fall” for it, might have some larceny in their hearts as well.

    Roland, in pitching me, was quite clear as to how they worked. Clearly the businesses that buy in, understand that and view it as “value”. That perhaps is a bigger tragedy.

  4. @Darren

    You said it.

    But that’s more work for the lazy SMB that doesn’t live up to their facade of fake reviews anyway. Rather than sowing organic word of mouth with superior service and quality products they’d rather shortcut then claim blissful ignorance.

    These businesses to me are like those kids on the playground that try to buy friends then take their shiny new ball and go home when things don’t go as planned.

  5. Whilst it’s certainly true that there are algorithms that are being created to stop this I think it will always be a case where some people are able to trick them and get away with fake reviews. It’s madenning.

    In the book industry for example John Locke was caught buying fake reviews but it didn’t hurt his sales rank one bit and even now he has thousands of reviews of his books that remain on there. It’s almost as if because he was just a good seller he was too big to fail.

  6. I have seen spam negative reviews too….it works both ways and the negative is just as bad or worse than buying favorable. Google could start to improve their system by looking at Yelp where they may or may not move spam to a place where it is fairly easy to ascertain who is a spammer jammer.

  7. $300/month. $3600/year. Using someone or one’s at fivrr that gets you about 720 reviews…which is a lot for most entitities.

    Oh jeez. Scam after scam after scam. And expensive too.

    BTW: I was looking in depth at reviews on G+ for a business with which we compete. I’m sure an earlier group of them were “designed by a marketing firm”. Every single one is terse, well written, and the read as a body of reviews they address every concern a buyer might have…each one tackling a different concern.

    Many months (moons) passed. They are generating them again. Recently they published one that had more marketing elements all around it. They added some commentary in that one “of several” that just can’t be true.

    but they are getting them out there. Clearly there are ways to ‘spam” google’s review filter.

    …and so scammers like this guy will get business. Alas.

  8. Thanks for outing another one of these clods, Mike. Although maybe it’s not “another” one: I knew I’d seen those typos somewhere else before (http://blumenthals.com/blog/2013/06/03/google-local-review-scams-a-simple-solution/).

    Didja look at the filtered reviews on Yelp for this guy’s client? To say they were a half-hearted attempt would be generous. Although services like this one enrage me, on one level I agree with what Honest Abe said: “Whatever you are, be a good one.”

  9. Holy Crap!

    I was just talking to that dentist recently since I am in the process of choosing a dental practice for myself. He seemed nice enough and work was good, but now I don’t know if I can knowingly give my money to someone who is using this sort of trickery.

    Thanks for letting us know Mike!

  10. @Stefano

    My guess is its his marketing consultant or someone in house is responsible for the poor decision making, but we’ll never know.

    I can hook you up with a good dentist in the area, get in touch if you want – chris@socialdentalnetwork.com

    Caveat: They may not have treated J Peterman though..

    This dr is a great example of doing the wrong thing, yet still receiving tangible benefits.

  11. Done.

    Just sent your link to the office and spoke with them. I won’t mention names, but the woman I spoke with was very nice…and thorough.

    Let hope we transmit some justice. We know from Stefano’s comment that the doctor may have indeed lost one possible new patient already.

  12. @Mike thanks for this one….didn’t know that others had jumped on this after finding same in the car dealership channel…but there what i found was the the cheapest costs were $1200 CDN a month up here in Canuckland….

    ;-)

  13. I know where he got his training and he is skewing the system. If he does it right, it’s fine and the price is not out of line if the ROI is there and typically includes more than help with review posting such as monitoring and consulting on how to handle responding. He shouldn’t be suggesting “5” star reviews, just reviews (which has been going on long before the internet) and he definitely should not be posting “our own reviews to get you started” unless he is stating he wants to leave a review on his experience of what they are like to do business with. I’m not too concerned with posting reviews on Google as long as they are legitimate since the filters are flawed.

  14. In the video the dentist asks for a genuine customer to leave a review and asks them to to choose a Star rating. He doesn’t ask them to leave a 5 star review, just a star rating of their choice. So when genuine customers go to that page then everything is fine, surely.

    I think that Roland is at fault here and not the Dentist; if Roland is sending other people to this page to leave reviews too.

    I include systems for my clients to gather reviews from genuine customers, through online forms and other methods and we ask their happy customers if they would also be happy to leave reviews on independent sites. Others might be posted on the website or printed and put in a testimonials folder in reception. It’s all marketing and we want our clients to boast about their good reputation and great reviews.

    It’s a shame when this kind of opportunity is abused. However, in this case, the dentists video looks genuine to me.

  15. Kate
    If in fact the customer does not realize that Roland is reposting the reviews or if the customer does not realize that Roland is making up reviews then you would be correct. But I called Roland to ask him to remove me from the list and as I asked more questions, he assumed that I was a customer and the pitch that he gave me made it quite clear to me (as a potential customer) that he would be doing both. One is in violation of Google’s guidelines and the other is in violation of federal law.

    If the customer willingly accepts and buys inappropriate practices the fault then becomes shared.

    We have no idea what the customer knew or didn’t know. Perhaps just an aggressive administrator booked this on his behalf. But regardless there is something rotten in Denmark.

  16. MIKE BLUMENTHAL YOU HAVE NOTHING BETTER TO DO THEN ACCUSING OTHER PEOPLE OF SUBMITTING FAKE REVIEWS. THATS ABSURD MISLEADING OHTERS JUST TO HAVE SOMETHING TO BLOG ABOUT IS NOT RIGHT! THIS COMPANY HELPS BUSINESSES COLLECT LEGITIMATE REVIEWS FROM THEIR OWN CUSTOMERS THRU AN EFFECTIVE SYSTEM THAT MAKES IT EASY FOR THEM TO LEAVE REVIEWS. YOU HAVE NO RITE ACCUSING THEM FOR SUBMITTING FAKE REVIEWS!!!!! THIS PATHETIC AND DESPERATE BEHAVIOR WONT GET U ANYWHERE. I UNDERSTAND YOUR IN NEED OF BUSINESS BUT TRASHING OHTER COMPANIES IS NOT ETHICAL AND SIMPLY LOW CLASS WHICH WILL ONLY MAKE YOU LOOK NOT PROFESSIONAL IN THE EYES OF OTHERS!

  17. ” I found out that he is also involved in online marketing similar to the services that that company is offering and is trying to trash other business in order to shine and get people’s trust so they would buy his services.”

    Man you are so off course and out of line and haven’t you done the same thing to Mike as you accuse him falsely of doing. Mike does it to alert the public…. look at all the posts on this site that provide similar and very good information that directly helps his competition…he wants these guys to change their practices or go away as a result of public awareness. This is how it should be and you have made yourself look like a silly sally with not a clue about what you are speaking about.

  18. LOL at the comments.

    Mike is the top leader in this industry and is an advocate for ethical best practices in local search. So that’s his only agenda. He needs no defending, because HIS reputation is as high as you can get.

    However YOUR reputation is not helped by the comments you are making here pretending to be JACKIE and Barbara.

    “…and it is only being sent to the clients of the business… Once they gather the reviews, they submit it to online local directories with the permission of the reviewer.”

    The point is, even if real customers, the way you are doing it is a violation of Google’s guidelines and is not allowed. Also prohibited on many other review sites as well.

  19. Enough. If you want to discuss the facts that I have reported please feel free to do so.

    PS I would never pretend to be Linda. It’s hard enough being me. :)

  20. Hey Mike, Great Article,
    And timely too. I caught on to the whole “padded review phenom” about a year ago. I didn’t find out that it had an official name until yesterday. And I didn’t realize that it was an INDUSTRY until today. I believe that anyone who creates feedback or reviews for (or against) a business that is not based on an honest assesment of their personal experience should be censored. If they are doing it in return of payment, they should be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law. I think everyone pretty much knows that you can’t believe everything you read on-line. However, that being said, most people tend to believe the in the authenticity of the reviews they read when it comes from a “member” of an on-line community that they belong to or frequent for reviews. A couple of un earned resteruant reviews on yelp might give you heartburn. But what a lot of these “Reputation Management” Service Providers” (RMSP) do (according to their promos) can be far more dangerous. A consumer that finds a negative remark or two on a business or a professional service they are thinking of hiring will usually take a harder look at the people or company in question. A good Company or Individual probably won’t need or use this kind of service, because they understand that a customer with a complaint is a potential customer for life and the best advertising they could hope to buy. But they (RMSP’s) are stacking the deck so much in their client’s favor, that the average person, even doing a fairly dilligent search may never see that the business or individual they thinking of using may very well be incompetent or even represent a threat to their person or property. This is because one of the services many RMSP provide is flooding the first pages of search engines with positive reviews, adverts and press releases, effectively burying the companies true track record. If its not “the Eastsides Best Chimachunga” , you take a couple alka-seltzers and call it good. But if it’s a contractor, mover , real estate agent, attorney or engineer the consequenses can be devastating.
    Case in Point- I have family that suffered a house fire. One of the “restoration professionals” that showed while the house was burning took full advantage of the fact that they were in shock, offering them sympathy and guidance along with fancy color brochures touting their “50 Years of Experience” and “Solid Reputation” as an “Industry Leader”.

    I did a web search the first night they were in a hotel and dug fairly deep.
    The few negatives that did surface were for distant franchises and even they paled by comparison to the 4 and 5 star reviews, diamond certification and even local news stories about these “good guys”.

    Of course, after they lost trashed or stole my kin’s home and posessions, they disappeared. But not before also taking nearly all of the Insurance Settlement. The homeowners are still without a home nearly a year later and are facing financial ruin. When these criminals started showing their true colors, I attempted to find out if they had done this to others, in part, to see about bringing them to justice. It was the result of months of in depth searching that happened me to come across “Reputation Managers” and this blog. Though I have learned a lot about this particular company and the industry to which they belong in general, accurate information has been extremely difficult to find even though I know what to look for. Had we been able to get the opinions of some of their former clients before we hired them, instead of after, we would not have hired them.

    I can only surmise that this company spends an enormous amount of money on “Reputation Management and Protection”. I am wondering if you might know of any techniques for circumventing the methods they might be using to conceal their activities? I would appreciate it.

    Thanks, Ursus.

    I have something else I would like to ask but I am not sure it is appropriate to post here. IDK if you can PM me or not.

  21. I have been reading a lot of articles about Mike Blumenthal and it seems like he likes accusing people and companies and enjoys putting other companies down. I have seen articles about him in Google, YouTube and a bunch of other sites that he is a scam. Those of you that are putting comments on someone or on a company should first do some research on the blog owner and then believe on what he says. Checkout Mike Blumenthal blog scam and you will see that this guy likes putting other companies down in order to shine. Blumenthal himself is a scam and is accusing people and companies to grab attention. He is the one that is Unethical and I y advice is that before believing any blog post, first do some research about the blog owner. I am glad I did.

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