Review Spam – Which Google Categories Are Worst?


Which categories of businesses on Google are most likely to buy reviews? You will find many of the usual suspects and a few surprises as well.

I have been exploring review spam networks, review spammers (aka spewers) and the businesses that buy these fake reviews.  In April I wrote about a particular review spam network that seemed very pervasive and reported it to Google.

Google took down the spewers that I reported directly but left the network intact.  I have continued exploring it (although with better tools).

I analyzed 634 active spewers that had left 3 or more reviews each. Together these review spammers reviewed a total of 5048 businesses across 4 continents.

Here are the 25 specific Google categories with the highest amount of review spam:

Primary Category

1

Mover

2

Dentist

3

HVAC Contractor

4

Internet Marketing Service

5

Pest Control Service

6

Insurance Agency

7

Taxi Service

8

Carpet Cleaning Service

9

Roofing Contractor

10

Garage Door Supplier

11

Moving and Storage Service

12

Plumber

13

Website Designer

14

Used Car Dealer

15

Dental Clinic

16

Water Damage Restoration Service

17

Limousine Service

18

Window Supplier

19

Locksmith

20

Real Estate Agency

21

Property Management Company

22

Personal Injury Attorney

23

House Cleaning Service

24

Chiropractor

25

Lawn Care Service

Movers, garage door openers & numerous home care services dominate the list. But there are a number of professionals including PI Lawyers, Insurance Agents, Real Estate and Dentists. I suppose it is no surprise to find Website Designers.

If you go through the complete list (available here) and aggregate dental and legal categories you will see that they are both in the top 5 although neither can hold a candle to the Moving industry.

As David Mihm noted, when looking at these categories, they primarily occur in service related industries where review acquisition is not a “natural occurrence”. And that applies regardless of whether they are blue or white collar industries.

You do find a few restaurants and used car dealers but those are the exceptions that prove the rule. Although I suspect in both cases, the reason for buying reviews has more to do with covering up an already bad reputation.

The visibility of lawyers, dentists, chiropractors and insurance agencies, unreported as culprits in Google’s local spam study, validates my previous claim that Google is in many ways currently looking the other way when it comes to abuses by these professions.

What should you do if you are playing in these categories and want to play by the rules?

Run a great business and don’t forget to ask for reviews.

Please consider leaving a comment as your input will help me (& everyone else) better understand and learn about local.
Review Spam - Which Google Categories Are Worst? by

16 thoughts on “Review Spam – Which Google Categories Are Worst?”

  1. I am shocked that phone repair and restaurants didn’t make the top 25. I also thought Locksmiths and lawyers would have been higher up on the list. The question remains, what is Google going to do about?

    1. @Jason
      I think that this particular network is centered in the moving industry and perhaps started there. But has moved out from the center. It is possible that the sample, given that it is of a single review network, reflects the resellers of the spam reviews ( the agencies) as much as it does the industry.

  2. “spewers”! Ha ha ha! Yeah, it’s amazing how bad it’s gotten. We report fake reviews for our clients and sometimes it takes awhile before they are removed. And really the only thing you can do is to overshadow the false reviews by outnumbering them with genuine reviews.

    1. @Danielle If I can find them, Google should be able to find and stop them without us having to continually watch and report… I feel like the little Dutch Boy who stuck his finger in the dam.

    1. @Joy I was surprised to see dentists and even more so to see insurance agents.

      I think that the only reason PI Lawyers is down the list is that there are relatively few of them.:) If you added up lawyers from lower in the list, they (and dentists) both move up the list.

      That being said, the movers far outdistance the nearest competitors. My intuition is that this “ring” started with them. Back in 2011 I wrote about review spam that I learned about because the reviewers were using negative reviews to blackmail moving companies so that they would hire them for “reputation management”.

  3. Interesting and I guess it makes sense. I think you’re right about covering up bad reviews and LOL about web designers who are probably doing for the SEO. It is really sad that people do this. We are about to do some ground work here, but with real customers. It takes time for sure. But, hopefully slow and steady wins the race.

    1. Slow and steady does win the race with consumers, the law, Google and karmacly. But the reality is that a well design review program can take 3 years to 5 years to really pay off.

  4. Love the term “spewers” that you just coined! Going to add it to our internal review spam hunting docs.

    1. @Michael
      Well there are several kinds of spam reviews and spam reviewers…. the most obvious distinction is the difference between a single spammy review for revenge vs a serial spam reviewer for hire…. and then there are the spam review networks that have been scaled out either with humans or a bot.

      The network I am exploring is a scaled out one that appears to be human driven… the one I wrote about this weekend appears to be be bot driven.

      For single reviews that violate TOS, you can flag them via the review flag icon.

      For networks it is necessary to document the urls of the reviewers and why they are spammy and post in the Google My Business Forum

  5. Thanks for your insight. It appears that Google is treating this as a minor problem (small data, not in the big data category). I advise my clients to respond right away to negative reviews; bad reviews seem to bring out the trolls, who are emboldened to leave more bad reviews. Clearly, we can’t rely on a search engine to police them.

    1. @Janet
      Google has indeed shuffled review oversight to the deep dark corners. Their algo is unsophisticated and currently not up to the task. One can only hope that they will apply some of their many resources to the problem

  6. It appears that google simply doesn’t care about this. At All. They have other fish to fry. Haven’t gone back to check closely but I believe their Policies on Reviews are against political attacks, as are the policies in Yelp. It appears to me Yelp has been far more vigilant in removing obvious political reviews than Google.
    But then I don’t check every such incident that closely in either review forum. But while their policies are against political reviews they simply don’t enforce it rigorously. Its been a minor issue.

    Here is an existing review sitting on the Comet Ping Pong review corpus: Comet Ping Pong is the DC pizzeria is the place that got caught up in a crazy politicized story during this last election. A story without any evidence: Its a crazy review…still sitting on google…..

    the reference to the basement (I bolded it) is the part that was endlessly repeated in political attacks

    Comet Ping Pong
    5037 Connecticut Ave NW, Washington, DC 20008 –
    ★★★★★ 5 months ago
    The food was average but our waiter was gone for what seemed like an eternity, as well as the 2 other waiters I saw. So we got no refills, and choked and scarfed down our food, it was like torture, just sitting there with no help. I was wanting ranch for my bland pizza but no one was there to help me. When they came back from the basement, about 45 minutes later, they were drenched in sweat, which is totally unsanitary. They seemed disinterested in helping us or any of the other tables. PLUS they didn’t even notice we had finished our food ages before their return. We just left money on the table. No tip. Would recommend any other pizza place. This place is just plain weird.

    The Comet Ping Pong corpus of reviews includes many that are similarly politicized both pro and con.

    Regardless of a set of rules and parameters that have been in place for several years Google simply doesn’t enforce them.

    Want to trash or embellish a business? It appears to me its okay by Google

  7. I am a chiropractor and it does not surprise me to see us there. The world of reviews is popular due to marketing companies more often then the profession. At least that is what I see. I have never used a company as I have always thought it was a waste of money and they have created this competition. When a patient tells my staff how well they are doing, we ask them to spread the word to their friends. It is hard to compete against the company marketers.
    My reason for looking on here is because we got a review from a fake person. They have never been a patient by the name they post and them, state about several other people we reportedly hurt. We have a great reputation and it is clear this is malicious in its intent and based on made up stories. How is that fair.

    1. Ian

      Word of mouth is switching online amongst younger clientele. The reason that you want to mention that they “can tell their friends or write a review” is to make the pain of the one a review less.

      Do you think it was a competitor or was perhaps from a company “selling reputation services”?

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