Category Archives: Reviews

NY State AG Brings Down the Hammer on Fake Reviews (Again)


The NY Times is reporting that the NY State Attorney General will be announcing a crackdown today against 19 NY based companies, both SMBs and “reputation management” firms, for posting fake reviews online.  The companies will pay fines totaling $350,000 and agree to cease to the practice. “Among those signing the agreements are a charter bus operator, a teeth-whitening service, a laser hair-removal chain and an adult entertainment club. Also signing are several reputation-enhancement firms that place fraudulent reviews on sites like Google, Yelp, Citysearch and Yahoo”.

The findings presented no big surprises; reviews are available for purchase for as little as $1 each, “reviewers” often resided in Pakistan and India and many “reputation management” programs frequently offered “bribes” of as much as $50 as incentives for reviewers.  What was surprising was the forceful assertion of the NY State attorney general Eric Schneiderman, that fake reviews are “even worse than old-fashioned false advertising. When you look at a billboard, you can tell it’s a paid advertisement — but on Yelp or Citysearch, you assume you’re reading authentic consumer opinions, making this practice even more deceiving.”

The fines levied were not insignificant although not as high as those levied in NY in 2009. A Buffalo based web marketing firm that was doing reputation management for 30 clients incurred a fine of $43,000 and a Staten Island tour bus operator received a fine of $75,000. Apparently the other firms will be highlighted in a press conference later in the today. Ironically the offending firm in Buffalo received two (yes two) do-follow links from the NY Times. Expensive links, those.

According to the NY Times the owner of the tour bus company, in response to blistering service related issues noted in on line reviews (“like buses never showing up”) personally oversaw a company effort to get fake reviews. “Mr. Telmany hired freelance writers, mandated that his employees write favorable reviews and even pitched in himself. He posted a five-star review on Yelp that began, ‘US Coachways does a great job!’”

While I am glad that NY State has stepped into the breach once again, as anyone following my blog knows this is not a new problem.  I have been reporting on it extensively since at least 2009 when NY State took its last enforcement action against a plastic surgeon. As I noted at the time:  This settlement should come as welcome news in the wild west of local marketing as it not only strikes at bogus reviews but at deceptive and misleading websites. Obviously the cases are many and State resources are few but it won’t take many cases like this to grab the attention of locksmiths, lawyers and others to force a change to their online marketing strategies.

Here are four years later and the enforcement has been worse than lax, abuses continue and while Yelp, Google, TripAdvisor and Edmunds have made some public efforts to stem the tide of fake reviews with lawsuits and review filters, it is not clear to me that they are obvious or frequent enough. Nor that the chance of getting caught carries with it enough risk to disincentivize those using the tactic.

NY State is but one of 50 states and the only one to have entered this particular batter. Obviously state resources are stretched and many have bigger problems. The NY Times reported that this enforcement action will have impact beyond NY State borders but unless there is additional enforcement both in NY and other states, the problem is likely to persist.

Update: Here is the attorney general’s press release with some additional details and names of each of the companies that have settled. Apparently the highest fine was close to $100,ooo. The above two companies had a total of $118,000. That leaves $132,000 in fines split amongst the remaining 16 companies for an average of less than $10,000 per business. It is interesting that the company that paid “just under $100,000″ was not apparently named.

Reviews And Lawsuits – Is There a Better Way?


Yelp received a lot of attention in the online world last week for suing a bankruptcy lawyer (who had previously sued them and won) for leaving fake reviews. Suing a single practitioner may have some value in terms of the publicity and alerting businesses to the risks of creating fake reviews. But given the scale of this particular fake review problem it must largely be seen as a symbolic move on Yelp’s part if not retribution.

However the recent less publicized fake review suit and settlement by Edmunds seems to be more substantial and significantly more interesting. It was brought to my attention on Twitter by Ellen Edmands, a content manager for a car dealership marketing company in New York:

According to the lawsuit Edmunds accused Texas-based Humankind Design Ltd. of “registering nearly 2,200 fake member accounts on Edmunds’ website to post positive but bogus ratings and reviews about 25 dealerships in an attempt to influence consumers’ opinions”. Edmunds in their press release noted that Humankind, as operator of Glowingreviews.com blatantly identified “15 review sites on which it is prepared to post fake reviews; the list includes Google+, Yelp, Foursquare, Citysearch and local.yahoo.com. Edmunds.com is proactively providing each of the listed sites with a copy of its filing to further support online consumers who might otherwise encounter such fraud”.

Humankind claimed that they did not post fake reviews via GlowingReviews.co, but transcribed and posted reviews left on comment cards at dealerships. In the GlowingReviews.com FAQ recovered from the Web Archive they note that “Every business plays in this grey area and this service just lets you do it much more efficiently”. Regardless, as part of the settlement it appears that GlowingReviews has been shut down.

At Blackhatworld, many bemoaned GlowingReviews downfall.  I particularly liked this comment: Continue reading

In Search of The Purchased Google Review. Yours for $1.40 ea.


Last night I went in search of the purchased Google review. I was curious what the high ranking results were for phrases like buy Google reviews and how much a review would cost.

Far and away the most compelling was from the number 1 ranked exact match domain: buygooglereviews.com. Reviews started at $2 each when buying 5 but got down to $1.40 when buying 50. You have to love their proclamation of integrity that jumps out upon arriving at the site. I suppose that the people are real… its the reviews I am worried about:

Screen Shot 2013-08-09 at 12.46.58 PM

The second ranking result was an eBay search result that offered reviews from $3.48 ea when buying a quantity 5 of them to $10 a review that included a 30 day guarantee.

The vendor providing the guaranteed results used only “professional writers genuinely based in the US, Canada and the UK”. Unfortunately they only served “Vegan and Family friendly sites only”… hmm strange set of values that. No burgers while we craft an illegal review. Well at least the cows are safe.

This eBay reseller’s total command of the English language was reassuring: Continue reading

Google Rolling Out Review Distribution Charts for G+ Page


Update 6:45 pm: Google has confirmed the review distribution is going live and will be visible across all browsers and desktop machines shortly. It also appears that only listings that show Stars are seeing the distribution graph. For the most part that results when a listing has at least five reviews. Although in rare cases a few listings with 4 reviews garner the stars and get the review distribution graph.

Mary-Kelly Gaebel of ADP Digital Marketing Solutions Group pointed out a new feature that Google seems to be testing (or perhaps rolling out): A review star distribution chart. I had noticed this feature the other day but before I could do a screen capture, it had disappeared.

It seems odd to me that they would be adding new features to the Plus review page while simultaneously making it more difficult to get to the review page…. but hey this is Google. Its all part of some grand plan, right? I actually like the presentation and it provides users with  meaningful data but if it isn’t brought to the main search page it is unlikely to be seen by many.

Although I am now seeing this in Safari for Mac but NOT Chrome or Firefox. Are you seeing it?

I would love to see the distributions of this data, in aggregate, by industry.

In related news, Google has announced that they have added Canada and Spain to the new dashboard rollout. Wonder when they will finish rolling it out in the US?

 

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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: Continue reading

How Many Reviews to Get the Star Treatment? Somewhere Between 4 and 5


Eagle eyed Phil Rozek of Local Visibility pointed out this example of a business with 4 reviews that is showing the new star treatment in the main search result for jewelry boston:

jewelry boston

I thought that  odd as previously it had seemed that 5 reviews was the limit to get the star treatment. Well it is odd. It seems that sometimes it is four reviews and sometimes it is five reviews. Go figure.

Here is a local carousel for a search (restaurants ellicottville, ny) where a listing with 4 reviews doesn’t have stars but 5 reviews does:

restaurants ellicottville ny

And another for a search for jewelry orlando which also shows no stars with four reviews and stars with five:

jewelry orlando   Google Search

There is some factor that causes Google to consider 4 enough to show the stars. What it is, is not exactly clear. Ideas?

Love-Hate Relationship? Zagat Brand Gets Increasing Visibility in 5-Star Carousel


I did not notice this before but as the new Local Carousel takes on the 5-Star treatment, it appears that the Zagat brand is taking on a higher profile or at least its Z is.

This seems odd to me given Google’s move away from the Zagat rating system and having laid off all of their temporary Zagat workers and replaced them with full-time workers from Frommers. Business Insider noted: ”The future of Zagat book production looks extremely bleak,” says a source.  ”The whole division as currently structured seems to be on death watch. Lots of chatter about outsourcing.

It all becomes weirder when you realize that they then turned around and sold Frommer’s back to its original founder. It sounds more like a soap opera than a business transaction but at least they got a lot of data.

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As David Mihm asked in this recent commentHard to say whether Zagat or Frommer’s was the bigger waste of money for Google…especially when you take into account all of the integration and dis-integration costs. I wonder if anyone on Wall Street is considering Marissa’s track record here WRT her spending spree at Yahoo?

The Zagat name and logo is mentioned at least 3 times in the brand panel as well (go figure – don’t ask me to explain Google’s thinking. $20 million here, $120 million there….is data and the Z really that valuable?):

Continue reading

Google’s 5-(orange) Stars Spreading Internationally, to Adwords & Rich Snippets


More folks are reporting the visibility of the 5-Star system on the main search results that Google has been rolling out. I am seeing them at work in Chrome on my Mac but not in Safari or Firefox and I am still not seeing them at home. There were also reports of them being seen in the Netherlands so they are obviously going global simultaneously.

I was surprised to see that the same orangey color was being applied to both rich snippet reviews AND to AdWord reviews. The orange is very visible on the Local Carousel but less so against the white background on the main search results. It would be interesting to see an eye tracking study to see if they disrupt searcher behavior as much as the yellow color does.

The 5-Stars have been permanently moved onto the G+ Page and the new Maps and are still intermittent on the desktop. They have not yet been spotted in mobile search or on the old Maps yet.

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barbara oliver reviews   Google Search

First Reports of 5-Stars Returning to the Main Search Results


Update: We now have screen shots of the 5 Star treatment in the new Local Carousel

The last bastion of Zagat has finally been breached and reports are showing up of 5 Stars returning to the main search results page in the Pack. Poster Valesence shared her sighting of the new display at the LocalSearchForum.

Google announced the return to the 5-Star system in mid-May at the I/O Conference, along with the rollout of the new Google Maps. Phil Rozek reported their return to the Google+ Pages for local last week. The stars have not yet been reported on the new Local Carousel. But they are obviously undergoing testing and while they are are not universally visible  it is only a matter of time before both the Pack and Carousel results both show 5-Stars.

Google replaced the yellow stars with the Zagat system in May, 2012 when Google rolled Places pages into Plus. It was clear from August of last year that Google was testing a return to the 5 Star system and they were never removed from local AdWords display.

Here is the screen shot of a 7-Pack with the “new” star treatment:

Screen Shot courtesy of Valesence/LocalSearchForum

 

Google Local & Review Scams – A Simple Solution


Local scams involving Google are like dipthera on dog feces, very common. Whether it’s the hundreds of companies trading off of Google’s name, fake Google plaquesselling reviews, a company implying that they are Google and offering to “help” you claim your listing or claiming to be able to rank you first because of a special direct relationship to Google, scams involving Google seem to evolve with the local opportunity de jure.

To some extent Google has impacted the review for sale issue with their review filtering technology. However for most of these scams Google can do little to prevent them and G can only respond after the fact. It must be like whack a mole for their busy legal department.

But when this scam email came across my desk, immediately upon receipt I thought“well I better go check my reviews”… It is clearly a deceit but one that readily attracts the business owner. Yet it  is one deceit that Google could and should have solved long ago.

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

The solution?

Google should implement some form active notification when a business receives a review on their claimed Google listing. Ideally this notification is one that would bring businesses back to the Dashboard and allow them to respond to the review from within the Dashboard rather than forcing them back to the G+ Page to make a response.

Google could also provide some sort of active feed of the + Page that could be used by the business and 3rd parties alike although that seems unlikely given Google’s recent trends to keep data and people on their pages.

Regardless Google could stop these sorts of scams cold, provide some solace to businesses receiving reviews AND increase SMB engagement with Google’s new dashboard. This is a simple solution that should have occurred years ago but there is no time like the present. The new, plug in ready Dashboard offers the perfect environment to make up for lost time.