Fake Reviews – Everyone is doing it, so it must be legal

I absolutely loved this thread at blackhatworld. The original poster asked:

Hi,

Does anybody know if it is illegal to sell fake online reviews?

I have heard about companies getting fined for posting / buying fake reviews, but can the seller actually get in trouble? If so then why does Fiverr allow you to post review gigs, I mean there is a whole section dedicated to them!

If it is illegal what I have in mind is putting in my T&C’s that all the reviews we post will be taken from other review sites for example:

If you have reviews on Amazon we will copy these and put them onto Review Centre.

Any advice would be appreciated!

A smattering of the answers that make it sound a bit more like dumbhatworld:

  • If you don’t say anything negative abut some one or some company it is probably legal. No one can punish you for good review even if it is fake
  • It’s not really illegal since there are so many people doing it..
  • Fake Review Not Problem But Need Different Different IP For Work
  • Slander is illegal so if you’re leaving negative feedback and lying in the process then yes it’s immoral and illegal. If, however, someone offers you a product in exchange for a review (much like what happens in the sales threads on here) then there’s nothing wrong with that, provided the review is honest and fair.

The answers went from dumb to dumber at least until one  poster finally posted a reasoned response based on some real (very painful) experience that I have covered previously:

I owned Glowing Reviews, which was sued by Edmunds last year for posting “fake reviews”, so I can answer with first hand info. (Just google ‘glowing reviews edmunds’)

Each country will have different laws, so I’ll answer with the US version. You need to read the FTC guidelines for testimonials(reviews) in advertising:
http://www.ftc.gov/sites/default/fil…mentguides.pdf

After consulting with attorneys, they believed that as long as a review could be tracked back to an individual it was ok. So, for example, if you collected reviews via comment card, phone call, and email and had a way to get back in touch with the customer, it would be ok to post.

At the same time, each site that allows you to post reviews (such as Amazon in your case or Edmunds in mine) has TOS that you’re supposed to follow. At every site you’ll find they require that the person posting the review is the actual person who experienced the service. So if you post on behalf of someone else, you’ll be violating the TOS.

I expected if any site ever got angry about me posting REAL reviews under my accounts, I’d get a C&D letter. I was wrong and got sued.

Someone else in this thread mentioned that it’s ok because everyone else does it. Well, good luck with that strategy. Lots of people do this, but do you always want to live wondering when you get the call from Wall Street Journal letting you know you were sued and what your comment is?

I can give more examples of legal issues causing headaches (twitter bots a couple of years ago, Yelp suing fake review posters, etc), but suffice it to say it’s probably better to find a better way to get your reviews up.

One more thing… If you incent the reviews in any way (Ie – leave a review on Amazon and you’ll get 25% off your next order), according to the FTC PDF I linked, they need to say that they are a paid endorser in their review. I’d expect to get sued less often by the FTC for “forgetting this” or doing it on a small scale, but if they decide to make an example of someone look out…

The bottom line? Fake reviews are illegal plain and simple. The rewards of fake reviews are positive. The risks on the other hand, while infrequent, are very high.

Google Local Carousel Now Visible in Japan

The (not very well liked) Local Carousel is now visible in Japan on Google.com although not yet on Google.co.jp/. Kenichi Suzuki, a popular Japanese blogger interested in local search, reports that while he is not sure when it started showing, it is now showing.

Since being rolled out last June they have only been visible in the US. While US based searchers can see the carousel on searches for local information abroad, those searching from outside the US have not seen them until now.

And despite my unique experience last week of not seeing the Local Caroisel for a short while, that has remained the case. The fact that they are rolling out to another country would imply that they are not going away any time soon. But who knows…

I asked Kenichi why it was not visible on .co.jp and noted: But it’s not rare we see certain features available only in .com, sometimes for a while. Say, Authorship program in co.jp was behind a several month later than .com.?

_Google_Search

Reviews, SMBs & Google – Still Not Clear on the Concept

the_texas_chainsaw_massacre_imageThis story is so rich in the evolving complexity of reviews; the absurdly angry SMB, the frustrated poster and so rich a tale of service gone awry. A story of how decent service can become indecent service by the sort of reflexive behavior that is so common in the service industry. To say nothing of Google still not getting their review algo right and how that impacts their image in the market place.

This comment was just posted on an old post about Google removing reviews and I wanted to highlight it. I have not verified the story but it rang true.

I’ve noticed my review was removed, and I’d really like to know why.
Continue reading

Local U & Friends Invite You to the New Local U Forums

Last week was a busy and exciting week for Local U. It has been our long term dream to provide high quality local marketing training and advise on-line. On Thursday we rolled out the Local University Forums.

The Forums will be place where marketers, digital agencies and businesses large and small can get expert answers, detailed local data not available any where else and an opportunity to collaborate with some incredible folks.

Not just the regular speakers at Local U like David Mihm, Mike Ramsey, Aaron Weiche, Mary Bowling and Ed Reese but also folks like Phil Rozek, Nyagoslav Zhekov, Darren Shaw, Andrew Shotland, Carrie Hill, Dan Austin and lots lots more. For me it is exciting because not only will I be able to help others but I stand to learn there every day.

The forums are intended to be a low noise high information environment where questions about site design, local mobile issues, algo changes and local and international local seo can be asked and answered.

At the introductory price of $99/month for the first 50 members, now is the time to join and take advantage of everything the forums have to offer at the lowest possible rate. After the first few days we are well on our way to that goal. The first month is only $49 so you can try it.

For more details you read our announcement here and sign up here.

What’s Old is New Again – Spam in the Google Local Results

Yesterday I reported on hijackings in local.  Since August there have been significant quality issues. But the spam… its like 2008 all over again for Google local.

I hate looking at spam. It makes me feel dirty. But since Hummingbird that seems to be all that I see these days in local.

Lots and lots of those ugly spammy one boxes are obviously prevalent but things seem to not have stopped there.

The other day I was exploring the legal vertical in Los Angeles and fully 70% of the listing either had spammy business names or were at virtual offices. WTF?

But this search result from Dave Minchala took the cake:

BeMgwmTCYAAVjx9.png-large

Google Bulk Upload: Verified Listings Or Just Another Data Feed?

Does a Google Bulk upload create a verified listing or is it in reality just another data feed? Unfortunately it is the latter.

Danny Sullivan and Greg Sterling have been covering the recent multi listing hijacking of hotel pages at Google. The hijackers essentially were able to take control of numerous hotel listings and insert an affiliate booking site URL.

Here was part of my comment to Greg about how this might have occurred:

My working theory is that these listings were either unclaimed or possibly claimed via the bulk upload. Bulk upload is viewed by Google as more of a data feed than a listing verification method and it does not lock out [additional] local claimants. Thus the listings were “eligible” to be double claimed. And claimed into the new G+ Local environment. In theory that requires verification either by post or a call and  exactly how this many listings were in fact verified with the new domain is unclear.

In the old Places Dashboard and the previous/current Bulk upload any data that Google received was just that. The data might have given it some preference if it was current but it received very little special treatment over any other data that Google had. If they trusted other data more than they yours that is what would show. Or rather if the algo trusted other data more than yours that was what would show.

Also “claiming” into either environment conferred no special rights to editing that data. Continue reading

Google and Apple Consolidate Positions in Driving Directions During 2013

The driving directions market, while more fragmented than search or social, is continuing to see consolidation. Google maintained their leading share and Apple gained share while the GPS and other web providers are seeing steady and large declines in usage.

Over the past year, I have continued to survey consumers as to their preferred choice in driving direction platform. Surveys of roughly 3500 individuals were conducted in February, July and October  of this year. The surveys were done via Google Survey and the results are representative of the adult US Internet population with a margin of error of ~+ /- 2%.

The survey takers were asked: What product or service do you normally use to get driving directions?

Apple saw a nearly 3% increase in share starting the year at 16.4% and ending it at just over 19.3%. Mapquest/Bing/Yahoo lost 5.6% and GPS lost 3.6% of share. An increase in “other” (not included in the first survey) made up the offsetting gains.

Usage-chart
What product or service do you normally use to get driving directions?

Driving directions seem to be a tool that once adopted are unlikely to change in older populations. That was born out with most users over 35 particularly in the older age cohorts. Google and Apple showed strong gains in the 18-24 year old group. Google however has small losses to Apple in most other age cohorts with Apple showing strong gains in the 25-34 year old group as well. GPS and Mapquest/Bing/Yahoo each lost over half of their share in the 18-24 year old group with GPS losing significant share in the 24-35 cohort as well..

Driving Direction Usage changes amongst 18-24 yr. olds
Driving Direction Usage changes amongst 18-24 yr. olds
Driving Direction Usage changes amongst 18-24 yr. olds
Driving Direction Usage changes amongst 25-34 yr. olds

Clearly the numbers reflect the rapid movement to mobile for this activity and away from the desktop and dedicated devices for the task. This is particularly true in the critical younger demographics where a long term behaviors are just being established.

The gains in consumer usage made across the board by Apple, while coming mostly at the expense of GPS and non Google desktop incumbents, reinforces that fact that their Map fiasco is behind them. Whether it was true or not at the time of introduction, apparently large numbers of iPhone and iPad users are finding Apple Maps adequate for the task.

The driving direction market remains fragmented and if you look at the numbers from the point of view of the primary map data suppliers it remains competitive with Google and NavTeq (most GPS , Mapquest, Yahoo) each holding about 30%. TeleAtlas, which appeared to be a lost cause a little over a year ago has moved into a strong third. Navteq, not having a strong consumer facing product showing growth, could be at risk going forward.

The consumer side appears to be moving fairly rapidly towards a bipolar world of Google and Apple. Unless there is a new portable category or some unforeseen event occurs in the mobile space this trend is likely to continue.

It will be interesting to see how the holiday purchases, which are likely to have favored Google and Apple, will further impact shares.

Google Local Carousels MIA – Are they gone for good?

Are Local Carousels on their way out? They are gone today in my browsers. (Note others are not seeing any reduction in carousels).

Which raises another question: Is this part of a larger plan to clean up the look of search results page in general and local search in particular?

Several weeks ago rumors started circulating that the Local Carousels were on their way out and would no longer be displayed for local search results. Today, on my machine, the Local Carousel is gone when searching for hotels and restaurants on all of my browsers whether logged in or incognito.

While this could be a test it could also portend a rollout of results in which local carousels are no longer displayed in local search results.

Screen Shot 2014-01-11 at 1.54.19 PM

 

The Local Carousel rolled out broadly in the US (only) in mid June. There were many studies of how they impacted user behaviors and dominated the screen real estate. At the time we had found over three hundred search phrases that showed the carousel in local results.

In my tests today of a range of those different search results that had returned carousels, none were visible on searches as varied as  Fishing CharterGrocery storesCampground RochesterMusic lessons chicago & Kids Entertainment Buffalo.

The carousel is still visible for Knowledge Graph things like museums and theme parks but is not showing for any Places results that I could identify on the desktop. I am not sure about tablet searches.  

When I was asked my opinion several weeks of whether it was likely that they would be going away permanently, I responded  that it was consistent with the fact that it had never been rolled out world wide. Google does thing at the end of the day for the whole world.

A number of other recent developments have taken place that have, in affect, reduced the visual artifacts that have accumulated on the search results page in local.

In late October Google stopped showing blended results which often included author photos and a mishmash of business names and title tags. In roughly the same timeframe Matt Cutts announced an upcoming  15% reduction in the amount of rich snippets and authorship displayed in search results. In mid-December there weremanyreports of the reduction of author photos.  Not as widely reported but noticed on may testimonials pages was the cut back of rich snippet stars as well.

If this change is more than a test (others are not seeing the results I am), all of these changes would be consistent with visual clutter reduction.

As Andrew Shotland pointed out, this decrease in visual business would also be consistent  making Ads more visible and more likely to be clicked.

Here are some more screen shots from this afternoon of searches that yesterday were showing the Local Carousel:

Screen Shot 2014-01-11 at 2.20.06 PM

Screen Shot 2014-01-11 at 2.20.58 PM

 

The Best Advanced Local Search Conference EVER

Featured Keynote by Wil ReynoldsOk. So I am a little biased.

But that being said, last year’s spring Local  U Advanced was one of the most educational and fun events that I have ever participated in and we are bringing it back east. There was more of everything that I love about our industry: more great local content, more great local speakers, more great sharing than I had ever experienced. It was collegial AND educational. And plenty of great food and refreshments.

This year the content is all new & we have TWO great keynotes. David Mihm, Aaron Weiche, Ed Reese, Mary Bowling, Will Scott (sans rant), Mike Ramsey and myself will all be there. And  the great networking and mixers will continue to be incredible as well.

What:

LocalU Advanced: Philadelphia. Wil Reynolds of SEER Interactive and Joel Headley of Google have agreed to keynote the event. Wil’s advice on Real Company Sh*t for Local Companies promises to be incredible and you will gain new insights into how Google local really works from Joel. If his talk in NYC last fall in any indication, you will learn about the whys and wherefores of Google local at a whole new level of understanding

When:

March 7 evening and March 8th all day

Where:

Valley Forge DoubleTree by Hilton just outside of Philadelphia. We are offering a special group rate (Group name: MidAtlantic InnKeepers) of $129 for your hotel stay.

Check out the full agenda on our EventBrite page, and save $100 of the $899 with our EARLYBIRD discount code!

OK. I may be biased but I even after I strip out my self serving pride, I think its going to be a great event. Hope to see you there.

Mining for Google Hummingbird Guano in So Cal

guano-miningGoogle’s Hummingbird guano, like real guano, is fertile ground. Unfortunately, in the case of Google’s guano, it is fertile ground for spammers and spam and nothing as productive as farm crops.

Southern California has always been a hot bed of Google local spam particularly in the legal industry. Yesterday I was exploring search results for listings in the criminal defense and DUI area. For the 2 terms in 6 towns I found 3 spammy Hummingbird One Box results. That is a 25% #fail rate. Much higher than I had previously seen and an indicator that this problem deserves Google’s attention. I was going to add the adjective “immediate” to the word attention but since this problem has persisted for 4.5 months already and has been reported on a regular basis, immediate seems, when associated with the words “Google Hummingbird quality in local”, like an oxymoron.

Given the industry and the search phrases these are incredibly high value search phrases. The listings were total crap and yet Google continues to deliver these results which enrich spammers and deny others a place on the page.

I dutifully reported these to Google so your results may vary on the searches today. Taking these results down one by one though hardly seems a solution to a problem that exists at world wide scale.

Here are the searches that returned the Hummingbird guano:

DUI Lawyer Los Angeles

DUI-Attorneys-Los-Angeles

To see more examples: Continue reading

Developing Knowledge about Local Search