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Understanding Google My Business & Local Search

An Imagined Conversation with Google about Reviews, 29Prime & Sock Puppets

29Prime is easy to spot as a deceptive local seo company that preys on unsuspecting small business folks eager to “be on the first page of Google”. Like many low-life firms of their ilk, they have a number of “aliases” (aka 29Live, 29Maps, 29SEM, 29Search, etc, etc.) they use to make tracking them a little more difficult.

Their robo calls ring into my office no less than 4 times a week with pitches like “Select one now to claim your free listing on Google”, “We are Google’s 6th largest provider of data”, “We guarantee first page placement, “We are Google Authorized to claim your listing”.

As coffee break sport, I often select 1 on the dial pad just to hear the pitch and see how befuddled I can make the salesman by asking for verification of the claims… and of course to learn that free is relative. In this case it means $399 a month.

If there is any doubt in your mind about how despicable 29Prime is you can check out some of these online resources that should quickly convince you.

* their D+ rating at Better Business Bureau and the many disputes.
* More than one independent 29Prime is a scam website or
* this article about the roving reporter in Gilbert AZ claiming to have helped a small preschool get their erroneously charged $1500 back from 29Prime.

But this article isn’t about wondering how a business like this can continue to operate in our lax regulatory/enforcement environment. It isn’t about the myth of efficiency in the markets or how SMBs could continue to be duped by them. It isn’t about how is it conceivable that a company like Google has yet to have their lawyers muzzle 29Prime’s claims to be Google or act on their behalf. Or about how a company like this could be mentioned in the SF Chronicle as a top ranked Local SEO firm.

These are all interesting stories in their own right but not the focus of this article.

This story is about comparing how Yelp and Google handle 29Prime’s star rankings and present the results to the public. This story is asking how, after 4 years in the review business,  Google gets it very  wrong and Yelp seems to get 29Prime’s review standing right.
Yelp, as you can see clearly identifies 29Prime for what it is; a company not worthy of anything but the lowest possible rating. Google on the other hand, awards them a 3.5 star rating, enough to allow an unsuspecting smb to agree to give them money.

Google has 51 reviews for them. Yelp has 106. We have no idea if Google has removed any but it is clear that Yelp has filtered out 95 of the reviews as untrustworthy. The sock puppets are clearly winning at Google but seem to have been held at bay at Yelp.

Since Google is unlikely to respond to me publicly I have fabricated a conversation with them about this issue:
Google might say: This is just an anecdote and a single case, our large, scale statistical approach gets thousands of other cases like this right.

I would respond: Google, there are plenty of similar examples of sock puppet reviews that are trivial to spot and yet you seem to not be able to identify them correctly. Even if they are a small percentage the possibility of  public harm is very real.

Google might say: We are inoculating our spam filters by allowing bogus reviews in and soon, very soon our ago will know all there is to know about bad actors and bad actions in the world of reviews.

I would say: Enough with the innoculation already. The eggregious cases of positive review spam are everywhere and time has come and passed for your review filters to be up to the task of properly sorting out this sort of behavior. If Yelp has a transparent filtering process in place, what exactly are you waiting for?

Google might say: We don’t show SEO firms on the main search results just because of this sort of abuse.

I would say: If they can buy their way to the top of the page and highlight their bogus reviews, what difference does it make? It looks legit to most searchers.

Google might say: We have other engineering priorities that come before getting our review system working properly.

I would say: Either you are in the review business or you are not. If you are, then it is time to double down in the review space and make your product worthy of your name.

Google’s current strategy for (not) filtering sock puppet reviews allows scammers and criminals to appear as honest brokers on the front page of Google.

At the end of the day this story is about how Google, in failing to properly prevent fake reviews, is effectively aiding and abetting 29Prime’s (criminal?) deceptions. Even though my story is anecdotal, this story is about how Google, in their rush to get into the review business, does not yet have their review act together fours + years on.

This isn’t just hurting Google. More importantly it is hurting the public as well.