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Are You Buying Bogus Google Reviews from a Black Hat Reputation Management Company?


Unless you just landed on earth, you have probably heard of reputation management and the importance of monitoring what people are saying online about your business.

Last July (2011) when Google made their customer reviews the only listed reviews on the highly visible "Google Places" results it became more important then ever to encourage people to leave positive reviews on their Google accounts about their experience at your dealership.

As a Local SEO specialist, I spend a lot of time monitoring reviews on Google Places and today while doing a little searching before the Giants - Packers game, I began to unravel a rather ugly situation.


My Research Shows Some Car Dealers are going to extreme and risky lengths to get higher Google Places rankings!


It is no secret that with the rise of importance in getting positive reviews and the handling of negative ones, a cottage industry known as Reputation Management has sprung up.

Unfortunately, some of these companies are using Black Hat techniques and putting Dealerships that hire them at risk of getting a major Google slap and a possible call from the FTC.


Here is an example of posting fake reviews using Black Hat Reputation Management:

buying-fake-google-reviews

The fake Google profile above bought 4 different cars and got one serviced all on the same day. There were several other dealer reviews on this fake profile that I cut off the page so I could save this as an image.


More Than Just a Few Car Dealers Buying Fake Google Reviews!

I started digging deeper and found a huge spider web of fake reviews for this particular group of dealers and they were all coming from the same profiles.

These reviews were even using specific dealership rep names to give credibility. Now, I don't know if the GMs or owners of these dealerships are aware that not only is this against Google policy, it is also illegal!

Here's how it works... First of all, they find dealers with multiple bad reviews on their Google Places page. They then contact you and tell you they can bury your bad reviews, or tell you that having numerous positive reviews will help move you up in Google Places above your competition.

Sounds great, because a higher ranking in Google Places, means more traffic. They may even tell you that it is perfectly legit what they are doing.They may tell you it is within Google's rules and show you other dealers currently using these techniques.

Shame on them for lying to you. Shame on them for putting your dealership in jeopardy of getting banned from Google or worse yet, a call from the FTC.


Trying to game Google is not new. It has gone on for 13 years!


As a 16 year SEO specialist, I know that if I use black hat techniques I am putting my clients in jeopardy and my livelihood in jeopardy. It is short term thinking and it is wrong. The fact is, these black hat Google review companies know it is wrong, but are out to make a quick buck at your expense. Once Google slaps them (and you) they will be gone and you will be left trying to fix your Google ranking.


Is Your Dealership currently buying Fake Google Reviews?


If your dealership is using one of these fake Google review companies, talk to your GM or owner asap. The boost you may receive from more reviews may look great today, but Google will figure it out and when they do, they will slap you hard!

How To Check Your Google Places Page For Fake Reviews

First of all, it is not hard to spot these phony reviews. Do a local keyword search and look for dealerships with lots of reviews and 4-5 star ratings. Start clicking on each reviewers profile link and you will see a pattern of reviews that are not normal. Start going down the line of reviewers and you will see the same local businesses getting reviews from the same fake profiles. Coincidence? Absolutely not!

Car Dealers buying fake Google reviews is not an isolated event!


I found dozens of car dealers as well as other businesses doing this in the short time I did some searches. Google is not stupid and they hate cheaters. If I can spot this pattern, I am sure they already have and are taking steps to clean it up. If you are one of the Dealerships caught, you will wake up one morning and find your listing on page 30 or even worse, banned from Google entirely.

Google Doesn't Care How Big You Are!

Don't think that because you spend tens of thousands of dollars a month on Adwords, Google will give you a pass. You see, Google doesn't care who you are or how much you spend. They will slap you without warning.

According to the FTC leaving a Fake Review online is Illegal


Since 2009, the FTC has said that leaving fake reviews is illegal. Businesses (many overseas) have sprung up offering Google Places reviews by “real” Google users, and knowing Google's history of spotting cheaters, they will spot them very soon, as those that sell their reviews abuse their accounts.

Google is also starting to more closely monitor who is creating Google profiles and soon these companies will find it harder to create hundreds of fake profiles with the sole purpose of building fake reviews.


You will start to see Google accounts either getting shut down, or even worse, the businesses that received the reviews may actually be penalized through guilt by association.

What should you do?


Unfortunately, many people will only leave a review when they are upset about something. Most people that are happy with their experience will not go out of their way to leave a review because they expect good service. The reason your profile has bad reviews is because you are not actively pursuing positive ones. There is nothing wrong with having a few bad reviews mixed with good ones. As long as it looks natural.

If a potential buyer sees a steady flow of fake reviews and it is obvious, you will lose all credibility and will never sell them on anything.

Ask for reviews and you shall receive!


There’s nothing wrong with asking your customers to leave you a review, but ask them to leave you one somewhere that they already have an account, not just Google.

Sure you want Google places reviews, but you only want them from Google users that will continue to leave reviews at multiple businesses in the future. Google sees these people as legitimate Google users because there is a natural flow to their behavior.

If you have a computer or kiosk in your dealership open to your Google places page, and someone says “I don’t have a Google profile... I have Yelp account” don’t ask them to open a new Google account that they’re never going to use. Simply accept their review at Yelp.

Even though Google has stopped showing reviews from the other review services, they are still indexing and factoring them in for rankings.

If you email your customers asking them for a review, don’t just send them a link to your Google places page. Send them a variety of links to the various places you have a listing and give them choices.

Bottom line... do not fall for these fast talking scam artists promoting Black Hat and illegal techniques. It will come back to hurt you. If you are at a dealership and suspect that the Internet manager is using one of these services, talk to your GM asap. Chances are the GM or owner is unaware of these shady techniques.

In less than 2 hours or searching I found over 25 dealers using these Black Hat services. This is bad for the dealers and bad for the industry. It is only a matter of time before Google makes a major algorithm change and suddenly many businesses will be scrambling wondering why traffic to their site and business has dropped like a rock!


What Do You Think About Buying Fake Google reviews?


I would love to hear from anyone that is currently using one of these fake review companies and tell me why it is a good long term business decision.

Better yet, if there is a reader that is selling this service, please enlighten me as to how it is legal and within Google's rules. (won't hold my breath waiting).

If you are one of the many Dealers using legitimate Reputation Management companies how does it affect you? Are you considering turning them in to Google?


In closing, as we move into the next generation of Google search we need to make sure that what we do is above board and within Google's guidelines.

Buying fake Google reviews from a black hat reputation management company is not a good way to kick off 2012!

Views: 1259

Tags: black, bogus, buying, fake, google, hat, management, reputation, reviews

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Comment by Mario Murgado Jr. on January 26, 2012 at 2:43pm

Ryan, I'm assuming that you are referring to my dealership Brickell Honda. I also get the impression that you are accusing me and my company of fake reviews. 

 

Let me set this straight: This is a “clustering issue” and nothing more. I have nothing to hide or worry about when it comes to my Google Reviews. 

Comment by Keith Shetterly on January 26, 2012 at 1:47pm

Google announced some changes were coming this quarter.  It will be interesting to see how that shakes out.

Comment by Ryan Leslie on January 26, 2012 at 1:28pm

I think it is happening already Tom. There was a large Honda store in Miami with 1200+ Google Reviews...they currently have 7.

Comment by Tom Gorham on January 26, 2012 at 12:56pm

Ryan,  you and I both know that the crackdown by Google is inevitable.  The only question is how and how hard Google will crack down.  Delisting dealers is a very real possibility...

Comment by Ryan Leslie on January 26, 2012 at 12:33pm

Jeffrey,

Are you seeing Place Pages delisted? I've been trying to get a dealer to stop using one of these companies since July and noticed yesterday that their Place Page has vanished. I can't find it!

I know that there are plenty of other factors that could cause this, but I also know that the company they were using is a flagrant abuser of the TOS.

I can't say why, but I have reason to believe that the crackdown on this kind of content is beginning...

Comment by Jeffrey Taylor on January 20, 2012 at 10:49am

Good job, John. Hopefully more dealers will take a look at what is going on with their reviews and how it could get them in trouble. Google is not letting these fake reviews happen out of greed. I will bet they are working endlessly to stop it. Google does not want the word on the Net to be that you can't trust their reviews. Credibility and Ego won't allow it. Besides Google does not prosper from business reviews.

Jay, Google will slap you regardless of who you are. Ask JC Penny among others. The advantage big businesses have over smaller business is the ability to outspend them, bid higher on adwords and hire teams of SEO specialists. If they break the rules they will get slapped.

Regarding their greed for adsense money , just yesterday Matt Cutts announced a major algorithm change that will penalize web pages that stuff ads above the fold and show little content. http://searchenginewatch.com/article/2140407/Googles-New-Page-Layou...

As a content marketer, the owner of over 2,600 domain names and a large recipient of adsense revenue, you bet i am paying attention. As much as i do not care for Google or some of their practices, the fact is.. if they provide a bad end user experience people will stop using them. Google has been receiving complaints about low content ad stuffed results and are taking action.

Google is a for profit company and is accountable to stockholders. However, they are not going to lose their core business by allowing their search results become useless. Google is always cleaning up garbage because the internet is riddled with scam artists and people trying to make money gaming Google.

These fake review companies will get slapped and when they do, the owners will look for the next Google weakness. Unfortunately, many small businesses will be innocent victims left to clean up the mess.

It was reported months ago that Google is taking a closer look at web pages above the fold and website owners that are paying attention should be looking at providing quality content as well as display ads that will monetize their website.

There is nothing wrong with making money on your website using adsense and affiliate ads as long as you create good content that people will enjoy reading or find useful.

In my 14 years of monitoring Google, 2011 was one of their most active years regarding algorithm changes that cost many big players millions of dollars and even closed some businesses down. It looks like 2012 will be no different.


I believe Google is fearful of the power of social media and websites like Facebook getting so much online time from users. For the first time ever, Google feels vulnerable and is taking huge steps to ensure that the user search experience is still the best on the web.


What will get Google in trouble in the next few years will be more in line with these new personal searches and what they do with collected information from users. Their ability to track everything you do and in many cases where you are or going gives some people the creeps. If you own a Droid, Google knows where you are right now! (They own Droid!)

Comment by John H. Isaac on January 20, 2012 at 9:33am

We have uncovered 3 major vendors who are responsible for most of the fake reviews that are posted on our site MyDealerReport.com. It would help if review sites would actually share information about offenders, but greed to dominate has prevented this from happen. Unfortunately dealers get punished with a flagged reviews. But this also shows how many dealers are not monitoring their reviews themselves. Our site is completely free to manage and monitor reviews therefore if they have a 3rd party vendor helping with reputation management they should at use these free tools to monitor for themselves. 

Comment by Jay Granofsky on January 20, 2012 at 7:16am

So, your point, "Google doesn't care how big you are" is 100% correct.

While I do a agree that no business or brand is completely untouchable.  Big brands do have a lot more leeway than smaller.  There are entire industries where it is normal to spend $10,000-$50,000 a month on paid links - but all the competitors are doing it.  So what can Google really do?  Ban all the big brands?  Then their search results will not satisfy the end user.  Because of this conundrum big brands are insulated and can get away with a ton more gray-hat stuff.  Yes, once in a while Google will make a show of penalizing a big brand for a few days, but in the big scheme of things it is the big brands that are spending big money in many gray and black areas of optimization.

Comment by Jay Granofsky on January 20, 2012 at 7:08am

they are making a business decision to turn a blind eye to the fact that their failure to enforce their own TOS

They have done this often, MFA (made for adsense) websites have been a huge source of income for Google for the past 7 years and they turn a blind eye because they earn a boat-load of money from them. To be fair they did a bit of house-cleaning because of external pressure back in 2009 - http://www.torontoseofirm.com/made-for-adsense-sites-hit/

FYI, definition of a MFA website is a website that is built solely for the purpose of garnering adsense clicks.  They are low quality websites built on free platforms, with free templates and they utilize high paying keywords.  They appear to be information sites but offer thin information on purpose to encourages clicks on the relevant ads to find real information.

Google is a successful company that has achieved some amazing things but they have turned into an insatiable cash-cow driven by stock-holders that expect monster return that never end.  This is going to get them in major trouble over the next few years with governments across the world.

Comment by Gwen Spadie on January 19, 2012 at 5:13am

My dealership was the victim of one such dealership; not only were they creating their own good reviews, they were slamming all their competition. Thankfully it was easy to get them to stop and take down their reviews, but suffice it to say I was shocked to learn of such tawdry behavior.

Thank you so much for exposing this practice, I can only hope it leads to more ethical aquirement of google reviews.

-Gwen

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