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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: 1082

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

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Comment by Jeffrey Taylor on January 28, 2012 at 5:22am

Hi Manny,

This is a survey not a review. If a dealer is allowing a company to take this survey and use the content to create a review to post it is cheating. Don''t do it!

Don't take my word for it, here is what the FTC says,

The FTC stated: “Anyone that uses someone else to “promote their products would be wise to put in place a reasonable monitoring program to verify…that they follow the principles of truth in advertising.”

The FTC is sending a clear message to businesses…

  • It’s never been more important to be 100% authentic in your review-gathering and Online Reputation Management – the penalties can be very large.
  • Never compensate in any way a customer or an affiliate for posting positive reviews
  • If someone’s assisting you with Online Reputation Management, make sure you fully understand exactly how they are gathering the reviews, posting them and distributing them. They must to be real customers, and they have to post comments themselves.

Pretty cut and dry. Customers MUST POST THE REVIEWS THEMSELVES!

If you don’t think the FTC will catch you read this: http://www.ag.ny.gov/media_center/2009/july/july14b_09.html  A Plastic Surgery Franchise was fined $300,000 in 2009 for flooding the Internet with fake positive reviews!

Manny, this is not something I would advise you to do. Now if you are using it as a survey to isolate positive feedback and then cherry picking the good ones for a call back to ask or a review, I don't see a problem there. But, encourage the happy customer go online and write the review!

Comment by David Brondstetter on January 26, 2012 at 5:52pm

Jeff, great post. Your post highlights why we tell our clients and prospects to have a multi pronged approach to managing their online reputation via ratings and reviews. Those who stick all their eggs in one basket could wake up one morning to find them all gone through absolutely no fault of their own. 

Comment by Jeffrey Taylor on January 26, 2012 at 5:41pm

It appears Google is acting on a measured level right now across all industries. When asked in the Google Places help forum "Where did my reviews go?"

Google employee Vanessa replied, Reviews are removed from Google Maps because they exhibit spammy behavior. We can't share specifics about what signals we use, but our goal is to provide end-users with high-quality information they can trust and use that info to make informed decisions.

That was one of the reasons reviews may disappear. If you would like to read the full thread go to: http://www.google.com/support/forum/p/Places/thread?tid=7605c327fd5...

I have spoken with dozens of SEO specialists over the past couple of months and we all agree that something is going on in Google Places, but then again, something is always going on with Google Places. It is buggy, full of errors, hard to manage, and constantly changing. But, it is also an important marketing platform that drives people to our businesses.

Mike Blumenthal put up a post that pretty much illustrates how screwy Google Places is. If you are experiencing problems with your Places page the bug is probably somewhere on this list. http://blumenthals.com/blog/2012/01/24/catalog-of-current-bugs-in-g...

Mario, Review clustering is not uncommon and happens most often with franchises with locations in the same general area. It is not isolated to the Auto industry. Hopefully Google will resolve your issue and put your reviews back up, but they will not guarantee it will happen.

One thing is strange Mario. It is 1/26/12 6:30 pm here in Arizona and your last 2 GP reviews are dated 1/27/12. Check it out - http://maps.google.com/maps/place?cid=15870763438260998514

I have numerous clients that last year lost hundreds of legit reviews and never recovered them.

It happened to quite a few doctors and dentists. However, many also woke up one morning and all their reviews were back on. If you truly want your reviews back, talk to someone at Google through their help forums. Quite a few Google employees frequent those threads and you may reach the right person.

This clustering problem is still happening to quite a few businesses, so hang in there. Hopefully Google will clean it up.

Comment by Mario Murgado Jr. on January 26, 2012 at 3:49pm

Ryan, I appreciate the quick response and clarification. As you can tell, I take a lot of pride in the work we do. Google Places is by far one of the most frustrating mediums of Marketing for me. Google is constantly making tweaks and updating how Google Places pulls in information. Thanks for the previous backing!

Comment by Keith Shetterly on January 26, 2012 at 3:43pm

@ Mario:  I didn't know it by that name, but I can guarantee it happens.  I had to go back to all the online directories I could find and correct the addresses of the right stores.  I also went to the maps and made a location, created Facebook on the same addresses and websites, etc.  And this was all last year, LONG before any supposed "Google Crackdown".  The fundamental misunderstanding that most people have is that Google Places is an actual URL--it is assembled "on the fly".  Case in point happened to a dealer I was working with when an old "rogue" GP (converted from a long-ago established map place the dealer of course forgot about).  A customer somehow got to the rogue site and reviewed the business . . . and the Google Places with lots more reviews went "poof!" for a few days.  Ugh.  Keep up the good fight!  :)

Comment by Mario Murgado Jr. on January 26, 2012 at 3:34pm

Keith, For the past year I have had a lot of trouble with my Buick GMC listing which is geographically across the street from Brickell Honda. For some reason, even though I had a separate website, phone number, and address. Google would merge or "cluster" the two listings together. If you search for my Buick GMC listing, you will see it come up. In the past, when my Buick GMC listing comes up. Something almost always happens to the Brickell Honda listing. This isn't the first case of this happening. -It's a very frustrating issue

Comment by Keith Shetterly on January 26, 2012 at 3:29pm

@ Scott:  AH.  I had that problem with a dealer with multiple lines.  Ugh.  I just didn't call it that.  

Comment by Scott Falcone on January 26, 2012 at 3:22pm

Mario,

Glad to know that this "delisting" was not in fact related to the subject at hand. While there may be other reasons for it to happen, your efforts of gathering 1200 reviews "in store" or using an outside service to gather and post, was not related to the changes (I am not promoting the use of an outside service at all, and know that you do not either from our conversations). Keep up the good work and hopefully your issues surrounding the GMC store separating from the Honda store's Places Page (clustering) will resolve itself soon.

Comment by Ryan Leslie on January 26, 2012 at 3:11pm

Mario,

My sincere and very public apology to you and the community. I completely understand how my comment read and I honestly did not intend to offend or accuse you of anything. I've actually defended your store on this point in other forums. Please let me attempt to clarify.

When I said "I think it is happening already" I was referring to the delisting of places pages only. I know you are not using the service described here as the reviews on your page don't follow this pattern, I was simply trying to illustrate that Google is doing something that is affecting their review content.There are a lot of posts on the Google forums referencing this.

Again, My apologies. I will gladly delete the previous post if you would like for me to, it was worded poorly, but it was not intended to be slanderous.

Comment by Keith Shetterly on January 26, 2012 at 2:54pm

@ Mario:  What does "clustering issue" mean?  FYI your dealership location link for Google Maps the "Google Reviews" page on your main site is broken http://maps.google.com/maps/place?q=Brickell+Honda&cid=87512605...  You do however show up as a place on searching "brickell honda".  ?  And your Google Places is of course up.  All showing SERP1.  Thanks for coming on here to discuss!

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