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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:


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: 1278

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


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Comment by David Brondstetter on January 18, 2012 at 11:52am

Keith, no worries. We are defending the same castle for sure! For my part, I will make sure to pass the message on to our clients and to my OE contacts as well who have a much deeper audience. I would agree that in most situations, the DP and GM likely are not aware that this is happening and in some situations no one at the dealerships knows their vendor is gaming the system. Certainly can't over communicate the message to business owners and managers. 

Comment by Keith Shetterly on January 18, 2012 at 11:49am

@ Ryan:  You know, I do recommend DealerRater when I think it fits.  I just don't like the previous advertising practices of the company.  I'm hoping some of that positively continues to improve vs. my (somewhat) well-known complaint; I hear it is.

No worries between us.  Just want folks to know I'm not spouting stuff inaccurately on purpose; I really just want dealers to understand their options and not get spooked away from some valuable options.  You know, I had somebody email me and ask how to game you guys.  I won't do that.  You have your fair shot at business.  And dealers are ONLY HURT BY FALSE REVIEWS OF ANY KIND.  I do thank you for the attempts you make to help that in the right direction.

No worries.

Comment by Keith Shetterly on January 18, 2012 at 11:44am

Per Matthew's point on reporting, I believe false reviews on ANY platform can be reported, not just Google's.  I'd like to see these "review gaming" companies' operations ceased somehow, though I'd rather the dealers get educated and not fined One More Time because they were sold something they didn't comprehend.  That will happen, unfortunately, at some point.

Comment by Ryan Leslie on January 18, 2012 at 11:38am


Time out. I'm NOT calling you a liar. I simply meant that the further we get from the hearings the less people seem to remember the cause and effect relationship of those hearings. None of what we currently see happened in a vacuum and the cause is always pertinent.

I want be abundantly clear about something. I have never posted anything that I intended as a personal attack, this post included. If you took something I wrote personally I sincerely apologize. Please believe that was not my intention. You and I disagree very strongly about a few things, but I don't think any less of you for it. I really do enjoy kicking these discussion points around with you and feel like the community benefits from the discussion when it is focused on the topic and done in a respectful way. I reread my comment and honestly don't know what upset you, but if something I wrote came off as an attack, I apologize to you and the community.

Comment by Keith Shetterly on January 18, 2012 at 11:36am

@ David:  Sorry, I was just clarifying as in "I ALSO don't support fake reviews" as you don't.  Oops!  Meant it positively.  

Google's algorithm is, arguably, a business "decision" to change.  Google is between a rock and a hard place in some of their decisions on reviews.  I suspect, having seen a discussion involving Matt Cutts before on validation, that the issue is HOW to validate that doesn't exclude real content.

I think anyone putting all their eggs into Google's review strategy for their reputation is not smart, and I'm sure you agree.  DealerRater, etc. have their place for a lot of dealers, though they can also be gamed.


Comment by David Brondstetter on January 18, 2012 at 11:32am

Keith: First, I wasn't suggesting you were supporting fake reviews. To the contrary, I've read you post and it is obvious, like the rest of us, you do not. My apologies if something in my post gave you that message. I don't understand your reference to "link farming"? I never mentioned link farming in my post. I mentioned 'content farming" which is not quite the same. That is why I mentioned both Demand Media and the Panda update. Give it a google and you can read up on it. 

I agree that "algorithm change" has become a ubiquitous phrase for anything that impacts search, but it should be noted that it has for a reason. I could think of numerous ways for Google to easily adjust their algorithm to punish suspected cheaters. As Jeffrey pointed out, if we can figure it out, don't you think Google can. It is not a matter of if, just a matter of when and how. Eventually, google will catch up with fake reviews and my guess is that they won't be sending businesses a friendly email saying "please stop doing that"!

Comment by Keith Shetterly on January 18, 2012 at 11:18am

@ Jeffrey:  Google+ is a right step, but it is no more a fix than being a "consistent yelper".  Until somebody puts a DL requirement on an ID, any system can be gamed.  Google created a problem that needs a business fix.  GP is a very shakey platform, and removing that platform in favor of another would be a way to "reset" all reviews--which is I think the most likely scenario that lets them move to some verification.  Thanks!

Comment by Keith Shetterly on January 18, 2012 at 11:14am

Ryan:  "Revisionist history" is a fancy way to call me a liar--which is odd because you didn't even point out one thing I was inaccurate on.  I'm going to answer you in detail when I am less concerned with my natural emotional reaction to that.  I will say right now that I'm sick and tired of vendors with $ skin in this, or any other, game vending pronouncements that serve their profit.  In the interest of disclosure, I have absolutely NO MONEY DOG IN THIS HUNT.  You do.  Call me a liar about THAT.

Comment by Matthew O'Such on January 18, 2012 at 11:08am

...and here are the official FTC rules on advertisements, blogging, celebrity endorsements:

And finally, if you do need to report false reviews, you can go here:

Comment by Jeffrey Taylor on January 18, 2012 at 11:06am

@ Keith: You are right Google cannot fix this mess they got into with a simple algorithm change. They tried it last year and thousands of legitimate reviews started disappearing. Google claimed it was a GP problem but we speculate they were trying to tweak the reviews. ( i guess we will never know)

Demand Force is another huge lead monitoring service and have a good system. Google has indeed opened a can of worms. The longer this goes on unabated the harder it will be to undo.

Remember, Google Places is in its infancy still, and Google has made mistakes since day one. They do fix them and when they do it can result innocent website owners losing ranking because the company they hired was using black hat techniques.

I restate from an earlier comment that Google will probably move to a Google+ review system with tighter account verification. Just like they did on the business listing verification process to try and stop the massive business listing hijackings and address cheaters.

Over the past several years the Google Places rules have changed to ward off cheaters. It seems that the prevailing attitude among many is, if it is working today it will always work. WRONG, it will work until Google finds a way to stop it. For months in 2010, i was warning local businesses to stop stuffing their business titles and categories with keywords. The ones that ignored me got slapped.

Google employs thousands of engineers and sooner or later they will figure out something. We can be sure that when they do, it may not go over smoothly in the business community.

Keith, it mind boggling that the minds at Google couldn't see this coming. A free for all review system with no accountability. OOPs, somebody dropped the ball!

Let's all agree on one thing. There is a problem with Google's review system and Google will eventually do something about it.

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