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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: 1083

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

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Comment by Scott Falcone on January 30, 2012 at 9:51am

Mario,

That's awesome...better to have two accts than none! And all of your reviews came back too which is the most important thing of all. Google doesn't hate Brickell after all :). Keep up the good work and keep us posted ok.

Comment by Mario Murgado Jr. on January 30, 2012 at 9:28am

Thanks Scott, My place page is back to normal. Google decided to create a duplicate listing. So now I have to look into this issue. http://screencast.com/t/KnGcmIcxEf

Comment by Ralph Paglia on January 29, 2012 at 5:14pm

Review Boost statement of services:

  • Gather

    In 2007 Review Boost began helping businesses around the world manage their Internet presence with our unique reputation management services. The process begins by actively gathering information from existing customers and if they are an existing Google user having them directly share their experience on the business's Google place page. We also have many other solutions we can implement to gather reviews including email, phone, text, comment cards, and videos.

  • Promote

    Promotion is the process in which we distribute and syndicate the information collected from the gathering process throughout the internet. Our promotion process also again encourages existing Google users to share their experiences on the business's Google place page. Our mission is to promote and maintain positive information to overcome negative and less than satisfactory reviews, rankings, and comments posted by consumers online.

  • Triumph

    By directly sharing experiences on Google Place pages, promoting and syndicating reviews, and overcoming negativity we make sure businesses receive the recognition they deserve. This results in helping attract new customers and maintaining existing ones. Whether a company has excellent, zero, or negative rankings and reviews, we are here to build, preserve, and protect your online reputation.

Comment by Ralph Paglia on January 29, 2012 at 5:05pm

One of the first companies to offer "Reputation Manipulation" as a professional service is Review Boost... They now have over 3,000 companies receiving contrived, created and not-so-genuine customer reviews each month for the fees they charge.  As detestable a business model as this sounds to most people, let me repeat; 3,000 Businesses pay them for those services each month.  With all that said, they do have a pretty cool website! http://www.reviewboost.com/

One last thing about Review Boost; I am a little concerned about posting anything critical of them for fear of finding negative reviews about me, ADM or the company I work for as a form of retaliation from them.  Among the most harmful things I have seen done since 2005 has been the posting of NEGATIVE REVIEWS by people who have an axe to grind with the company or business they are lambasting.  As bad as false positive reviews are, I believe the damage from false negative reviews is far more insidious and evil in nature.

Comment by Scott Falcone on January 29, 2012 at 12:31pm

@ Mario and others, here is a link that is supposed to provide a strong connection to Google with regards to Places listing issues (meaning they have been know to actually assist). Hope it helps http://support.google.com/places/bin/static.py?hl=en&ts=1386120...

Scott

Comment by Jeffrey Taylor on January 29, 2012 at 7:28am

It is very misleading to use verbiage like that. What Brian uncovered is more prevalent than we think and it extends across all industries. These companies are lying to people. they should NOT be posting reviews for people under any profile, PERIOD!

In my post above, I pulled that profile from a dealership group in Arizona that is using a lead review service. I found numerous dealers in the Phoenix area using this type of service as well as other businesses.

Kudos to you Manny for posting the company because I truly believe that most dealers are not 100% informed about how these services work.

Brian, it is possible Google pulled the reviews. They are becoming more proactive regarding violation reports. They will manually review a fake review report and yes they will yank all of your reviews and possibly pull your listing. Google wants their review service to be credible and it is becoming apparent that the review system currently in place is riddled with spam.

Attention Dealers - If you are currently using one of these lead services, they control the profiles that posted these reviews. THEY CAN REMOVE THEM!

Do not think that because they are real customers that what they are doing is okay. Posting reviews for someone else is against Google rules and it is also illegal! Don't wait until Google slaps you or other people start posting negatives reviews calling you out on the phony reviews. TAKE ACTION NOW! REMOVE THE REVIEWS!

Comment by Tom Gorham on January 28, 2012 at 7:14pm

If a tree falls in the woods, does it make a sound?... In this case, it seems it does.

Comment by Ralph Paglia on January 28, 2012 at 8:58am

"Reputation Manipulation" with bogus reviews is NOT an effective Reputation Management Strategy... It is a great way to ruin your dealership's real world reputation among automotive consumers.

Comment by Ken Beam on January 28, 2012 at 8:45am

Gathering "Fake" Reviews........ how pathetic. It`s called "Reputation Management"...... how much do really value your "Reputation".....really???? Kudos to you Brian for calling them out!

Comment by Brian Pasch on January 28, 2012 at 6:39am

I just documented a case this week where a website provider was posting reviews on Google Places from surveys collected in the store.  They were using fake accounts to post these reviews for a group of dealers.

Today, surprisingly, all the reviews are GONE from the Google Places pages I called out.  So either the website provider killed them to cover their tracks or Google Places team, who got a copy of post, took immediate action.

You can read the whole thread and before and after screen shots here: http://www.internetsalesmanager.org/profiles/blogs/uncovering-viola...

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