Are fake online reviews hurting internet marketing agencies?
Late last month, the New York Attorney General’s office announced the results of an investigation it conducted into the creation of fake online reviews for various businesses. Although this is not a common practice for internet marketing firms, some companies do perform these tasks.
Attorney General Eric T. Schneiderman confirmed that 19 businesses signed agreements to refrain from posting fake online reviews and paid fines ranging from $2,500 to $100,000. Basically, the target of fake online reviews, mostly on Yelp, Google and Yahoo, is to raise awareness of the company, improve its appearance and even increase revenue.
“What we found is even worse than old-fashioned false advertising,” New York’s attorney general said in a statement. “When you look at a billboard, you can tell it’s a paid ad — but on Yelp or Citysearch, you assume you’re reading authentic user reviews, which makes the practice even more deceptive. This investigation into large-scale, deliberate Internet fraud tells us that we should approach online reviews with caution.”
What New York State investigators also found was that companies contacted experienced Yelp users and tried to reward them with gift certificates and other types of offers to get them to post positive reviews. Failing that, they used freelance websites like Craig’s List, oDesk.com, and Freelancer.com to find writers and paid them between $1 and $10 for reviews.
Schneiderman also cited a 2011 Harvard Business School study that examined Yelp reviews that were flagged as fraudulent by the company. His four main findings are that chain restaurants are less likely to participate in the scheme, restaurants with intense competition are more likely to post fake reviews of their competitors, restaurants with poor or small reviews are more likely to engage in fake reviews, and 16 percent of restaurant reviews flagged as fake were more likely to leave extremely positive or extremely negative reviews than regular reviews.
The internet marketing or search engine optimization industry is quite competitive and companies try to innovate their products and services as much as they can to attract more customers. Essentially, it is recommended that clients looking to hire an online marketing firm do their due diligence and do a large amount of research on the company.
After all, as any internet marketing or SEO professional will tell you, it takes time to appear on the first page of Google, increase PageRank and improve domain authority. The best practice is to follow the guidelines published by search engines, review websites and other places on the Internet. Indeed, there is certainly a difference between sending out a press release and faking reviews.
In addition, law enforcement appears to be continuing their efforts to catch companies offering these services. Schneiderman confirmed that he would still try to stop the business from lying to customers.
“This investigation into large-scale, deliberate Internet fraud tells us that we should approach online reviews with caution,” the attorney general added.
All of these actions can definitely damage the credibility of the internet and websites like Yelp.
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