The New York Attorney General Fined SEO Firms for Fake Online Reviews
Ever think about writing your own online review, just to give a little boost to your online reputation? Tempted by a company offering to write them for you for a few dollars a piece? No one will ever know, right? Well, think again.
The New York attorney general recently fined 19 search engine optimization companies for writing fake internet reviews. A sting operation was set up (using a false yoghurt shop in Brooklyn) to solicit unscrupulous SEO firms to come up with glowing posts on major sites such as Yelp, Google, Yahoo and Citisearch. The total fines were $350,000 in this case; the pieces, written in Eastern Europe and far-flung places such asBangladeshand thePhilippinescost as little as a dollar each.
True enough: having bad comments found on the internet can really hurt a company or individual. According to a 2011HarvardBusinessSchoolstudy, it is estimated that a one-star rating increase on Yelp translated to an increase of 5% to 9% in restaurant revenues.
But is it worth it?
If caught, a business could be fined heavily. In this operation, a bus company agreed to pay $75,000 in fines. Getting found out would compound an already negative status much more than a few poor mentions. More importantly, however, such devastating negativity could easily destroy a business worth hundreds of thousands or even millions of dollars.
I think the most shocking thing is that leading SEO firms engage in such “black hat” practices. It’s really hard to imagine that charging a few dollars is really worth their reputation. If a firm hints at a solution, don’t work with them: who knows what other illegal or shady activities they might engage in.
Instead, honestly assess the business and make improvements, if necessary, so that customers will want to write their own honest reviews. By the way, its getting fairly easy to spot the false ones: look for gushing statements, awkward syntax, and newly created accounts.
The Bottom Line
So, be forewarned. Don’t be tempted to write your own good reviews or hire someone else to help boost your online reputation.