Once again, my faith in humanity and law enforcement has been restored. Fake online reviews provided by SEO agencies have been punished in New York State. Often as I teach SEO classes at Search Engine Academy, I am asked if this is a practice worth pursuing. The short answer is NO. The longer answer is “not only NO, but hell NO.” We do not encourage or teach gray or black hat SEO tactics in our SEO training. I have to look at myself in the mirror, and I need to be comfortable doing it.

Fake Online Reviews Get PenalizedAnyways, the New York AG, Eric Schneiderman announced fines that added up to $350.000 for 19 companies that created fake reviews. Yay! I’d buy that man a drink. Among the businesses that were seeking these fake reviews were a spa and a night club.

Fake online reviews basically work like this:

Individuals are paid pittances to create fake profiles to post favorable reviews for businesses they’ve never patronized simply to boost that company’s online presence. The more sophisticated ones create profiles, actually post genuine reviews for a period of time, then begin salting review sites with fake testimonials. SEO companies were also using advanced IP spoofing to try to defeat the review site’s filters.

The stakes are high. Reviews on sites like Yelp! can boost or break a company’s visibility and possibly even their rankings in search results. Particularly when we are looking for local businesses to provide us with products and services, we rely on our family and friends’ recommendations and online reviews. Companies can lose tons of revenue with negative reviews.

Online reputation management is a fairly new industry. In it’s most benign state, it involves a strategy of putting out favorable content and press releases to repair a company’s damaged reputation based on an event or lots of people who don’t like the business. At it’s worst, it does this trash – planting fake testimonials and reviews to dupe people into purchasing the company’s products or services, and possibly helping them rise higher in search results with fake, multiple favorable reviews.

It’s not wrong to want to manage your online reputation management. If your company gets a negative review, tackle it head on, honestly and calmly. Don’t get into a public pissing match. Do what you can to fix the problem, but be classy, umkay?

Until next time, keep it between the ditches!

All the best to you,