How To Spot Fake Google Reviews
Published: January 17, 2012
Author: Todd Mintz
A couple weeks ago, my car windshield somehow acquired a crater resembling a popped zit. Knowing that such wounds tended to fester and expand, I did a Google Search for “Beaverton Auto Glass” hoping to get one of those mobile windshield repair services to come out to my house and cheaply take care of the problem. Thanks to my industry friends like David Mihm and Mike Blumenthal who blog extensively on local SEO issues, I’ve learned to evaluate local business reviews with a very keen eye. Sure, I’ve known about faked reviews and have even dealt with businesses that ignorantly reviewed themselves. However, I’ve never been faced with a situation where a buying decision was made so very difficult because of obvious review spam.
We all know that it’s impossible to run any sort of auto repair/service business without a certain percentage of people getting angry with you (whether justified or not). Many consumers know now that they can effectively vent online by leaving one-star reviews and negative comments on the merchant’s listing. Combine the two, and it should be impossible for an auto glass business to get all or nearly all five-star reviews. However, almost every option I sought out seemed to be blessed with only positivity.
I would take up too much space showing all the phony examples I viewed, so let’s just focus on one:
Here we have two people who reviewed the same auto glass place five days apart (note that I’m deliberately not showing which business is involved, though it’s easy to figure out). Let’s delve deeper into this by looking at what other businesses these “people” have also reviewed (“Jae,” followed by “Lara”):
Here are my observations:
1) The odds that someone would get their Auto Glass fixed in Beaverton (where they “theoretically” live) and review one and only one restaurant either in Camas (30 miles away) or Longview (55 miles away) without reviewing any nearby restaurants (or other nearby businesses) is about nil.
2) They both recommend the same credit repair service in addition to the same auto glass service. Suspicious? Yup. Also, one of the accounts put a negative review “hit” on a competitor.
3) Both accounts have reviewed exactly four businesses and don’t have an avatar attached to them.
I ended up choosing an auto glass business BECAUSE two of the five reviews were only one star (and the other three were five stars). The consumer sentiment felt real to me, and unfortunately, I believe that most consumers won’t be able to discern the unrealistic commentary about their “superior” competitors.
Local search reviews play a critical role in generating business revenue. The temptation to cheat will always be present in local search, making it critical for the consumer not to take all sentiment at face value.
My friend Scott Hendison had an interesting experience that involved local search spam; you can read about it here and here.
– Todd Mintz, Senior SEM Manager