Should you buy fake reviews?

This post is the result of a comment I was going to leave on MSNBC’s website.

The link to the article is below

http://bottomline.msnbc.msn.com/_news/2011/12/01/9124444-how-to-spot-fake-online-product-reviews?pc=25&sp=25#discussion_nav

It really makes you wonder who to trust when you book a table at a restaurant or schedule a weekend away with your bride.

I believe review fraud goes deeper and is more rife with bad characters than  the author of this article could possibly realize.

It’s the Wild West for reviews out there; in both the buying and the selling. The collateral damage is small businesses and the paying public. Everybody gets ripped off.

It’s so bad that a cottage industry has sprung up to help smaller sized businesses deal with the fallout of bad reviews.

Enter Reputation Management” for small to mid sized businesses.

Full disclosure that Lars Media Group offer a service of this type

I can’t drive anywhere without hearing a commercial for one of these firms. I know it costs money to advertise on radio so obviously this is a burgeoning industry with economic potential.

For only a few dollars a month you can see if someone is chatting up bad stuff about your company on Facebook or uploading bad experiences to You Tube. Gets me to thinking that these big companies are just on Social Media to cover their butts and be the first to know if someone is grousing about their bad batch of soda. Makes sense to me.

Remember the musician who recorded a song about an airline breaking his guitar? After a million or so hits, the airline finally got the message and did the right thing. I wonder if they had a reputation manager or found out like everyone else in an email.

This very industry used to be relegated to high powered PR firms and clients with deep pockets like Politicians, Airlines, Celebrities etc; Not anymore. With the arrival of the internet (props again to A.G. Jr.) comes the challenge of protecting your reputation. Maybe you shouldn’t have sent that picture to your best friend that may now cost you your job.

I’ve been guilty of this on more than one occasion because my fat fingers seem to have a mind of their own when it comes to my laptop keyboard. My wife is always telling me to write the email first and then put in the recipients address. I can’t count the number of times I’ve been guilty of “premature emailing” followed by a flushing of the cheeks and a “oh S–t”. There is no pill for this so if you get nothing else out of this comment – write your email first then put in the recipient, write your email first then put in the recipient, write your email first then put in the recipient……

One of the good things about a reputation manager is that they can help you answer a bad review with a cool head, figure out ways to make it right for the reviewer who had a bad experience and take emotion out of the equation. One of the first bits of advice we give our clients (we are marketing consultants and this is something we’ve added to our services in the past year because of the fake reviews effecting our clients bottom line) is to take a deep breath and a little time before responding to a bad review. This response is going to be a permanent digital record detailing how they handle a customer complaint. If they appear unprofessional or get drawn into a name calling battle the business always loses. Consumers always look to see how the business responds because it shows them how they might be treated if they’ve got a gripe.

Google’s free business listing service called Places has been getting hammered by these tactics. I don’t want to call Google out on this issue because I believe the buying and selling of fake reviews is systemic and widespread on the internet and among most directory sites.

Most businesses have claimed their free Google Place’s listing. It is a free service that allows a business to verify their account, choose a business category, upload relevant photos, videos and set up coupons. This even gives businesses without a website an online presence. So I’ll stay with Google for this example because it’s free, and what you first see when you do a search on Google.

These Google Place’s listings have taken over the front page of the search results for “local search” (Butcher Boise, personal injury lawyer Stamford) and have pushed “organic search results” (the free results that the search engines pick up from content on your website, press releases, you tube videos, articles, etc.) to the bottom of the first page or to page 2 and beyond. So these little place markers have become a competitive battleground for legitimate local businesses. If they lose ground to these lead farms and get pushed off the front page then business drops off significantly.

- Some Place’s accounts have been hammered by bad reviews from competitors. This is the ultimate case of slander with very little recourse. How are you going to track down the perpetrator if you’re the slandered business? Do you have the time and resources to stay on this while also trying to run a business? Probably not.

- Other business hire  unscrupulous firms to give them good reviews and their competition bad reviews. I believe we’ve been taken in by the reviews because we have yet to be learn how to tell the bonafide from the fake and have come to trust reviews because of a conditioning that started long ago with main stream media and offline magazines like Consumer Reports etc. (referenced above) to decide where we spend our money.

- Recently anyone could go to your places account and indicate you were out of business and bingo your listing reflected such.

- Google has allowed (perhaps a bit harsh, I’m not one of the Google haters) lead farms to set up multiple places accounts in downtown areas where there is no possibility of an office or brick and mortar area. I recently saw a locksmith lead farm Places listing that had the address of the Staples Center in downtown LA and it was filled with…..wait for it…….fake reviews. How did I know? I looked at the reviewers name and the bad grammar and tracked her review to other bogus locksmith pages in different parts of the country. The importance of commanding multiple locations across the country is because selling leads to businesses in this tough economy is big business. If they can get enough front page exposure on Google they get more phone calls which translates to more leads and more revenue for the lead company and yes I guess for the business that’s buying the leads.

There is a huge financial reward for commanding the first spot in the listings for the geo- specific search term “locksmith Los Angeles”. Someone who is locked out of the house or their car types this or something close to it to find someone to help.

Either way there is just no way to tell if it is real or fake. Google may be taking steps to clean this up with some sort of validation system but so far they have been slow to react.

Maybe I’ll put together a 5 page guide to spotting fake reviews.

 

 

 

 

How to Claim Your Free Google Places – GooglePlus Local Listing

How to claim your Google Places Google Plus Local Listing and why it’s important for your business.

Local search has become a very competitive jungle out there. You need to take advantage of all things free that will get your business noticed more by not only the search engines but also your current and future customers.

You need to claim your Google places listing now. And the best part of it is that it’s free. That’s right free. However, you do need a Google Email account so get that first before anything else. Our advice is to get a Gmail account that reflects your business name such as companyname@gmail.com. Or get creative and if your in the roofing business get something like getanewroof@gmail.com.

Google GMail Sign Up Page 300x163 How to Claim Your Free Google Places   GooglePlus Local Listing

Where do I go to find my Google Places – Google+ Local Listing?

First, Google up your business name. If nothing shows up or just your competitors sites then click here to claim your listing. If you do not claim your listing and some information shows up then it may be incorrect. So you should prudently claim your free listing just to make sure whoever is looking for your business gets the right contact information.

Google Places Signup 300x176 How to Claim Your Free Google Places   GooglePlus Local ListingYou may notice that the information may be incorrect. On your places page look in the upper right hand corner and it will ask you if you’re the business owner. You would click there to go about claiming your Google Places Listing.

Important Update

Google Places has merged with Google Plus so when you sign up for Google Places or Google Local they now require you to use a Google Plus account

How to verify your Google Places Listing

While claiming your Google Places Listing you will be asked to verify your business by either a phone call or a post card. I’ve found that if Google has found information on you through the internet and has a basic listing up for your business then they will usually verify by phone. This is a good thing because waiting for the post card can take anywhere fro 2 to 3 weeks.  Google will give you a code or pin. You then go back into your Google Places Listing account and enter that number. Provided nothing has changed you should now have verified your Google Places Listing account.

Now that you’ve claimed your Google Places Listing you need to make sure all the information is correct and you have photos and videos that accurately describe your business.

We offer a Google Places Plus Listing optimization package that will help your places page get more exposure and your website get noticed in the search engines for your specific search terms.

 

If you’re ready to increase your revenue click here now.

 

What is Local Search Marketing?

Google Places Photo 300x142 What is Local Search Marketing?Local Search is about getting your business found by local prospects.

Getting found through local search by buyers looking for their services is the single biggest struggle for local businesses . If you are going to have an online presence then you need to pay attention to this part of your marketing efforts. More and more people are using their phone and the internet to find a local business to answer their questions, solve their problems or buy merchandise.  If you have a website and rely on local traffic then you need to have a plan in place to deal with your local presence. This is where a system designed to handle your local search is needed now more than ever before.

Five questions to ask yourself about your current local search setup.

Is your service or product listed in your URL or domain name?

For example, Is your site listed as businessname.com when perhaps having a domain of localtownseptic repair.com would work better? I can’t speak for Google but we know through trial and error that our clients get better results with local search when they choose a domain that reflects their town or state combined with the service or product they offer.

Is your phone number in large font at the top of your page?

We have fixed many sites that had made it a chore to find phone number and contact information on the front page of their sites.

  Do you have directions and hours listed on the front page for local search?

You should have your hours listed and your address in an easy to find place in larger font on the front page of your site. If you get ambitious you can even have a link to Google Maps and make it even easier to have your local clients and prospects find you.

 Have you claimed your free Google Places listing for local search?

For the time being this is being made available to local businesses for free. The benefit of this listing is you can show your hours, location, and services or products that you offer. And because it is Google making this offer for local search you will get listed even without a website. You can also claim a listing with Bing Local Search and Yahoo Local Search.

Have you listed your business in business directories such as Yelp, Merchants Circle, Angie’s List etc. to help with your local search efforts?

These listings are also free – although they will try to sell you paid features this is not necessary to start – and give you a chance to have your listing include your domain hence giving you more credibility in both Google’s eyes and also your prospects.

This is just a start to get your local search efforts going. There are many other ways to optimize your local search presence and we would be happy to help you dominate your area for the service or products you provide.

Just call us and we can help you with your local search efforts.

We’ll even give you a free analysis of your website and specific ideas to help you improve your rankings in the search engines and local search.