Are Fake Online Reviews Harming Internet Marketing Agencies?

Late last month, the New York City Attorney’s Office announced the results of an investigation it had conducted into the creation of misleading online reviews of various companies. Although not a ubiquitous practice for internet marketing firms, some companies have undertaken these tasks.

Attorney General Eric T. Schneiderman confirmed that 19 companies signed agreements not to post fake online reviews and paid fines ranging from $2,500 to $100,000. Basically, the purpose of fake online reviews, mainly on Yelp, Google and Yahoo, is to increase company awareness, improve its appearance and even increase sales.

“What we found is even worse than old-fashioned false advertising,” the New York Attorney General said in a statement. “If you look at a billboard, you can tell it’s paid advertising — but on Yelp or Citysearch you’re assuming you’re reading authentic consumer opinions, which makes this practice even more deceptive The internet tells us that we’re online -Appraisals should be approached with caution.”

New York State investigators also found that companies approached experienced Yelp users and attempted to reward them with gift certificates and other types of offers to get them to leave positive reviews. When that failed, they used freelance sites like Craig’s List, oDesk.com, and Freelancer.com to find writers, paying them anywhere from $1 to $10 for reviews.

Schneiderman also cited a 2011 Harvard Business School study examining Yelp reviews that the company deemed fraudulent. The four main findings were that chain restaurants were less likely to participate in the program, restaurants with intense competition were more likely to post fake reviews from their competitors, restaurants with bad or low reviews were more likely to participate in fake reviews, and 16 percent of restaurant reviews flagged as fake were more likely to leave extremely positive reviews or extremely negative reviews than normal reviews.

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The internet marketing or search engine optimization industry is quite competitive and companies are trying to innovate their products and services as much as possible to attract more customers. Essentially, it is recommended that clients looking to hire an online marketing company do their due diligence and do extensive research about the company.

Ultimately, as any internet marketing or SEO pro will say, it takes time to appear on the first page of Google, increase PageRank and improve domain authority. It’s best to follow the guidelines posted by search engines, review sites, and other internet sites. In fact, there’s certainly a difference between sending out a press release and faking reviews.

Additionally, law enforcement agencies appear to be continuing their efforts to catch companies offering these services. Schneiderman confirmed it will continue trying to stop the store from lying to customers.

“This investigation into large-scale, willful deception online 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 sites like Yelp.

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