For prices starting at $100 a month, a reputation management company in Texas offered to help companies suffering from bad online reviews. Using a combination of automated and human efforts, they explained, they could flood review sites with positive write-ups. Not reviews from actual customers, of course, but multiple accounts set up by one person, contrary to the rules of review sites, typing in comments from comment cards or making up their own. With some 80% of consumers using online reviews in their purchasing decisions, a company with negative reviews can find that offer appealing.
In fact, it was a client of ours who brought the case to our attention. “I know that some of the sales pitches by these companies have been pretty appealing to me in the past,” she wrote. “You helped me understand that this kind of manipulation was NOT a good idea; that search engines would eventually recognize quality sites with ethical practices – that the positives would eventually push down the negatives.”
Eventually, yes — and that’s the part that makes bad SEO practices appealing to businesses. The promise of fast results in an area that is usually about long-term benefits can be tempting.
Unfortunately for their customers, the reputation management company’s efforts backfired. Edmunds.com, an auto industry site with a review section, sued the reputation management company. They settled out of court, in a deal which involved money, but also information about the company’s business practices that will give Edmunds the information they need to “go after” other companies of this type. The company closed, but their parent company is still online, offering fast results with methods involving a combination of automated and human services.
It’s not in the review site’s best interests to have fake reviews posted at their website. The reason shoppers rely so heavily on consumer reviews is that they trust those reviews. People no longer trust ads, but they trust reviews — according to Nielsen’s most recent study on the subject, consumer reviews are second only to recommendations from friends and family in terms of trustworthiness. In that study, 70% of consumers said they trusted those reviews, while fewer than half trust TV, magazine, or newspaper ads. 58% trust information on company websites — right behind reviews.
Companies that run review sites know that this trust will disappear if there’s a perception that businesses are manipulating the reviews. They can’t tolerate fake reviews.
Neither should you. If your customers get the impression that you’ve paid for reviews — or worse yet, faked them — they will no longer trust you.
Consumer confidence in ads falls every year. Consumers resist ads cloaked in social media, too, and are quick to identify them as spam. Resist the temptation to fake your earned media — earn it. That’s the only way it will be valuable to you.