It’s no secret. Plenty of third-parties contact review sites, blogs and individuals to post content on behalf of their clients. I’m approached regularly from “marketing” firms to include links, rave statements and the likes on client blogs. This week, New York Attorney General Eric T. Schneiderman announced that 19 companies have been fined a total $350,000 in penalties for the practice, and have agreed to stop writing fake reviews on the internet.
The Operation Clean Turf project has been investigating the practice for the past year, focusing primarily on the manipulation of consumer review sites, including Yelp!, CitySearch and Google Local.
Schneiderman calls “astroturfing” the “21st century’s false advertising” practice. During the undercover investigation, the office realized the bulk of these companies created fake online profiles and paid freelancers to write bunk reviews. Companies, like the ones penalized, call the process “reputation management”.
A similar practice, which is the one many of us are approached about by “link strategists” uses blog owners to push visitors to an online store or product page by “endorsing” a product, either outright or by mere mention. Another benefit, they argue, is better Google rankings due to increased incoming links. It’s important to note that when Google realizes this type of practice, those third-party sites get flagged, and so could your own.
Then there are product reviews. Many small business owners are concerned about the lack of reviews overall, or the lack of positive reviews. In turn, some will hire a third party to review their products on sites like Amazon, using additional profiles to mark those reviews as helpful.
While Operation Clean Turf focused on “brick and mortar” reviews, we can only expect (and hope) that manipulating ratings on product-based reviews is also being quietly investigated.
If you’ve ever hired one of these types of companies, here’s something else… While you’re forking over hundreds, if not thousands, of dollars, the average “reviewer” typically makes as little as $1.00 per review, and it usually caps at $10. In short, they’re the middleman, and they make a handsome cent to do what your very own customers could do for you if they’re at all satisfied.
Want a better understanding of the AG’s findings? Here’s a great explanation, in laymen’s terms.