For every local business, a Google Plus Local listing is the first step in their efforts to optimize their website for local search; however, just listing your business isn’t enough anymore, because your competitors have also learnt that they should do it – the name of the game now is how to optimize your listing in order to rank higher than them.

That’s where the reviews come in. All of your clients and customers have the opportunity to write about the experience they had with your product or service you provided, and that carries a lot of weight in the eyes of Google: more customer reviews mean that your business is popular in the “real” world. Besides, good reviews on Google+ (and anywhere else on the Internet) can mean the difference between a customer choosing you, or the competitor. That’s why today there are many services that provide fake reviews – either positive reviews for your business, or negative for the competitor’s; and many people are willing to pay for this kind of service, not knowing that it may cause a serious problem to their business.

What’s the problem with paid reviews?

The obvious problem is that it’s against Google’s policy. The whole purpose of leaving a review is to help others decide if your business is right for them, and Google are working very hard to prevent any kind of manipulation with their results, including these. They can’t afford to recommend local businesses that provide bad service, because if they did, people would just stop using them as a relevant factor. So, if you get caught manipulating reviews, your page on Google+ Local will be suspended and your business banned, and all the other hard work you’ve put in your online reputation can easily be ruined.

Phony reviews done by paid services are actually really easy to detect, even when you don’t have Google’s infrastructure. Companies that provide this kind of service usually have a certain number of fake accounts and use the same “users” to review business pages; every user can see the profile of each reviewer, so if something smells funny you can just take a look at a few user profiles, and see if they’re “professional reviewers”: what are the chances for a real person to fix a mobile in one state, have a dentist in another one, a plumber in third and a carpet cleaner in fourth? And that they’re either extremely satisfied, or extremely unhappy with the service (positive reviews for client’s website, negative for the competitor’s)? If you’re willing to dig in deeper, you’ll probably find that same fake users are reviewing same business pages – with same opinion, of course.

Another form of paid review is when a business is offering an incentive, in forms of money or products, in exchange for positive reviews. This can be done in a variety of ways and is generally more difficult to detect (because it’s often done offline); this is also against Google’s terms, even though now we have real people giving feedback. On the other hand, you can encourage your customers to review your business, but there’s a very thin line between encouraging them through, say, contests, and bribing them.

However, this can be a powerful strategy to attract them to leave a review, just be very, very careful when defining your approach: you are allowed to encourage them to leave a review, but not the positive review. You can end up having some not so great reviews on your business page, but that’s OK too, because:

a) right now Google seem to be looking only at the number of reviews and not their quality when it comes to deciding on how to rank your page;

b) having all great reviews isn’t natural: no matter how hard you’re trying to satisfy all of your customers, there’s always someone who didn’t like one aspect of doing business with you, so having occasional bad or average reviews can actually help you get more credentials with the potential customers.

We haven’t even started on the ethical questions of having paid and phony reviews, and how faking them makes the reviews in general less credible. In all, it’s always better to do things the right way. It’s a good thing that you’re aware of the importance of having your business reviewed in Google, but you surely have satisfied clients whom you can ask for a legitimate feedback, so start with them and work from there – it’s much more worth it in the long run.

As a Google+ early adopter, Jeff Gross got into reviewing local businesses as soon as it rolled out. He has seen his share of both genuine and the so-called “fake” or paid reviews from non-customers. While content crowdsourcing, such as encouraged commenting on, is a legitimate method of improving your website, artificial reviews are both ignored and dangerous.


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