Internet Marketing Steroids: Fake Reviews for Lawyers
Real vs fake, the Internet’s main debate and yet primary marketing technique.
If you can come up with a video that can make you wonder “hmm… is that real? (Kobe jumping over a speeding car, college kids making insane beer pong shots off of skateboards, etc.)”, you’re probably going to get some exposure.
Then again, there’s the obviously fake like those cheesy “Trainers Hate Him” banner ads or most women’s fake boobs (okay we’ll stay on point here just wanted to make sure you’re awake and ready for this).
Google Places is THE driving force for any local business that wants to be found on the Internet by their local audience (right now, who knows what I’ll be saying a year from now), and the number of positive reviews that a profile has is a key part to Google Place’s algorithm. The more reviews you have, the better chance you have of ranking well for a search term.
I’d like to say that I’m surprised when I come across law firms and lawyers who are competitors of our clients who have obviously paid for positive reviews to be posted on their profiles, but in all honesty- I’m not.
When you’ve done SEO for an extended period of time, you see a lot of unethical and immoral techniques that other lawyers and law firms use in order to gain an upper hand. Whether it’s buying links from unrelated websites, hiring an SEO provider who uses automated software to build backlinks through spammy forum comments, blog comments, linkwheels, dripfeeds- you name it, and we’ve likely talked to a current or potential client who has hired one of these providers and is left scratching their heads wondering why their rankings plummeted.
So it’s no surprise that buying fake reviews (in addition to Facebook Likes and +1′s) is a tactic that some attorneys are using. It’s similar to athletes using steroids- it may work, and you may not get caught, but the odds aren’t exactly in your favor and those five minutes of fame are suddenly not worth what comes with the consequences.
A New York Times article touches on some of the issues related to buying fake reviews on sites such as Fiverr and Digital Point (a forum site where the majority of the users, in my opinion, use black-hat techniques one way or another), and according to the article a group of Cornell students are developing a piece of software that will detect fake reviews being posted on review sites.
So let’s see. The topic of fake reviews has gotten some press in The New York Times.
Google continues to plow forward with their plans of making Google Places the main search engine for law firms and attorneys to maintain a positive presence on in order to succeed, knowing that the number of reviews is a key aspect of a business ranking well.
Google has access to reviewers’ info- such as IP address, number of past reviews, etc.
So if a group of Cornell students can develop a piece of software that will detect if a review is bogus, don’t you think Google will eventually figure it out (if they haven’t already)?
The way they look at reviews will likely look like this:
Scenario A: A law firm’s Google Places profile has 35 reviews. Each user only posted one review and hasn’t reviewed any other businesses. The IP address where the reviews are being posted from are all the same- in the firm’s city, so maybe the firm asks the clients to post the reviews while they’re in the office. Conclusion: Okay, somewhat believable, so not bogus.
Scenario B: A law firm’s Google Places profile has 35 reviews. Each user only posted one review and hasn’t reviewed any other businesses. The IP address where the reviews are being posted from are all different- with most of them being overseas in countries like India and The Philippines. (We came across one of these profiles this morning- a big law firm in an extremely competitive market had 35 reviews, all pretty much worded the same way, and one negative review from another local lawyer calling them out on it which was epic. We don’t have any way of knowing where the reviews came from geographically, but we’ll make our assumptions). Conclusion: FAIL Sir Spam-a-lot, you lose.
Scenario C: A law firm’s Google Places profile has 6 reviews. All of the reviews are positive, all of the reviews are from different IP addresses, and all of the reviews are from users who have registered Gmail or Google+ Accounts, have reviewed another business in one form or another, and appear to be actual people. Does this mean that a lawyer didn’t ask his attorney buddies for reviews, or that he didn’t post an ad on Craigslist selling $10 reviews? Nope. But, from what Google can see… Conclusion: Seems legit.
I’ve said this before, but Google’s main priority is to think ahead of spammers. They’re like a warden in a jail trying to think about every possible way that an inmate can escape, and taking the necessary measures to keep that from happening (warning: this blog post is approaching it’s out-of-content analogy limit).
Ethics debates aside- if you think that buying fake reviews for your Google Places profile isn’t going to backfire on you like all of those other blackhat SEO tactics that you hear about usually do- think again, it’s probably only a matter of time.