Yesterday the New York State Attorney General’s Office announced that 19 SEO firms and their online reputation management clients had agreed to pay in excess of $350,000.00 in fines for false advertising and deceptive trade practices by posting fake online reviews on sites such as Yelp, Google Local and CitySearch. The posting of a fake online review was determined to be a form of false and deceptive advertising known as “astroturfing”.
The undercover sting operation, known as “Operation Clean Turf”, revealed that the fake reviews were obtained by paying individuals in Bangladesh, Eastern Europe and the Philippines from between $1 and $10 per fake review. It was determined that the reviews would be relied on by consumers in making purchasing decisions and thus constituted false advertising and deceptive trade practices.
1. Don’t Post Fake Reviews
While this may seem blatantly obvious in light of Operation Clean Turf, it still must be stated. Any form of online marketing which is deceptive, fraudulent or misleading should be avoided.
2. Engage Disgruntled Customers
In the event that you do have an unhappy customer, attempt to engage that customer directly and offer to make things right. Offering a refund, or a discount on a future purchase, or an exchange can go a long way towards smoothing things over and getting a customer to change his or her opinion of your business.
3. Approach Site Owners Directly
In the event that negative press appears on a website such as a discussion forum, it never hurts to simply ask the site owner or administrator to have the negative thread removed. Oftentimes, simply pointing out to the site owner the harm being caused by the post, as well as your efforts to rectify the situation with the unsatisfied customer can result in the removal of the negative information.
4. Encourage Satisfied Customers to Post Reviews
Encourage all of your customers to post reviews of your business. While nobody can satisfy every customer, presumably you are still in business because you have mostly satisfied customers. Encourage these customers to review your business online. Caveat: do not offer customers incentives for posting favorable reviews or provide suggested language. If you are doing your job as a business owner, the favorable reviews will come.
5. Hire Only Reputable SEO and Reputation Management Firms
Do your research and due diligence before hiring any SEO firm or reputation management agency. Find out how long they have been in business, ask if they outsource their work offshores, and don’t be afraid to ask hard questions about the specifics of the strategy that they plan to employ on your behalf. Remember that you get what you pay for, and if it seems fishy or dishonest, move on to the next agency.
What do you think about the posting of fake online reviews? Do you have any additional suggestions for business owners seeking to enhance their online reputation?
The official press release from the New York State Attorney General’s Office, including a list of the 19 SEO firms and clients involved, can be found at http://www.ag.ny.gov/press-release/ag-schneiderman-announces-agreement-19-companies-stop-writing-fake-online-reviews-and
By: Matt Foster