Fake Online Reviews Cost 19 SEO Companies and Their Clients Dearly – 5 Tips to Doing Reputation Management Correctly

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

Get Well Duck and Great Job on Social

My advertising and social media mind has been curious for a few days now about Aflac’s latest television ad campaign. I have to admit, they are doing a great job of getting people to take seeing their TV ad a step further and incorporating social media or client/potential customer involvement.Aflac Duck

Aflac, which is a supplemental insurance agency for individuals and groups, uses a duck as their company mascot/recognizable logo. The Aflac duck has been featured in various commercials and is used in the name of the company logo. Their creative team nailed the marketing slogan and mascot with the phrase, “We’ve got you under our wing.” It’s genius. You may have seen their TV commercial which starts with a doctor giving a press release about the Aflac duck being injured. The premise, to relate this to their offerings of supplemental insurance, is that the duck was in an accident. The doctor goes on to say that Aflac Duck has sustained a laceration to the wing and a fractured beak. The poor little guy will be out of work while in recovery. Luckily, with Aflac’s help they are paying his living expenses.

What the ad does as a way to stay social, is they give a link where you can send the duck a get well card. This gets the TV user away from the commercial and on to the website. Since my curiosity was piqued, I went to the web address, http://www.getwellduck.com, and I was automatically redirected to a Facebook page. I was expecting a website page and not a Facebook fan page. You don’t have to sign up for an app or even like the fan page to send a card. The card creator allows you to choose a background, and image, and you can also include a personal message. This is great social media involvement.

At first I was surprised there wasn’t a website or a landing page from the Aflac website. However, I like that the company isn’t pushing their website traffic on me and they are keeping this social, light, and fun. I think this extra step taken makes the company seem more personal and less corporate. It is important for other businesses to follow their lead. People are more likely to relate to a person, in this case a duck or mascot, than they are a corporate logo.

Author: Krystle Green is the Vice President of ArteWorks SEO, a full service search engine optimization firm located in Austin, TX. For more information about SEO, SEM, or social media please visit http://www.arteworks.biz.

Facebook Graph Search. Staying Social In A New Way

The news feeds were buzzing yesterday with the launch of Facebook’s new search feature, called Graph Search. This is by far one of their biggest launches since going public. It was rumored that there would be a mobile phone of some sorts of a full web based search engine. While Graph Search does not have the capacity or search features as Google, it appears to have a competitive edge to one of the biggest search engines. Could Graph Search be the start to a full web based search engine? Zuckerburg has said that they don’t want to delve into Internet Searches.

Graph Search is still in beta form and it allows users to search through content that has been shared with them. Each user will have tailored results. This is somewhat like Google’s custom search results. Facebook’s new feature is a way for people to find other users with similar interests. As Facebook puts it, “Find more of what you’re looking for through your friends and connections.”

Because the new product launch is in beta form, you have to sign up to use it. There is currently a waiting list to use the new search function. You can preview a video here https://www.facebook.com/about/graphsearch Search terms in the video included such phrases as: friends who like trail running, people at my company who like to ski, photos before 1995. It allows a more custom and personal experience and a way to discover what your friends are interested in, what music the like, where they eat, etc. People will be able to use Facebook in a whole new way and it seems like the largest social network is staying on top of their game.

I am currently on the waiting list to test out the new function and I am very excited about it. I was hoping to be able to test it out and review my search results as well as opinions about the searches. Alas, I will have to write a second blog post once my name comes up on the waiting list.

Author: Krystle Green is the Vice President of ArteWorks SEO, a full service search engine optimization Austin firm located in Texas. For more information about SEO, SEM, or social media please visit http://www.arteworks.biz.

That Photo Was Private

Zuckerburg made headlines today, but it wasn’t Mark we are reading about. His sister Randi caused a viral storm without realizing it after posting a family photo on her Facebook account. This poses an interesting question about the privacy policies in regards to Facebook photo posting. Are Facebook’s privacy settings confusing? Facebook undergoes a lot of changes and the privacy settings are no stranger to the updates. There are privacy loopholes that users, including Randi Zuckerburg, have fallen victim too.

Randi posted a family photo from Christmas of the Zuckerburg’s to her Facebook account. She was under the impression that the family photo was only viewable by her friends. She had tagged people in the photo which then, by default, made the picture appear in those peoples’ timelines. A lot of Facebook users’ do this with pictures they post of friends. Once you tag someone and the picture is posted on their timeline, the image is no longer private especially if the user doesn’t use privacy settings. This is what happened in Randi’s case. A friend of the person she tagged was able to view the photo, and she posted it to her Twitter account (of which she has 40,000 followers).

Randi tweeted at the user and was furious that her private photo went public. A few tweets were exchanged and deleted…however we all know once a tweet is seen it isn’t always deleted permanently especially when people use third party applications such as Tweetdeck. The story of the private family photo and the image itself went viral.

If a Facebook employee doesn’t even understand the privacy settings, how is the average user viewing these settings as well? Are the privacy settings too confusing? I wonder if there will be another Facebook update after this photo fiasco.

This controversy isn’t just happening on Facebook. Instagram is also under pressure from its users about picture privacy guidelines. If you post pictures to a social network, who really owns the rights to the pictures? Privacy policy should be clear for all users to comprehend. As a user of different social networks, it is important to take your own precautions. Especially in regards to private messages, status updates, and pictures. Once something is posted online, it is there forever. Not only should private users take precautions, but this is an important lesson for corporations to follow as well.

About the Author: Krystle Green is the Vice President of ArteWorks SEO, a full service search engine optimization company located in Austin, TX. For more information about social media, SEM, or SEO Austin please visit http://www.arteworks.biz.

How Social Media Has Forever Changed the Way We Do Business

Social Media has only been around for a short 10 years, but has already drastically changed the way we advertise and operate online. Facebook became one of the first social media vehicles to give companies, big and small, a chance to connect and interact with their target market. Social media has helped turn advertising from a one-way marketing vehicle to an actual dialogue between customer and corporation.

Now that the consumers have a voice in the media, companies are learning quickly that one wrong step can lead to a less than savory public outcry. While consumers have historically learned to stand up to corporations when they feel there is a perceived injustice, it’s becoming easier with the help of social media. Both Bank of America and Verizon learned that lesson when they made extreme changes to their policies that negatively affected their customers.

That’s when one 23-year old tweeter became a hero of the people, when she refused to accept Bank of America’s proposed $5 monthly fee on its debit-card accounts and she wasn’t alone in her distaste for the idea. She drew in over 300,000 signatures last October opposing the change after blogging about changes.

While some may think deeming these small victories as successful “twitter uprisings,” they’re missing the point of how social media is playing into our day-to-day lives and our ability to communicate our concerns with large corporations with a simple 140-character tweet. Could you imagine if those 300,000 petitioners had instead switched banks after the $5 monthly fee was imposed? Bank of America would have to devote tens of thousands of marketing dollars just to reacquire their lost and dissatisfied customers. What’s more important is to note the number of customers that would have been permanently turned off by the company, those that couldn’t be bought back with even the most desirable introduction rates and marketing tactics.

While some companies may fear the shift of power from corporation to consumer, the smart businesses are learning to take advantage of these social media vehicles to connect with their consumers. “Friending” and following your consumers is a great way to get to know their thoughts and feelings, not only on a demographic base, but for their qualitative feedback that they so readily provide. These are the kinds of comments and reviews that companies pay to gather in focus groups and consumer interviews. The companies on the forefront of social media are learning to appreciate their consumer feedback. They are utilizing social media to keep their customers happy and gage how they should be operating their business. Combining an active social media campaign with an already intensive search engine optimization austin campaign is one of the best ways to not only keep your business on the top of the search engines, but to keep your customers as satisfied as possible.

About the Author: Allison Schnur is the Marketing Manager of ArteWorks SEO, a full service Austin SEO firm located in Austin, TX. For more information about our top rated search engine optimization company please visit http://www.arteworks.biz.

Twitter: Become A Leader With Help From an SEO Firm

Twitter is one of the most unique and interesting social media platforms we’ve seen so far. For many older, more traditional companies, Twitter is just not a concept they can wrap their head around; there are pictures, profiles, hashtags and conversations that look like a completely foreign language. Many companies would much rather discredit the social media giant than recognize its true marketing power. Those companies are making it much easier for their competition to capture and connect with their shared audience.

After the initial culture shock has worn off, many companies are able to see the marketing and branding potential that Twitter offers. The social media site is basically offering you your target market on a silver platter! Not to mention a place ideal for branding, link building, and content sharing. Companies often miss the mark because they think their target market doesn’t use Twitter. Even if your target market is not on Twitter, the major search engines look at your social signals and you should include social media within an SEO strategy. You do not need to make a sale or gain a new client/customer from Twitter. That won’t always be the end goal for every business that uses Twitter. In this case, your goal should be to use Twitter as a means of branding the company and using the social media platform as a way to share information, tips, statistics, news, etc. from your industry.

One of the biggest problems companies have with Twitter is finding followers, since tweeting with no followers is like airing a TV commercial to an empty room. So how do you go from Twitter rookie to Twitter leader in a matter of months? One of the best ways to boost your online presence is to hire a social media and SEO expert. While this may sound costly, you will find that companies can offer many different options to fit your budget. There are quite a few reasons to consider hiring a company to manage your social media accounts:

They don’t call them “experts” for nothing – Think of your favorite baseball player; do they throw a ball better than you? Of course, it’s their job! Just like anything else in life, an expert knows the ins and outs of their field much more than an amateur. They also devote their time to continued learning and staying on top of the latest trends. While you can invest your time and energy learning these tricks, it will be less efficient and your other work could suffer. The truth is that if you are running your business, you will not have the time that a social media or SEO professional has.

Best use of company money – Many companies are always looking to pinch a penny. While this is generally a safe way to keep their budgets in line, many companies don’t realize they’re spending their money incorrectly. Using a salaried employee who excels in their current position to work on social media for one to five hours a week makes no financial sense. It can be especially harmful to your budget when they are still learning the ropes or a bit rusty, since they are much less efficient than someone you can use for less. When you retain a qualified SEO company who offers social media as a part of the strategy, you get an entire team of “social media addicted” professionals working on your behalf.

Division between work and play – If you or your company’s designated social media worker are familiar with these platforms, it’s hard to know when to work and when to play. You’re already spending money on social media, by using an employee’s company time to keep up. It’s even worse when you’re tempting them with a fun social outlet, when their time could be spent elsewhere. While we do agree that having a designated person from within the company to address direct messages or @replys with specific questions/comments/concerns is vital, the day to day social media updating and building of social authority should be left to the search engine optimization company to manage. A qualified firm will not only manage your Twitter account, they should also be on the watch for direct messages and @replys that need to be forwarded for the designated company employee to address.

ArteWorks SEO is a full service Austin SEO company who has been active in the search engine optimization business since 1995. For more information or to contact us regarding our services, please visit www.arteworks.biz.

Why Add Social Media to your SEO Campaign?

Search Engine Optimization, like many technology-based industries, is a constantly growing and changing field. SEO has finally become well-known enough that, while most businesses don’t understand the inner workings, they do recognize its importance. One key branch of effective SEO is a well-managed social media campaign.

Social media is no longer the entry-level branding tool that it once was. As social media companies grow and evolve, they are realizing exactly how important it is to connect both B2B and B2C companies with potential clients and customers. Many platforms have created special pages and functions specifically for businesses only.

Not only does social media work on its own, but it’s becoming more integrated with search engine optimization every day. Search engine ranking algorithms are now including social data and “social signals” as criteria. These search engines use social links to determine relevance, so every time a link is Liked, Re-Tweeted or +1ed it will help improve its ranking. Of course, this is just one small factor in search engine ranking, but one that definitely should not be ignored.

Many companies will get as far as creating the page and adding a few friends, not realizing that they’re missing out on a free advertising and relationship building platform. Many companies that try managing their own campaigns will often start out strong, and then abandon the responsibility after a few short months.

Many other “do-it-yourselfers” don’t understand the importance of a fully integrated SEO campaign and will attempt slowly bouncing from one tactic to the next. Some companies only have a set amount of time to devote to their online marketing campaign, and will therefore commit maybe one week to social media, the next to e-mail marketing and the last to PPC management. While some online presence is better than none, an effective campaign needs all branches; blogging, link building, social media, etc. to be working together to really maximize your exposure and page rank.

So how, exactly, can your social media campaign compliment your current online marketing strategy? Observe your competition. If they are reaching out to their audience through weekly contests, trivia questions and prizes, you may want to do the same. Make sure your SEO Company is posting regularly and consistently, so you don’t lose followers. Lastly, always stay branded. This is another mistake many companies make by not hiring an Austin SEO company; they think any social media interaction is better than none, so they allow multiple employees to manage their campaign. Varying tones and information can confuse your audience, so keep your company’s brand clear.

ArteWorks SEO is a full service Austin SEO company who has been active in the search engine optimization business since 1995. For more information or to contact us regarding our services, please visit www.arteworks.biz.

Will Twitter and Friends’ Class Action Lawsuit have any Affect on the Future of Social Media?

Social Media Applications have become one of the greatest ways to advertise and interact with your customers. These platforms have virtually changed the face of the way we market our companies. While social networks emerged to connect individuals to each other, in recent years, they’ve become more geared towards companies who want to interact with their customers on a weekly or even daily basis.

Since becoming one of the fastest and most inexpensive ways to market to customers, these sites have taken full advantage of their newly available demographics and market data. Some of these sites, however, could be walking a fine line between market data and user privacy, allowing apps to connect the users’ personal information. Twitter and 17 other companies have recently been sued by 13 people in U.S. District Court for the Western District of Texas for invasion of privacy.

The claim that’s been made by these 13 individuals, mostly from Austin, Texas, is that these companies applications have uploaded and stored their users’ smartphone address books for the up to 18 months without their users permission.

The 17 other companies in question include Path, Twitter, Apple, Facebook, Beluga, Yelp, Burbn, Instagram, Foursquare Labs, Gowalla (no longer in business), Foodspotting, Hipster, LinkedIn, Rovio Mobile, ZeptoLab, Chillingo, Electronics Arts, and Kik Interactive.

While only 13 individuals are currently involved in the class action case, the lawsuit claims that billions of contacts could have potentially been taken without permission or notification:

“The surreptitious data uploads–occurring over both cellular networks and open, public wireless access nodes in homes, coffee shops, restaurants, bars, stores, and businesses all across the nation–have, quite literally, turned the address book owners’ wireless mobile devices into mobile radio beacons broadcasting and publicly exposing the unsuspecting device owner’s address book data to the world.”

While many companies have yet to release a statement, Hani Durzy of LinkedIn has publicly stated that their applications do no such thing.

So what kind of affect will these practices have on the social media industry? It seems that most users accept that their demographics, personal information and sometimes even their location can be monitored by their applications and networks. In 2011, social media giant and leader of the industry issued what seemed like a public apology for the privacy violations and has seemingly been quickly forgiven by its loyal users. A search engine optimization company understands the value of social media, and can help explain how your company can benefit from a mix of SEO and social media techniques.

Matt Foster is the CEO of ArteWorks SEO, a full service Internet marketing firm, who has been active in the SEO industry since 1995. Mr. Foster can be found on Twitter @ArteWorks_SEO. ArteWorks SEO can be found at www.arteworks.biz.

How Does Social Media Help Build Brands?

Social Media is without a doubt, one of the easiest and most effective ways to reach your target audience and communicate with thousands of potential customers. One of the greatest features of social media is that your message can easily turn “viral,” when others share with their own personal networks. In this day and age, it’s almost imperative that your company take advantage of the social media market if you want the competitive advantage.

Not only does Social Media help your company maintain brand awareness, but it’s one of the most cost effective ways to advertise. Traditional advertising campaigns can cost thousands of dollars—imagine the costs of a commercial, magazine ad, or multiple billboard placements. Smaller businesses just can’t compete with traditional advertising and are realizing the true power of Social Media.

Social Media allows you to create a brand for your company, since you are no longer just talking at your customers, you are talking to them. Your company may like to offer weekly specials and discounts, or you can become the company that runs an annual sweepstakes. Another great way to boost report with your customers is to become the expert in your industry. Let your customers ask you questions and leave comments. When your company is willing to share its knowledge, it can show how helpful and informed its employees are.

Social Media offers your company the opportunity to build brand awareness and loyalty. For small businesses, customer loyalty is extremely important, which places emphasis on customer satisfaction. Allowing your customers to “Opt-in” to your Social Media pages helps you keep track of their satisfaction, feedback and suggestions. You can offer prizes for customers who respond the most, or those that offer their feedback. Social Media has become a truly interactive form of marketing, so the sky is really the limit with how you’d like to interact with your customers.

Beyond just creating and promoting your brand, you are helping to drive more traffic to your website and blog. Writing a relevant and exciting blog is one great way to drive your customers from your Social Media site to your blog and home page. Social Media can also help improve your search engine rankings, and help you to generate sales. Many Social Media sites will allow you to search out words or phrases, so if you offer tutoring services, you can search phrases like “need help with school” or “I need a tutor” then you can easily connect with potential customers.

It seems pretty obvious that Social Media isn’t going anywhere, and the sky really is the limit with this amazing advertising medium. It’s not too late to get started, and choosing a great Austin SEO company can be a huge help, since they understand just the way to give your company to boost it visibility.

About the Author: Allison Schnur is the Marketing Manager of ArteWorks SEO, a full service Austin SEO firm located in Austin, TX. For more information about our top rated search engine optimization company please visit http://www.arteworks.biz.

7 Reasons Why Every Business Should Be On Twitter

It is hard to find a big business that does not regularly maintain a corporate Twitter account. Even small businesses are catching on and the ones that have not, should. Twitter is an invaluable resource and should be incorporated into a well rounded search engine optimization strategy. Not only is it a place where you can directly connect with your customers, but it a place to build a business’s reputation and sales among other things. Here are seven reasons why every business, both big and small, should be on Twitter.

1. Customer Service- We have all had those dreaded occurrences where reaching a business representative to take care of a problem has been overshadowed by automated phone recordings and long menus with a number to push except for the reason you are calling. A business can respond directly through an at-reply to a customer following their Twitter account. Not only will the problem be addressed, it will be answered almost immediately because of real time search. The best customer service you can offer your customers is direct and immediate responses to questions or concerns.

2. Lead Generation Marketing- Twitter is a place where you can promote and advertise your business for free and generate quality leads. A consumer may find your live tweets through searches and be directed to your website directly from Twitter. It allows you to market in real time. Sharing information and becoming an authority figure on Twitter can allow you to convert connections/followers on Twitter into leads. Having a background with your contact information and website URL is a must.

3. Public Relations- If you have ever been in a crunch or have experienced bad press, the best way to start the repair is to address the negative press promptly and not to ignore it. Addressing a customer’s concern on Twitter will allow other customers to see that you are handling the problem in real time. Businesses can use Twitter to engage a CEO directly with customers, monitor discussions, keep in touch with other media, promote news, and give live updates of news or other announcements.

4. Marketing- Twitter is a place where you can promote your business excessively without being too obnoxious. You can promote blog posts, announcements, products, and much more. It is a great place for personal branding, promotion, and link building. You can announce business growth, job opportunities, and exciting news and announcements. You can search and reach out to users who are interested in what your business does.

5. Crowd Sourcing- You can gain a lot of insight by using Twitter Search. You can find out in mass what people are saying about a certain phrase and/or product. You can take your search a step further by using a smiley face or a sad face to determine the attitude of the conversation. Crowd sourcing on Twitter will offer quick results that will give you direct, real time responses that will show a lot of insight on what customers are thinking and saying. The results are at your fingertips within seconds and are free to evaluate.

6. Sales- Twitter can be used to direct tweets into sales. You can give updates to specials, sales, and/or new products. Some restaurants are even starting to accept orders via Twitter. How great is it that you can tweet what you want to eat or drink and then have your menu choice ready to pick up upon arrival? A lot of businesses run contests on Twitter that give away a free product or subscription. During the duration of a contest and the added exposure, most business will see an increase in sales and traffic.

7. Real Time Updates- Viral marketing is one of the greatest benefits resulting from real time updates and searches. You can send out one Tweet and have a viral effect from a contest or announcement because of Twitter’s real time feature. A business can search and respond to their customers in real time rather than the 1-2 day delay of receiving and answering an e-mail or phone call and then providing a response. Twitter is one of the fastest platforms to share and promote content.

About the Author: Krystle Green is the Vice President of ArteWorks SEO, a full service search engine optimization firm located in Austin, TX. For more information about SEO, SEM, or social media please visit http://www.arteworks.biz.