Does Google Acceptance of ‘Testimonials’ Open the Door for ‘Review Fraud’?

During one of my SMX moderated sessions a person in the audience asked Yelp what he can or should do with positive reviews/testimonials on the company’s own site. The Yelp answer was that these reviews would not count and could not be used on Yelp because they weren’t written by Yelp users. However the panel discussed that Google was bringing this type of content into Places.

Mike Blumenthal has discovered interesting information on Google that confirms testimonials hosted on company sites will be treated as reviews:

Obviously then businesses (or third parties on their behalf) can solicit reviews from customers (or fabricate them), host them and get the benefit of those reviews on Google Places.

This was the best meal of my life.

– John Smith, San Francisco

Do you think this opens the door to “review fraud” and what do you think Google can do to guard against it accordingly?

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16 Responses to “Does Google Acceptance of ‘Testimonials’ Open the Door for ‘Review Fraud’?”

  1. Mike Blumenthal says at

    The current review situation is heavily laden with fraud as it is. Essentially unethical review services and their mechanical turks are leaving tons of “testimonials” as reviews now. 

    While hReview formatted content on a business’s website is likely to lead to abuses, in some ways it is more controllable than what is happening now. The source is known and is someone that Google has some relationship to and even a measure of control over (ie suspending their listing).

    In the end, it depends on how Google integrates this content into the Places page and how it is displayed and handled in the algo.

  2. David Mihm says at

    It’s funny, because the only SMB’s likely to take advantage of this are the ones with savvy and/or aggressive marketers, against whom Google has always taken an aggressive stance in the past. I would imagine they’ll be segmenting these out of the normal reviews area of Places at some point.

  3. Mike Blumenthal says at

    @David

    I resemble that remark :)

  4. Greg Sterling says at

    Thanks Mike. David: I would agree that there will ultimately need to be some segmentation of testimonials vs. reviews.

    There are lots of savvy SMBs that are now soliciting and/or rewarding customer reviews. The hard part is getting them to write those reviews on some specific site (e.g., Yelp) if they’re not regular contributors. And then there’s the Yelp algorithm that catches/buries isolated reviews from infrequent contributors.

  5. Mike Blumenthal says at

    Google Places is trying to position itself vis a vis Yelp. One way to do that is to get as much information as possible about a Place and worry about the value of it later.

    Educating SMBs to use microformats and giving them a reason to use them will give Google’s scraper a huge content source that they will KNOW what to do with. It gives them instant on as it were.

    I believe that they have enough confidence in their spam filters that they think they can control the information when need be. In the meantime, “bring it on”.

  6. Greg Sterling says at

    Narratives are less helpful than cumulative data (aggregated positives/negatives) in a mobile context. On the Web it’s different. In order to beat Yelp Google will need to improve consumer trust in Places — effectively it will need to “brand” them.

  7. Mike Blumenthal says at

    @Greg

    Doesn’t Google effectively do that in surfacing the highlighted content via the 7-Pack? At least in my small sample, it appears to be highly trusted by clients.

    From Google’s perspective, is the issue so much beating Yelp as making them less needed? Ie providing adequate summary information on the main serp minimizing the need for both Yelp & Places?

  8. Greg Sterling says at

    Google is a brand but not Google Places. Consumers don’t go to places they arrive there after a couple of clicks. The 7 Pack is a convenience but not any kind of destination in the sense that I mean.

    Google can provide sufficient information on the SERP to “own the bottom of the funnel” (name in mind or phone lookups) but for category searches or other types of lookups, the SERP as presently constituted isn’t suited for “decision making.” It could be but there would need to be UI changes.

  9. Jim Rudnick says at

    Great Piece Greg….concerning the “canuck-ness” of Review Fraud, I posted a blog piece on same back in August here — http://www.canuckseo.com/index.php/2010/08/online-maps-review-credibility-what-do-you-see/ — after reading Miriam’s expose here — http://www.solaswebdesign.net/wordpress/?p=845&cpage=1

    From what I’ve seen lately, ie I continue to research in various channels up here on google.ca — the ability to fraudulenty post reviews continues…and I see no end to same. But the ability to now use on-site Testimonials is disturbing and news to me — so I’ll add same now to my monitoring list…

    …sigh…seems like trying to “keep up” is an all-encompassing job, eh?

    Jim

  10. David Mihm says at

    I think we WILL see major UI changes — Mike and I blogged about the screen that Linda Buquet sent him earlier in the summer where an organic-local hybrid dominated the entire page for particular phrases. Something along those lines will continue to evolve I think.

    @Mike, what business isn’t going to post 10-20-30 customer reviews that all give them 5 stars? It’s not spam, but surely Google is not going to use those reviews at the same level they would had they been left on a third-party site?

  11. Greg Sterling says at

    It could weight owned sites differently than third party/trusted sites.

  12. Mike Blumenthal says at

    @David
    I think every business should and will surface testimonials that all give them 5 stars. How Google handles them in Places as Greg points out, is yet to be seen.

    As you know, Google is continuing that UI test so they must be serious about it.

  13. Malcolm Lewis says at

    I doubt review publishers/aggregators will ever stamp out review fraud. I believe the answer is to help users filter reviews based on a personally-curated social graph that says: These are the users (friends or otherwise) that I trust for restaurant reviews. It will take users time to develop such a graph, but it will be worth the effort.

  14. Testimonials From Your Site Can Appear on Google Place Pages | Rodney Payne says at

    […] Greg Sterling points out at Screenwerk, popular review site Yelp doesn’t include testimonials from companies’ sites. Google […]

  15. Jim Morris says at

    More content is not always better and most users will sniff something funny…I mean who trusts that always positive movie reviewer from USA Today.

    The high quality content will come when reviewers have a reputation to defend as on eBay and Yelp…Google doesn’t seem to inspire people to login yet so that’s a major disadvantage. Or if a third party figures out how to reliably collect reviews from the offline experience using a code like they do with the satisfaction surveys that make receipts too large to fit in my wallet.

    As for the really small SMBs, they should do what my local French restaurant did. Every menu had a card soliciting a review in Zagat. there was no quid pro quo just capitalizing on us regular customers’ zeal for a high quality product. Now they are ranked in the top 10 in SF and I can’t get last minute reservations. Good for them.

  16. Jozef Foerch says at

    Reviews Reviews Reviews…. I am constantly coming across some companies that are just outright getting away with the most outright spammy tactics and dominating the SERPs for the keywords they are targeting.
        Lets take one questionable listing in Austin that has 70 reviews with maybe 10 of them by someone who has reviewed more than once. http://tinyurl.com/268ncnv This person is obviously using a postal address but also gets away with 70 reviews all 5-star.
       @Mihm…I was hoping that by now Google would institute changes to the Places Ranking Algo that would snuff out the Postal Addresses, User Created Maps Manipulation…and most esp…to begin to lower the rank of those that have 70 reviews…all five star and all from people who haven’t reviewed on Google either before or since they reviewed the company mentioned.  
       

  17. Dana says at

    Testimonials/reviews rank right up there with the (perceived) authority that comes with that of a “A+” BBB listing. Both can be gamed. Both can be bought. Both are a load of spam filled hooey!!! Google has nowhere near the personnel to monitor their own creations. The proverbial can of worms has just been opened a little wider. Buyer beware.

  18. Google Segmenting, Categorizing Reviews On Places Pages says at

    […] objective in that case would be to separate “qualified” reviews from more dubious and potentially fraudulent reviews that would be posted on business websites in the hope of influencing Google local results or […]

  19. Google Segmenting, Categorizing Reviews On Places Pages | Aitir Google Lab says at

    […] objective in that case would be to separate “qualified” reviews from more dubious and potentially fraudulent reviews that would be posted on business websites in the hope of influencing Google local results or […]

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