Phony Reviews Making Headlines in the Wall Street Journal

This story popped up in the Wall Street Journal recently, and its appearance there is noteworthy. We've been discussing the importance of good online reviews for a while now, and if you haven't been paying attention, now might be a good time to start.

Long story short, from the original article: 

Attorney General Eric Schneiderman is trying to dismantle what he calls a system of creating false online reviews for products and services. On Monday he announced that he has settled cases with 19 companies that included $350,000 in penalties. The fake plaudits are sometimes called "astroturfing," a reference to the synthetic grass used on sports fields.

"Consumers rely on reviews from their peers to make daily purchasing decisions on anything from food and clothing to recreation and sightseeing," Schneiderman said. "This investigation into large-scale, intentional deceit across the Internet tells us that we should approach online reviews with caution."

So the New York Attorney General finds phony reviews to be a significant enough issue to confront head on. A couple takeaways:

Good reviews are important enough to make many businesses feel the need to cheat.

Good, or bad, reviews can make or break a business, and local businesses are starting to understand this in increasing numbers. In competitive industries in particular, you need to get good reviews if you want to get found, and you can be sure that your competition will have them. There is a separate question of whether business owners are willingly engaging in shady practices, or if they're being duped by hucksters who are telling them that fake reviews are the way to go.

The good news is that the home performance market isn't quite so saturated. Consequently, just a handful of reviews will go a long way, and if you follow best practices you're likely to do well. 

Misconceptions still abound about the right way to acquire reviews.

It certainly may be the case that at least some of the companies who are being accused here were duped by shady companies selling reviews, and that their intentions were good. Misconceptions about SEO best practices are widespread, and a major obstacle between business owners and the path of best practices (and legal practices) is the aggressiveness with which many shady marketing companies (who, truth be told, may not even be aware of how shady they are) market so-called "black hat" SEO practices like fake reviews.

In some ways, there's an analogy with home performance here: it's either the cheap, easy and ultimately bad way; or the correct, safe and ultimately good way; and the first step onto the right path is a knowledge of the distinction between the two. The NY Attorney General and the Wall Street Journal taking note of the issue appears to signal a step forward here.

For more information about the importance of reviews, how to get them and how not to get them, check out the following posts:

And as always, feel free to leave a comment or give us a call with any questions, comments or concerns.

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