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How To See If Google Local Search Reviews Are Authentic

You’re searching for a local Plumber using Google Local Listing (also known as Google Places).

However, how do you know whether the plumber is reliable and reputable ? The Reviews !  But how do you know if they are authentic reviews ?

We’ll go over a few Google Local Search Reviews to see for yourself if they are real reviews. Also we’ll go over Google Review Syndication.

Local Search Analysis:

I did a random search for “plumbers san diego ca” in google ( http://ow.ly/2qB9D ) and saw one listing (Bill Howe Plumbing)  that stood apart as it had 106 reviews !

If you click on the reviews for this fellow you’ll see that the top 5 reviews are all 5 stars, perfectly happy customers ! Thats a good thing right ?

So i decided to look into the details for the top 5 reviewers and noticed an odd pattern. I’ll use the latest reviewer : “Chappy” as an eg to show the odd pattern i found

This fellow is someone who takes posting reviews very seriously. All his reviews are 5 stars. On August 6th chappy has posted 17 reviews. Most of us dont have the time to post more then a couple in a day but thats ok, “chappy” takes reviews seriously.

However should one look further in detail you’ll see a lots of odd things :

1) On the review for Bill Plumbing “chappy” claims to be Megan M of San Diego Ca, however on the same day posts reviews under the names of Craig B of Denver CO, D G of Chicago IL, Danielle of Minneapolis, MN, Christi of Costa Mesa, CA

2) Chappy claims to be living at Legend Park Apts in Schaumburg, IL yet takes his/her ( not sure )  garage door to be fixed in Lake Forest, CA ! Further goes to a dentist in Boston, MA and uses a Spine Doctor in Chatham, NJ.

3) Posting of 17 reviews on Aug 6th alone and buying of several cars from various dealers all across the country

4) Always posting 5 star ratings ! I guess he/she is always extremly satisfied.

Now, would you agree with me, that there is an odd pattern here ? Also its the same pattern with the other top 5 reviewers for Bill Howe Plumbing. Which brings the question: Are these Reviews Authentic ?

There could be some explanations for the reviews done. Perhaps chappy is a young billionaire who has houses all over the country, travels on a daily basis for leisure or business. Perhaps used their services at one time and just got to posting the reviews on a day when they had nothing else to do.  I dont think thats its likely, but i really dont know. Perhaps you can come up with an explanation and share with all of us here ?

Now i must say that this is not an odd incident. I found similar questionable reviews for several other service providers like Chiropractors and even Criminal Attorneys. I found one case for a Criminal Attorney in Texas that specialized in military cases, where they had a review posted every 7 days on the dot. All of the reviews gave 5 star rating, each reviewer had only 1 review under their profile and the writing pattern was the same for all reviews.

I’d have to say that they were probably done by a Review Providing Service … Google Review Syndication. There are firms that provide reviews for business by either posting fake reviews using various techniques or claim to find your customers and get them to write their reviews on a post card, mail it to the review firm which then posts the customers reviews online under various accounts. Is this service acceptable to google ? While there is no official statement from Google regarding this service, i’m sure google review syndication would not classify as a review but as a comment.

Google’s guidelines are very straight forward. NO FAKE Reviews are acceptable and they do remove fake reviews, ban local listings for business if found to indulge in unfair and unethical methods. Are you willing to take that risk ? I’d recommend thinking twice before you hire a firm offering a review providing service.

I hope you’ll use this post to determine if the reviews you see in local listings for business are authentic or not and do share your thoughts on the eg’s i provided and let me know if you think they are authentic.

On a key note, i have to clarify that I have no affiliation with any Plumbing service. Also am not liable to any loss of business that any firms used in the eg’s may face due to this post. Also i would not be liable if google decided to ban the local listings for any firm mentioned here for unethical methods or non authentic reviews posted. I am not saying that they indulged in any unfair methods, thats for the readers to decide for themselves based on the facts i provided from the reviews.

Look forward to hearing your thoughts on whether you think the reviews are authentic or not. Also if you have other methods to determine if a provider is reputable to not. I can be followed on Twitter and you can fan me on FaceBook. Also feel free to sign up for my Free Newsletter for more exciting articles.

In my next post i’ll go over Top Citation Sources For Local SEO

UPDATE ( Aug 18, 2010 ): Stephanie, Communications Director from Bill Howe Plumbing contacted me to inform that all the reviews posted were genuine and that they had provided them to a Review Syndication firm they hired. The Syndication firm then posted the reviews for Bill Howe Plumbing.

This brings  me to ask

Should Review Firms Provide Proof that the Reviews posted are Genuine ? (Some do by posting a link to a scanned copy of the correspondence from the customer) Let me know your thoughts.

UPDATE ( Sep 13th 2010 ) : Looks like Google has responded to Review Syndication. At the time of writing this post Bill Howe had 106 Reviews showing on Google Places. Now there are only 75 Reviews showing. Did Google respond by removing the reviews they found questionable ? It would seem that way. Will this mark the end of Review Syndication ? feel free to post your thoughts on this below.

UPDATE ( Oct 2nd  2010 )Google removed more reviews for Bill Howe. They have only 49 reviews showing on Google Places.


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30 Responses to “How To See If Google Local Search Reviews Are Authentic”

  1. Stefanie says:

    Hello, I’m the Communications Director at Bill Howe Plumbing, Inc. and I wanted to comment on what was address in your article.
    First, I can guarantee that all of the reviews in question are word-for-word from our customers. Our company receives several letters a week from customers that are mailed directly to our office (we’ve been also trying to encourage our customers to put those same thoughts online but that’s still a work in progress!). About a year ago we signed up with a company called Review Boost that took those letters and posted them on online review Web site. Every one of the reviews posted by Review Boost (who used to use usernames like “Guest” or “Review Boost2″ and now unfortunately started using usernames like “Chappy”) are word-for-word what our customers have written. That is why we include the date of the letter and the first name and last initial of the customer. None of the reviews posted by Review Boost were written by their company or seeked out by their company.
    We were hesitant to use a online review syndicating company (I get about a phone call a day with someone telling me that they can get all the good online reviews we need), but we chose Review Boost because they seemed the most transparent and they weren’t trying to hide that they posted the reviews.

  2. danny says:

    wow, never looked at reviews in that detail before. Def gonna read the reviews like you mentioned from now on, not just look at the ratings.

  3. william says:

    Looking at the reviews for the business makes it look like fake. They would be better off having the customers post the reviews themselves.

  4. Dana says:

    Perhaps Bill Howe should stop using the review firm and offer an incentive to their customers to post reviews directly. I know i’d do it if i was offered a 20 % discount on my next service !

  5. james murphy says:

    am looking to get my home cleaning service business rank higher in google places. can you help ? just sent you an email

  6. Sarah says:

    Excellent post ! I normally dont trust reviews but now i know how to read between the lines and see if they are genuine or not.

  7. Tammy Hill says:

    As a Social Media Enthusiast myself i’d never advised anyone to use any review service as seen here it makes the reviews look non credible even though they are real. I’ve seen some review firms post reviews under individual accounts as well making them look real.

  8. Ramit says:

    @ Stephanie: I glad that you are monitoring the social mentions of your firm online. Thanks for confirming that the reviews are genuine and that you did hire a review syndication firm.
    Ever thought of having your customers post their reviews online directly on facebook perhaps ? Would give more credibility.

  9. Ramit says:

    @ James: Jusr replied to your email with a plan of action for you.

  10. Ramit says:

    @ Dana: Bribe the customers ? LOL

  11. Jennifer Shaw says:

    I agree if they are using a review firm then they should provide proof that the reviews posted are what the customer wrote.

  12. Adam says:

    Great post on google places. Just saw it on digg !

  13. Stefanie says:

    We try to avoid offering discounts for reviews so that customers don’t feel like we’re bribing them, like Ramit says. Instead we’ve been offering incentives to our plumbers who encourage their happy customers to write a review and mention their names – that’s been working pretty good at getting some organic reviews. I’ve always been hesitant of using these types of companies – I don’t ever want our customers to think we’re paying for reviews or writing reviews ourselves. We have a pretty active FB page – great idea to write the reviews directly on our page!

  14. Stefanie says:

    @Jennifer: we do have proof via the actual letters written, but how do we show the customers those letters?

  15. Christina says:

    I don’t really trust reviews, I’d rather research for forums where they are talked about. It looks more authentic to me. Now, it gives me more reason not to trust reviews. :D

  16. Ramit says:

    @Stephanie: Perhaps you could scan the letters and upload them on your site and post a link to the letter at the end of the review posted on google maps.

  17. Jack says:

    I seriously doubt that Bill Howe get “so many” letters from satisfied customers that the company would pay to have a 3rd party post them online. It’s plumbing we’re talking about here folks. When a job is done correctly it’s because thats what someone paid for. It’s extrememly rare that over 25 people in an entire year would write the company letting them know how well they installed a toilet.

  18. Stefanie says:

    @Jack: you’d be surprised! We have every letter that customers have sent us – and their letters aren’t just to say that their toilet was installed correctly. Most of the time it’s to express their thanks because they were in a stressful situation where they didn’t know what else to do. They are thankful because our company and technicians are honest and go out of their way for our customers. We’re not going to use Review Boost anymore because we don’t want anyone thinking for a second that the letters from our customers aren’t authentic, so now we just encourage them to write directly online. If you live in the San Diego area, try out our services (if you need it) and you can see for yourself how much our techs care about our customers.

  19. Ramit says:

    @Stephanie: Great choice in deciding to have your customers post reviews directly. It gives your business more credibility.

  20. Joe Engel says:

    I don’t get it. How can review companies get away with doing this? I mean, doesn’t Google recognize that 17 reviews are written from the same IP ADDRESS??????

    CAN ANYBODY RESPOND TO THIS ONE??

  21. Chris says:

    Bill Howe Plumbing and others need to learn the difference between a testimonial and a review. When you post a testimonial as a review you ARE being dishonest by posting them. It’s waters down the actual reviews and unless you are posting 100%, including all the people that complain. Like those 10 people who complained about you to the BBB. You’re cherry picking, and that alone makes you dishonestly representing your business. The best part, is that when someone searches your business, Bill Howe Plumbing of San Diego California, this will start coming up in the search results. Note that as of now Google has trimmed their reviews to 49. So Google do take this seriously.

  22. Stefanie says:

    @ Chris: you are absolutely right. That is why we’ve stopped working with this company and we will NOT be working with any similar company. We’ve definitely learned from this experience and urge other companies not to make the same mistake we did. We were not trying to mislead anyone or be dishonest, but definitely see that’s how it comes across. That’s okay with me if this article shows up in results – hopefully they’ll read these discussions and see that those reviews were word-for-word from happy customers’s letters (unhappy customers just call us rather than write :-)) But totally agree – simply asking our customers to write reviews has been a much better way to go.

  23. Ramit says:

    @Stefanie: The prob you faced was that Review Boost took a shortcut and used the same profiles to post tons of reviews from all over the country. Thus loosing credibility of the review posted.

    I’ve seen review firms use individual accounts to post just 1 review trying to make it look more authentic. Would it work better ? Perhaps, but could still be tracked.

    I find that ensuring your satisfied customers post reviews directly gets better results. At one of my Toyota Dealer Clients the sales reps were trained to get the customers to fill out the surveys. For each satisfied survey the Emp got a bonus, which was nice enough for the emp to get the cust to fill out the survey and mail it.

    Ciao
    Ramit

  24. Chris says:

    Keep in mind Stephanie, the FTC is cracking down on fake reviews. They stated just last August they considered a companies fake reviews actionable offenses. You may find yourselves is extremely hot water if they choose to prosecute that company and their clients. If an ex-employee or disgruntled customer helps that along by showing how the reviews are misleading, there isn’t much you’ll be able to do. http://blog.ericgoldman.org/archives/2010/08/ftc_dings_pr_fi.htm

  25. Wayne says:

    It is a constant battle to get customers to take the time go on line to get a review. Places like Review Boost and Customer Lobby among other help companies by emailing a question sheet and asks them to offer a review. These actual reviews are then placed onto review sites.
    Most people only review when they are angry and want to get even for something. This provides and answer to those negative reviews. Also remember a lot of negative reviews are left anonymously with no way for a company to correct.

  26. Ramit says:

    @Wayne : There is a difference between a Testimonial and a Review. Google is coming down hard on firms like them.

  27. Eric says:

    Not sure if anyone noticed. But it looks like Bill Howe has been completely knocked off of Google Maps. They are nowhere to be found. This had to be from ReviewBoost right?

  28. The fact that’s its hard to get customers to post good reviews is not an excuse for cheating. This is not going away. Companies need to find ways to make it easier for customers to leave authentic reviews, plain and simple.

  29. Ramit says:

    @Eric: Thanks for sharing this with us. Its interesting to see that Bill Howe Plumbing is off of Google Map Reviews for now. Lets see if this is a temp thing with Google doing updating or something else.

  30. Stefanie says:

    @Eric: Actually Google didn’t take us off – I was trying to fix an issue with our Places profile and accidentally temporarily suspended our page – we’re back up and running!

    @Rick: I am happy to say that we canceled our contract with Review Boost 6 months ago and we’ve been getting more online reviews than we ever did before by simply asking our customers to provide their feedback online. As I said before – to any other companies toying with the idea of using a company like Review Boost – don’t do it – just making sure your customers are informed about these online review sites and the reviews will come.

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