More raps for Google on the “fake reviews” front.

Google’s trying to not have its local search initiative devolve into charges and counter-charges of “fake news” à la the most recent U.S. presidential election campaign – but is it trying hard enough?

It’s becoming harder for the reviews that show up on Google’s local search function to be considered anything other than “suspect.”

The latest salvo comes from search expert and author Mike Blumenthal, whose recent blog posts on the subject question Google’s willingness to level with its customers.

Mr. Blumenthal could be considered one of the premiere experts on local search, and he’s been studying the phenomenon of fake information online for nearly a decade.

The gist of Blumenthal’s argument is that Google isn’t taking sufficient action to clean up fake reviews (and related service industry and affiliate spam) that appear on Google Maps search results, which is one of the most important utilities for local businesses and their customers.

Not only that, but Blumenthal also contends that Google is publishing reports which represent “weak research” that “misleads the public” about the extent of the fake reviews problem.

Mike Blumenthal

Google contends that the problem isn’t a large one. Blumenthal feels differently – in fact, he claims the problem as growing worse, not getting better.

In a blog article published this week, Blumenthal outlines how he’s built out spreadsheets of reviewers and the businesses on which they have commented.

From this exercise, he sees a pattern of fake reviews being written for overlapping businesses, and that somehow these telltale signs have been missed by Google’s algorithms.

A case in point: three “reviewers” — “Charlz Alexon,” “Ginger Karime” and “Jen Mathieu” — have all “reviewed” three very different businesses in completely different areas of the United States:  Bedoy Brothers Lawn & Maintenance (Nevada), Texas Car Mechanics (Texas), and The Joint Chiropractic (Arizona, California, Colorado, Florida, Minnesota, North Carolina).

They’re all 5-star reviews, of course.

It doesn’t take a genius to figure out that “Charlz Alexon,” “Ginger Karime” and “Jen Mathieu” won’t be found in the local telephone directories where these businesses are located. That’s because they’re figments of some spammer-for-hire’s imagination.

The question is, why doesn’t Google develop procedures to figure out the same obvious answers Blumenthal can see plain as day?

And the follow-up question: How soon will Google get serious about banning reviewers who post fake reviews on local search results?  (And not just targeting the “usual suspect” types of businesses, but also professional sites such as physicians and attorneys.)

“If their advanced verification [technology] is what it takes to solve the problem, then stop testing it and start using it,” Blumenthal concludes.

To my mind, it would be in Google’s own interest to get to the bottom of these nefarious practices. If the general public comes to view reviews as “fake, faux and phony,” that’s just one step before ceasing to use local search results at all – which would hurt Google in the pocketbook.

Might it get Google’s attention then?

Fake online product reviews: How pervasive are they?

Fake reviewsThink about those reviews that mean so much to you when considering whether to purchase a particular product or a service …

It could be that the comments you’re reading are bogus – or at least not based on the reviewer’s first-hand experience.

An online survey of nearly 1,200 U.S. adults age 18 and older, conducted by marketing research firm YouGov in January 2014, found that more than one in five respondents admitted to having posted online reviews about products or services they hadn’t actually bought or used.

The percentage is somewhat higher for men (~23%) than it is for women (~17%).

Why do people post reviews or comments on products and services they haven’t tried?  Here’s what the survey respondents reported:

  • “Just felt like it”:  ~32% gave this reason
  • “Didn’t like the idea of the product”:  ~22%
  • “Didn’t like the manufacturer”:  ~19%

These stats might suggest that there are more “negative” reviews being posted online than what reflects the actual experience with the product or service.

But the YouGov survey also found that far more people leave good reviews than bad ones:

  • ~57% have left a mixed review
  • ~54% have left a good review
  • Only ~21% have ever left a bad review

What drives someone to leave a bad review?  The #1 reason is obvious … but the #2 reason might surprise you.  And the #3 reason is just mercenary:

  • ~88% want to warn others about a disappointing product or service
  • ~23% believe that venting their frustrations will leave them feeling less angry
  • ~21% are hoping to get a refund or some other monetary consideration from the company in question

The veracity of online reviews is important because the vast majority of adult consumers check them before deciding to purchase a product or service.

This YouGov survey is no different:  It found that ~79% consult reviews at least sometimes … and ~26% reported that they “always” check reviews before buying a product or service.

FakeryThe YouGov report comes hard on the heels of a Virginia lawsuit wherein a carpet cleaning service charged online review website Yelp with publishing negative reviews posted by people who had never been customers of the store.  The cleaning service claimed that the negative reviews had hurt its business.

In that case, a judge ordered Yelp to reveal the identities of the seven “anonymous” reviewers — who I’m sure never thought their “unidentified antics” would ultimately be revealed for all the world to see.

It may just be that posting a “faux” review has now become a little riskier.

People may think twice now before engaging in their little mischief.  I’m sure most of them can think of a lot better things to do than to be hauled into court for an alleged infraction like that — or at the very least, having their name brought into the legal proceedings.