In a competitive market, some companies will do anything to get ahead. Even forgetting about the moral considerations, however, many underhanded practices will backfire, even if they seem to work in the short run. Here is an example that stood out to me recently (but for legal reasons I’ll avoid the company names for now):
I have a large painting client in the Chicago area who has a competitor with a name nearly identical to theirs. They have had several legal battles over the name issue; the guy disappears for a while, and then keeps showing up again! Today I was doing some research for this client and discovered this competitor on Google Places. He had 4 reviews, so I took a closer look. After looking at the reviews, I’m 99% sure that they are mostly or completely bogus. Here´s why I think so:
- The date stamp: all 4 reviews were written on the same day. This can be a coincidence, but it’s not very likely that four real clients would happen to write reviews on the same day, and none on any other day. What is more likely is that one person signed in under four different names.
- All four reviews have keywords in them, which I have never seen a customer do. A customer of any company will not use keywords like, “They were the best house painter Green Bay WI in town. People don’t talk or write that way! That was the clincher for me. I knew then that all were made up.
Why did the competitor do this? Probably he sat in on a webinar or read an article that said that more reviews on Google Places you have, the better placement you will receive on Google searches.
So, will this trick work? Probably not. Google might be the largest search engine in the world, but there are real people (and very, very smart ones) behind the scenes making sure that they keep it the best. They are constantly monitoring how companies promote themselves online. If they discover that a website or ranking is using “black hat” techniques, they will quickly remove the company and/or URL from the web for quite some time. Four different review from a single IP address would alert Google that someone is resorting to “naughty” promotional practices.
What can a company do then to increase their rankings on Google Places? The way it is currently set up, the best practice is to take your time and build quality reviews from multiple sites—not just Google. Google wants to see a variety of quality reviews done on different days and at different times. There is nothing wrong with calling up a customer and asking him or her to write a review. Spread it out a little bit so they´re not doing it on the same day. Maybe set a goal of 2-3 per week. Ask them to use Google, Yelp, CitySearch, Mojo Pages and more.
Marketing takes time! It’s always been that way. People think that because we live in such a fast-paced society, we can acheive #1 results on the web overnight. Sometimes being tricky you will get lucky and get good placement. But like most other parts of life and business, dishonesty doesn’t pay off in the long-run. It might succeed in the present, but it will usually fall apart in time.