News has hit the SEO world this week that the state of New York has begun a crackdown on fake online reviews. According to Bloomberg Businessweek, New York Attorney General’s announcement of a deal with 19 businesses that have agreed to stop writing fake reviews and pay over $350,000 in penalties.
This mirrors a similar event in the past month, wherein a lawyer from San Diego was sued by Yelp for planting fake reviews on his solo legal practice in California state court, an act that has likely spurred authorities to run after fake reviewers. Both cases follow a similar pattern: powerful entities taking on small business owners for blatant, although once-overlooked, violations in advertising laws.
What lesson, then, can SEO marketers learn from these two events? These developments made it very clear for us that we can no longer rely on the blackhat practice of writing fake reviews to advance our Internet marketing schemes. Obviously, the news established that fake reviews are incompatible with advertising laws, at least in the US, and are thus illegal.
Writing fake reviews is just another content marketing technique. It works as a great way to establish the authority of a site, and thereby have the potential to increase your website’s search engine ranking. This is because such reviews can be used to build links that appear natural to the search engines’ eyes, thereby increasing the site’s authority and its ranking.
It also works as a way to generate conversions for your business. These days, many people who have heard of a business that offers something they need tend to search for reviews of that enterprise online. Good reviews, regardless of their legitimacy, tend to give people a good impression of the business that the reviews sneakily promote, thus opening the possibility of conversion.
Despite all the benefits that fake reviews can give your business, the fact remains that it violates the laws of all countries that value honesty in advertising, which would be pretty much every nation in existence. Legal implications aside, there actually are a few more reasons why SEO marketers should make it a point to avoid resorting to fake reviews to promote a business on the Internet.
First off, it is very unethical. This is not just because planting fake reviews all over the Internet violates the law. Rather, it is also because fake reviews are biased and dishonest, and therefore deceives the promoted business’ prospective customers.
Second, marketers who plant fake reviews are putting their clients in a big financial risk. Lawsuits cost money and there’s no way for the enterprise that is promoted by fake reviews to win it. Most businesses on the Internet fall on the small and medium enterprise or SME category, and may not be able to survive the litigation. This, in turn, will have a negative impact on your reputation as an Internet marketer. It’s just naturally that people have an aversion towards marketers who use methods that gave their clients financial troubles.
Lastly, it pays to be honest. While fake reviews work great as an SEO method and can produce results in the short term, honest advertising is always a better alternative. It is a great way to build your reputation in the long term and builds trust a lot better than sketchy reviews.