Astroturf and Online Reviews

September 25, 2013

By Web Programmer Brandon Edmark

On September 23rd, New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman announced that 19 companies had been ordered to stop writing fake online reviews. These companies were being hired to write fraudulant positive reviews on Internet services such as Yelp, Google Local, and CitySearch. These reviews appear to come from individual satisfied consumers. They were designed to convince potential customers that a business’s products or services are better than real reviews would indicate. This practice is known as “astroturfing,” because it involves replacing the “natural landscape” of unbiased online reviews with artificial content. Said Attorney General Schneiderman, “Astroturfing is the 21st century’s version of false advertising, and prosecutors have many tools at their disposal to put an end to it.”

Clearly, many companies are desperate to appear favorably on business review websites. This is because a company’s own website is no longer its sole presence online. Many people turn to services such as Yelp and Google Local before looking for a company’s website, especially for businesses like restaurants and recreational facilities. Therefore, it is important to maintain a positive appearance on services such as Yelp and Google Local. However, shady techniques such as “astroturfing” are costly and counterproductive in the long run. How can a business keep an effective profile on business review websites?

The first key is to generate as many legitimate positive reviews as possible. If your business gets a lot of walk-in traffic, reviews can be encouraged by adding Yelp and Google signs in your place of business. On Yelp, you can create special events and deals to encourage active Yelp users to try your business. If your business is based on long-lasting relationships with relatively few clients, encourage those you are on good terms with to write reviews for you.

What about preventing bad reviews? Of course, focusing on consistent customer satisfaction within the actual business is key. However, the occasional disgruntled client can be hard to avoid. What can you do if you find a bad review for your business? Unless there are provable errors or abusive language in the review, it will be virtually impossible to get Yelp or Google administration to remove it. The key is to focus on positive reviews. If customers see many well-written positive reviews from real people, they will be likely to ignore a few bad ones.

Increasing your visibility on business review websites is important, but you don’t need to resort to expensive and unethical practices like astroturfing to get results. Focus on generating legitimate positive reviews, and your business’s online reputation will improve.