The end of October has been a fountain of information around reviews data and Google My Business information. We have had three major studies come out in the past 10 days or so around the different aspects of Google My Business or reviews in general. I wanted to touch quickly on this data before pointing you off to each report so you can dig into the details yourself. All are from very reputable sources in the industry that I trust. It is worth a look if GMB or reviews are an important part of your business, which is the case for most of us in some way. The main thrust of this is to dig into the study on review fraud though, as I have covered the other topics in detail in the recent past to some degree.
First, the two other studies though.
Review Counts and Google My Business Leads
Semrush Review Totals: I updated a blog post on reviews earlier this week with the latest info from the Semrush study on reviews. Basically, the number of reviews matters more than the score, given that you have a decent score. The point is that it is more important to do a good job and ask everyone for a review than to try to only cherry-pick the people you think will give you a 5-star. The average score of the top and second-ranked business in the study was the same. It was the number of reviews that showed the difference.
Google My Business Growing for Small Business Leads: The other study that came out related to Google My Business was from Joy Hawkins at Sterling Sky. She is a great follow for any GMB or local information. I highly recommend her. She had a quick but powerful article on how much Google My Business has grown as a source of leads for small business. It is very important that you are measuring properly as GMB “organic” leads far outweigh the standard “organic” leads for most local businesses. Keep an eye on what she has to say and always be measuring this stuff so you know how important it is for your business.
Review Fraud Study
So that brings us to the big study by Uberall and Greg Sterling on review fraud. As I say quite regularly, anything Google shows to be important for rankings will typically create an entire industry to cheat at it. This has been the case with links for years and now with reviews. When I say now I mean it is growing. Fake reviews have been an issue for years, but with the growth of reviews as a ranking factor as we have discussed already, reviews can literally be the difference in thousands of dollars of revenue. So companies sprout up to manipulate the system.
I highly recommend you sign up and download the study. It has some great information. Some of the headlines are that 66% of consumers say that fake reviews are a “growing” or “major problem”. They go in great depth on the types of review fraud and what drives it ($$$$). It is a fairly quick read though for all of the great information they pulled together.
If you deal with reviews and Google regularly, you won’t be surprised to find out that the study showed they had the highest overall percentage of review fraud at nearly 11%. They have always sort of had the let everyone in approach and then occasionally weed reviews out via algorithmic processes or red flags. The study shows some industries to have as high as over 20% suspect reviews. This can be extremely frustrating when you are following the rules and you can see that competitors clearly aren’t and are not getting caught. We have seen harsh “punishments” by Google when they have identified fake review networks and businesses losing all or most of their reviews very quickly.
Future of Reviews
The study also goes into detail on ways to prevent fake reviews. All of the organizations in the study have used tactics for review prevention. Some more successful than others. Some have gotten away from the star system and forced basic yes or no type of reviews or “canned” wording such as “professional”, etc. Though some think more will go that route, I think Google uses the words people use in their reviews for much more in terms of ranking signals, so I don’t see them completely getting rid of this. These reviews can be their best knowledge that a coffee shop has the best mocha latte for example. That shows up with people saying that in their reviews. I don’t see them throwing away this great info they can mine for the sake of review fraud prevention. They have always had the most open door to let the info in.
The study touches on technical ways to help here. I talked about algorithmic red flags. We are getting better at knowing if someone actually visits a brick-and-mortar store or not. Allowing only verified buyers or verified visitors to leave reviews may help stop a lot of the foreign “review farms” as there is some proof these users never interacted with the business. I would suspect Google isn’t even all that upset about their over 10% fake number. I think they will continue to let more info in but as their technology advances, find ways to completely remove the obvious fakes. This will still leave the door open to the angry competitors or ex-employee reviews that still show up all of the time and are hard to take down.
We know there is more to come on this front. The main thing I can say is it is better not to get involved with fake reviews and to just keep asking your customers and making it as easy as possible for them to leave you a review. Don’t fear the rare negative and don’t buy hundreds of fake positives. The fakes could end up crippling your business one day when you wake up and your listing is suspended or they have all gone away, along with your rankings and your top source of revenue.