In search world we’ve long noted the power Google holds for shaping the web. We’ve long lamented the way Google has failed to put that power to good use, compared to the way it has put that power to work. Google is responsible for much of the character of today’s web (something Google’s own CEO now refers to as a “cesspool”). MFA sites obviously polluted the web (“MFA” is “made for AdSense”, Google’s advertising system. An MFA site is useless except as a vehicle to serve ads).Comment spam and forum spam are aimed directly at Google’s reward system.
As Google became the only search engine, it shaped the character of the web, and is responsible for that impact. By my view, Google is also capable of fixing many of the problems, by virtue of that same power. But it doesn’t bother. And that’s the problem.
Today we see evidence that 100% positive, 5 star product reviews are worth $0.65 each. As the story is currently being reported, some BizDev guy’s name is associated with an offer to pay $0.65 for perfect major brand product reviews on Newegg and Amazon. According to his instructions, you sign up and read the product description for the target product, and then write a review as if you owned the product and loved it. You have to give it a full 5/5 rating, and sound real. For this, you get $0.65. That’s sixty five cents.
Of course the Google lovers will say this is not Google’s doing, and Google can’t stop unethical people from gaming human reviews.
The rest of us will note that Google relies heavily on user reviews for things like Google Local. Google assumes human reviews are worth more than nothing, and includes them into the merit calculations it uses to rank web sites. If you’ve ever seen a “10 box” of Google local results for a plumber or other service provider, you will see that those with more/better reviews show up more frequently than those without reviews. If everyone has one review, then those with zero reviews don’t show at all.
Google has decided that reviews have value, and this incorporated them into the ranking and indexing rules that drive traffic on the web. Obviously Google didn’t value them at sixty five cents, since a boost in Google local is worth far more than that. I wonder, what value did Google assign? And is that value managed across markets? Is this yet another market Google is making, encouraging and requiring human reviews, valuing them secretly, and then trading in that market? If so, Google continues to encourage the web to become a cesspool.
During 2006 I watched known-to-be-less-reputable characters in one of my markets balatantly spam the local reviews in order to gain stars in Google local. He was ahead of his time and stuck out “like a sore thumb”. No one in his market had any reviews, while he had 5 glowing reviews all dated within a week or so of each other. The fact that he was not a native English speaker helped them stand out, but Google still missed it. His competitors cringed with disgust when they saw the results of a Google local search… they felt that guy was really really ugly sitting up there with 5 obviously (to them) fake reviews. They felt it was bad for their industry in general, and bad for the marketplace. They were so put off they refused to ask their customers for reviews. They didn’t want to be like that guy.
As you can guess, that guy has been quite successful. He was never after the top-tier clients on the Dignity Scale. He was after money, which Google delivered via traffic. And now that he has the money…
What’s a fake review worth in your industry? Whether you like it or not, as long as Google is controlling the traffic flow, you will be required to either have a number of glowing, perfect reviews, or you won’t compete with those who do. Especially since starting today, many more companies are aware that perfect reviews work and can be had for as low as $0.65.
Be forewarned, though: with most scams, there are third parties riding the coat tails of the instigators of the initial scam, pitching a “solution” which also just happens to be really really good for them. I consider OpenID one of these… watch as the OpenID promotors pepper the web with comments that OpenID is the solution to fake reviews. It’s not… and it represents a GREAT way for companies like Google to control even more of your access and perspective on the cesspool of the web.
Addendum: There’s plenty to laugh about over at QualityNonsense.com but you might especially like the bit on EBay’s keyword stuffing.