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Ruining the Web: Google is Responsible and Capable

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 but you might especially like the bit on EBay’s keyword stuffing.


  1. Jamie wrote:

    Great post, it makes me wonder if Google have factored in negative reviews as well. How long until we see a service for negative reviews to even out the playing field?

    Tuesday, January 20, 2009 at 11:24 am | Permalink
  2. deInternetMarketeer wrote:

    Everywhere you set up a system with human editing it one day becomes corrupt.
    Examples enough.

    Tuesday, January 20, 2009 at 5:00 pm | Permalink
  3. Terry Van Horne wrote:

    Were you wearin’ your Aaron Wall autographed tinfoil hat when you wrote this? Did you report the spammer?… then how are you any less complicite than Google. Most of what you wrote here about Google is just bazar. How can you blame Google for the actions of others. That’s like condemning a liquor store for having money when they get robbed.

    @terry: I don’t own any Aaron Wall attire. As for “reporting the spammer” that is exactly the behavior Google has fostered and is so bad for the web. What is “spam”? With no definition,  I can report everyone above me as spam for one reason or another (as I know some of the people in your recommended SEOs list do). Many webmasters define “spam” as “Sites Positioned Above Mine”. How is that good for anyone? Such actions simply make Google more powerful, since by reporting others as spam you grant Google authority to judge (and rule).

    There are many many so-called SEOs who promote this pro-Google mentality and react to any criticism of Google as invalid. Your own “non profit” SEO directory, claiming to  assist the public in picking qualified SEO people, describes SEOs as those who offer submission services and link services. Those are two of the most scam-filled markets on the web, as search engine submissions are almost entirely superfluous to SEO and link services are almost always “non-natural”, and often paid. The Google  guidelines encourage natural linking. Shall we report all of the members of your SEO directory as spammers if they offer fee-based links and submission services?

    Saturday, January 24, 2009 at 4:42 pm | Permalink
  4. John, I completely agree about Google and it’s affect on the Internet. I am a little worried about Google’s theory on the nofollow tag and it’s PR system too. Now that all of the major paid directory pages such as Yelp, superpages, insiderpages, merchantcircle and the like are figuring out Google SEO, they are and completely deluting the web. There is no way a local company can compete with these national directories. For example if you search for “Seattle tinting” without the quotes, you’ll find the first page of Google with at lease 75% paid directories. So why even go to Google to find a local product anymore, if you’re going to just be delivered local directories anyway….

    Similar to what you wrote above, in search, once a site has enough “Page Rank”, they can go into any business they want to and know they’ll be delivered at the top of Google search results….thanks to Google’s PR system.

    Saturday, January 24, 2009 at 9:04 pm | Permalink
  5. john andrews wrote:

    Someone sent me a NYC business ranking in Google, and it has 25 reviews in Citysearch with many of them 5 star reviews. A quick look at those 25 “reviews” show almost every one was submitted by a Citysearch member with just one review in his history (that one), and all during 2 months of one year. Many of the glowing reviews exhibiting clear evidence of English as a second or third language, with misspellings and broken grammar, and they use superlatives found only in textbook glowing reviews. There are several other reviews with 1 or no stars, describing the business as terrible.

    So basically it shows me that the business is not quality, but spends a lot of effort to get 5 star reviews. And Google accepts that as evidence of worthiness for ranking in Google and Google local.

    Sunday, January 25, 2009 at 12:31 pm | Permalink
  6. Pittsburgh wrote:

    Google definitely does shape the way the web works. Being that I work in SEO I have a lot of respect and understanding for what Google does but I still like to see options. But the honest truth is no-one has been able to do it better. Cule tried and failed.

    Sunday, January 25, 2009 at 11:54 pm | Permalink
  7. andy wrote:

    “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” – can you expand on this John, how exactly will google benefit?

    Wednesday, February 18, 2009 at 4:36 pm | Permalink
  8. Scott wrote:

    John, here is something that kinda relates.. check out this valley wag post:

    Friday, February 20, 2009 at 1:50 pm | Permalink
  9. John, You didn’t say anything about all the link building process. People spam the internet with links, to increase their pagerank…

    Monday, March 2, 2009 at 7:26 am | Permalink
  10. Good god, I had never even heard of Google local or of people doing this in this way to get rankings. Wonder when google will catch on to this practice.

    Friday, March 13, 2009 at 1:13 pm | Permalink