Fake reviews are nothing new, says Moira Balangue, Vice President of Third Coast Interactive. However, what is relatively new is the capability of tech-savvy attackers to post a high volume of fake reviews in a matter of hours. This happened in late 2018, and there is very little stopping another online assault.
During a single weekend in December, more than 3 million fake reviews, all of which were four-star ratings with no comments, were posted to various businesses’ Google My Business profiles in the US and abroad. It’s estimated that each of the 37 “reviewers” left approximately 81,000 ratings during this time. It took approximately five days for Google to remove them completely.
According to Balangue, it has yet to be discovered who was behind the review attack on small businesses. The majority of the profiles appeared to be of Vietnamese origin, but names and location are easily falsified.
Impact on small business
Hundreds of small businesses were affected by these attacks. Though an influx of four-star reviews may seem like a positive experience, those who are posting can choose to hide their reviews, which, in this case, were blank anyway. This makes it more difficult for searchers to quickly obtain accurate, peer-provided information when researching a business. As a result, many searchers simply moved on to the next available business. Most of the impacted businesses noticed a significant decrease in online traffic and customer conversion while the fake reviews were still posted.
One business reported receiving nearly two-dozen reviews in one hour. This would be considered an unusually high number even for a large business. There are serious potential consequences associated with review attacks, says Balangue. First, businesses lose revenue by missing out on opportunities to capture new customers. Their website will see diminished traffic, which can lessen its authority on SERPs. It can be difficult to recover from a review attack, which can also result in suspended online profiles if Google or other review platforms believes the reviews were paid for, or otherwise fraudulent, in an attempt to boost the company’s rating.
What was the purpose of the attacks?
To date, no one is quite sure why this large-scale attack was initiated. There is no apparent connection between the targeted businesses. Many SEO experts speculate that it was not explicitly intended to harm SBOs but more to highlight vulnerabilities in Google’s security. While Google has many algorithms in place to identify potentially fraudulent reviews, what they have is not enough. The search engine relies heavily on user-provided feedback on such posts. This is usually provided in the form of “flagging” a review as inappropriate.
When fake reviews happen
There is no way to prevent spam or negative fake reviews. However, small businesses can take steps to minimize the damage. First, each fake review should be reported to Google. This may be time-consuming but can expedite the investigation process. Next, owners/manager may leave a comment noting that the review is fake and is awaiting removal.
The biggest challenge for small businesses is knowing when they have been attacked. Without review monitoring in place, it can take days or even weeks to determine the cause of a sudden slowdown. The Review Solution makes it easy to keep track of online reviews and to be proactive when problems arise. Moira Balangue notes that small business owners without automated review monitoring need to keep a close eye on each of their online profiles to remain informed of their company’s online status.
In short, Google doesn’t know why this latest assault happened. One thing is certain: fake reviews are bad for everyone, but they are especially harmful to small businesses. A quick reaction is the best way to defend against these attacks.
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