As we all know, reviews are the name of the game when building trust and credibility with potential customers – particularly in service based businesses. Google reviews are especially valuable as they increase your local visibility, and growing the number of positive Google reviews is a vital part of a local SEO strategy. Knowing all this, is it any wonder that companies would buy fake reviews? Especially if they’re just starting out, or if they’ve recently gotten a negative review.
In this article, I’m going to use a specific example of a business that I personally interacted with recently. After purchasing a historic home that is in serious need of restoration, I started the process of searching for contractors who had specific experience with historic homes. One stood out among the rest, Renaissance Restorations. They seem to be the only game in town in many cases, and they’re listed as a preferred contractor on local websites and forums for historic districts in Southeastern Michigan. I called and spoke to Jaime Craig, the owner, and received multiple assurances that they had hundred of satisfied clients and had people on staff who were experts at installing Ludowici tile. Despite all of that, I was immediately suspicious of them due to their reviews.
Upon first glance, there’s nothing suspicious.
As a rule of thumb, I always spot check to see if reviewers have left other reviews in the area. Pattie Bucienski didn’t have any other local reviews, but that could be normal. The next two also only had 1 review to their name. I read the first 3, but before going further, I switched over to their Facebook to see if I could find any other reviews that I could fact check against. What I found sent up major red flags. Click/tap the image below to see a larger version, showing duplicate reviews by different people side by side.
Mateen Don’s Google review hadn’t sent up any red flags as a fake originally, and was the sort of review I was actually looking for since I too was looking for a company who could work with a very specific and rare roofing material. However, it’s unlikely that Mateen Don and Muhammad Waqas would have the same exact review just coincidentally. Review states:
We had Renaissance re-roof our house. We wanted a special GAF Camelot Shingle that most other companies had no idea about. Renaissance showed us homes they had put the shingle on previously. We are quite happy and it was done faster than anticipated. I smile when I pull into my garage!
Clicking on Muhammad Waqas on Facebook provides a little more insight into the fake review. He lives in Lahore, Pakistan. All of the businesses he’s involved with are in Pakistan and thereabouts. He also manages Social Media Saver, which is a like/follower farm where you can buy a certain number of likes/follows for your social media page. While I realize we’re in a global economy and there’s always the potential that he has a home somewhere in Michigan, it’s also pretty unlikely. Especially when paired with the fact that someone with a different name posted the same exact review on Google.
Again, without that cross check via Facebook, I never would have found that Google review suspicious.
Once I’ve seen one suspicious review, I step up from spot checking and become much more thorough in checking the reviews. In this case, since I was potentially dropping 20k+ on a new roof, I wanted to be as diligent as possible to ensure that I didn’t have a bad experience. There’s always the chance that this is a one-off review issue that the company owner didn’t necessarily expect after potentially dealing with an sketchy social media service.
Unfortunately, further investigation made Renaissance Restoration look even worse.
1.) Muhammad Hamza, another reviewer of Renaissance Restoration, appears to have left a fake review on Facebook. Lives in Lahore, Pakistan as well, and is also associated with the sketchy “Social Media Saver” company.
We had been seeing Renaissance Restoration ads in the Grosse Pointe News for a while, so when it was time for renovations we decided to give them a call for a quote on our work. Mr. Craig, the owner came out along with Jeri Lathum and talked to us about our kitchen project as well as flooring. The amount of time they spent blew away the competition. They were genuinely interested in the details and the project. During the entire time of the project we were made to feel that our investment in the project was secondary to the detail and perfection of the whole scope. I wish more companies had an old fashioned attitude like Renaissance, where the craft is still the most important part.
And here’s the image of the two reviews, placed 3 months apart, shown side by side. These would normally be a red flag to me for being so specific (for example, mentioning last names and where they saw the ad, which happens to include the name of a very wealthy city), but it’s laughably obvious that they’re fake due to the duplication of the reviews.
Apparently two more people had the same exact experience, all within the same month, and back to back no less. Click on the image below to see it in detail. Clearly the review is trying to target Farmington, another wealthy area with historic homes.
3.) Reviewers who had more than one posted review reviewed locations all over the country… but also all reviewed the SAME locations. Just having reviews spread across multiple states isn’t instantly alarming, since people travel for business and pleasure all the time and might want to share their experiences. However, it’s too much of a coincidence that those people who have left glowing reviews for Renaissance Restorations are also having great experiences at the same locations all across the US. Click on the image to see the details, I’ve highlighted reviews for the same business with the same colors. Mechanic One Auto Repair is a popular business among those who have left reviews for Renaissance Restoration, showing up in 4 out of 5 of the reviewers below.
Note how the reviewer who only has 2 reviews may have initially passed the sniff test. However, by cross checking it’s fairly obvious that these are placed reviews as well, since another reviewer, Ladonna Ray, also had a great experience at Carson Cars and Mechanic One Auto Repair, which makes an appearance across the range of reviews.
All in, looking at the Google reviews for this business, about 21 of the 30 reviews don’t pass the sniff test. Many have reviews in Pakistan, many more have reviews for scattered businesses and almost all include a review for Mechanic One Auto Repair. That leaves 9 potentially real reviews there, 5 of which are negative, and 1 of which is the owner of the business.
Why We Talk About Fake Reviews
For a long time, Google was a bit overzealous in filtering Google reviews. Many local business owners suffered as Google filtered real reviews and fakes alike, with filters being triggered by something as simple as the reviewer not being in the same area as the business at the time of their review. It seems Google has gotten much more lax in filtering, likely in acknowledgement that reviewers move around quite a bit and businesses shouldn’t have to suffer the consequences of lower visibility when reviews are filtered… unless those reviews have been shown beyond a reasonable doubt to be fake. It’s quite a bit harder to show a ‘true fake’ with an algorithm, especially if you can’t filter based on location.
Because of this, I expect to see many more fake reviews appear for high margin businesses over the next few years. Mike Blumenthal, sort of the grand master of Google local reviews and SEO, wrote extensively about a massive network of fake reviewers he’s uncovered earlier this year. Clicking through to his spreadsheet you can see that ultimately, many of the fake reviews get filtered out and become invisible to the public. That’s pretty great, and a good step forward for Google.
Savvy consumers will need to stay vigilant, though. In high ticket purchases, it’s recommended to do major due diligence, looking for overlapping reviews and duplicates, scattered reviews across the nation that don’t seem right, marketing speak in reviews, and ‘too specific’ reviews calling out individuals by name or citing locations and materials. Look for a preponderance of evidence that it’s fake, rather than relying on one indicator.
We picked Renaissance Restorations for this article not because we think it’s a bad business, but because it’s glaringly obvious that they’ve planted reviews to try to help their business. In some small way, I’m sure it’s helped in the short term. In the long term, this is a terrible strategy and does more harm than good when potential customers spot the fakes and question the credibility of the business.
Get Real Google Reviews for Your Home Renovation Business and More
After looking at Angie’s List and Home Advisor, I have to believe that the reviews for Renaissance Restoration on those sites are real. And in the case of a home renovation or restoration company, it might make sense to focus on those sites instead of Facebook and Google, since reviewers go through a more intensive screening process. However, you can’t ignore Google and Facebook forever, since they both have the largest volume of ‘eyes’ on your business at any given time. You have to get reviews there to maximize your exposure to potential customers.
That’s where companies like ours come in. We provide a low-cost, simple platform that reaches out to your current and former customers, asking for feedback. If they’re happy, we prompt them to review your business on Google, Facebook, or any other site where we know we need to beef up your appearance or rating. If they weren’t happy and provide negative feedback, we provide them with a private portal that allows them to send you a note on their experience privately. It’s a smart strategy to keep your business in the spotlight and never risk the potential negative reviews that you might get if you simply asked every customer to review you online.
If you’re a business owner looking to improve your local visibility, contact us today for a free, private consultation!