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What Happens When Google Catches a Business Buying Fake Reviews 3 Times [Case Study]

If you read Google’s spam report from 2022, it seems like they are doing a decent job of tackling fake reviews.  In 2022, they blocked or removed over 115 million policy-violating reviews, with the majority of them caught before they were ever seen.

Fake reviews aren’t slowing down though. My clients are constantly getting messages from people offering to post fake reviews for them on Google or Facebook. Ironically, one of the most common methods these days is for them to use the messaging feature on your Google Business profile to tell you about this. For this plumbing company, all of the last 8 messages they’ve received are from people offering to post fake reviews for them.

 

In a report from the FTC, Devesh Raval stated that “I estimated that about half of the difference between Google and Yelp ratings of low-quality businesses are due to fake reviews, and at least about a quarter of Google reviews for low-quality businesses are likely fake.”  

This resonates with me because it’s exactly what I see all the time like in this real-life example I’m about to share with you.

There is a home services company in Canada that has been buying reviews for quite some time. They’re not even really doing a good job of it – it’s painfully obvious that they are fake. If you look on Google or Facebook, their average rating makes it look like their average customer is happy with them.  However, if you look anywhere else, you get the truth.

On Yelp, they have a 1-star average:

On the BBB, you get the same story with an F rating and tons of complaints. 

What Does Google Do When You Report Reviews?

You can report fake reviews to Google by going to the redressal form.  For the drop-down under “Identify the content on Google Maps that you claim might lead to fraudulent activity” just leave it blank since none of those options apply to reviews. 

In this case, this business had 18 listings that were buying reviews and were reported over a year ago to Google. I’m not going to detail everything for all 18 listings but will use one of their locations as an example, as all of them told this same story.

May 2022 – They had an average rating of 4.1 and 60 reviews when first reported.

July 2022 – Google removed half their reviews, they dropped down to 18 reviews, and their average rating dropped down to 3.

September 2022 – They bought more reviews and were back up to a total of 89 with a 4.6 average.  They were reported a second time.

October 2022 – Google removed a bunch more, they dropped down to 25 reviews with an average rating of 3.7.

November 2022 – They bought more reviews and were back up to 37 reviews with an average rating of 4.1. They were reported a third time.

December 2022 – Google removed more reviews, they dropped down to a total of 20 reviews with an average rating of 3.4.

Currently, they have a total of 100 reviews with an average rating of 4.6.

What’s the penalty for buying Google Reviews?

The only punishment for buying reviews on Google is that you might lose some of the ones you bought, but you know, you can always just keep buying more. I’ve also only ever seen 1 business profile get suspended for having fake Google reviews in my entire career. 

This is a broken system that does not protect consumers. I genuinely feel for the customers reading the multitudes of negative reviews for this business. They should be warned in some way that this business is doing this, especially since Google has agreed the reviews were not legitimate three times already. It is a stark contrast to Yelp’s harsh treatment for businesses they catch breaking their review guidelines. 

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Joy Hawkins

Joy is the owner of the Local Search Forum, LocalU, and Sterling Sky, a Local SEO agency in Canada & the USA. She has been working in the industry since 2006, writes for publications such as Search Engine Land, and enjoys speaking regularly at marketing conferences such as MozCon, LocalU, Pubcon, SearchLove, and State of Search. You can find her on Twitter or volunteering as a Product Expert on the Google My Business Forum.

This Post Has 3 Comments

  1. From my experience google loves to tell you to just keep doing the right things and you will prevail and if you do the wrong thing we’re going to get you. Neither are really true.

  2. OMG – Google will suspend a GBP for genuine local business for the most minor edits which are very often done in good faith ie the phone number change, and something which is far more serious with premediation to falsify rarely does …….

  3. “The only punishment for buying reviews on Google is that you might lose some of the ones you bought”? Not even close. Google can also decimate your rankings. We had a carpet cleaning client who bought a bunch, rankings barely went up, a few weeks later, Google removed them and destroyed their rankings, as measured on the BrightLocal map grid rankings report.

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