Review Spam on Google Maps, 10 Months Later

Filed in Google, Local Search by Matt McGee on November 13, 2008 14 Comments

With thanks to my Anaheim florist friend, Cathy, I just ordered a nice flower arrangement for good friends in San Jose who just had their first baby. I asked Cathy for a recommendation because she’s very much in touch with the best local florists around the country, and I wanted to make sure I was spending money with a real, small business — not some affiliate or intermediary who would charge me more for doing nothing.

Cathy suggested I call Marlowe’s Flowers, a Milpitas florist whom she liked after visiting a few years ago. It’s a good thing I had Cathy’s recommendation, because if I’d relied solely on this company’s online reviews, I would’ve never called them. Have a look at this screenshot of Marlowe’s listing on Google Maps:

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I’d probably skip right past any business with a 2.5 stars rating, wouldn’t you? But, if you bother to dig into the reviews (which most people won’t), you’ll see something awfully suspicious:

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Most of the reviews — and all of the 1-star reviews — were written over the course of two days: January 3 and 4, 2008. I circled the dates on a handful in the image above, but that’s only half the story. There are ten 1-star reviews, all left in a two-day span. And as if that’s not suspicious enough, let’s look at the review history of these “people” leaving the negative reviews about Marlowe’s Florist:

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Above is the review history from “Mike.” Two reviews on the same day, and no others. He doesn’t like Marlowe’s, but he loves Lili of the Valley Flowers. Let’s see another one:

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Hmmm. Someone named “Greppolo” also doesn’t like Marlowe’s, but loves Lili of the Valley Flowers. What about this “Angus” person’s review history:

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Same thing happened with “Poly“, “Daniel“, “Rich man“, and others.

Pretty obvious review spam, wouldn’t you say? And it’s been sitting there for 10 months, turning away who-knows-how-many potential customers from picking up the phone and calling Marlowe’s Florist.

Luckily for Marlowe’s, Cathy showed them all this and they’re now doing what every small business needs to do: Claiming their Google Maps listing and reporting this obvious case of review spam. Hopefully, Google will react and clean this up.

On the bright side, I see Marlowe’s ranking #1 on a search for “milpitas florist,” so it’s not affecting their rankings in Google Maps. But you can bet that seeing so many negative reviews is affecting the amount of click-throughs and customers they get. And the scourge of Google Map Spam, this time in the form of fake reviews, continues….

Comments (14)

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  1. Dan Connolly says:

    Thanks for the insight. I have relied on these online ranking methods for years without really thinking about how easy it is for these results to be manipulated. Wow!

  2. Cathy says:

    Great summary of the challenge facing this florist. On one hand, I’m glad to see they didn’t drop out of sight from all the bogus bad reviews, on the other, I’m surprised some sort of filter didn’t kick in and instead, let the spam stand… and that the shop didn’t aggressively address it.

    How many small businesses are too busy taking care of customers to pay attention to reputation management online? How many don’t know they should or even how? I’m guessing it’s a bunch.

    It pains me to think that quality local businesses might economically suffer – not from providing bad products or services, but because they don’t know how to defend themselves from blacks hats.

  3. Miriam says:

    I have got to get Mike to stop spamming those poor florists.

    Haha (just kidding Mr. Blumenthal)

    Matt, great case of reporting here. This is just awful. Have these spammers never heard of karma? If the only way you can hope to succeed is by harming your competition, you do not deserve to be in business.

    My best wishes to the folks at Marlowe’s. If Matt says you’re good, I’m confident you are and I sincerely hope you will be able to get some kind of action on this.

    Miriam

  4. David says:

    I would think there would be/could be/should be some algorithm that could catch this type of stuff? Your investigation pretty well speaks to the shop that is gaming/abusing the system.

    Until there is some type of catch in place, I think the local map SE’s should ignore these, as it really isn’t providing a user service.

    Again great research, will keep this post in mind when working with our clients.

  5. Good post, like you I would have normally continued searching after the 2.5 stars.
    This is how we use the net looking for something in a list that stands out 5 stars and neglecting any others. This post will certainly make me look more closely in future at customer rankings!

  6. That’s the problem with product reviews you get competition that comes in and tries to negatively impact your business.

  7. The ultimate irony here is that Google counts total reviews towards ranking but as of yet does not seem to count quality of reviews towards ranking.

    Since the stars have been pulled off of the Universal Local results, the efforts of the review spammers is quite the opposite of their intention. They have effectively moved Marlowes up in the rankings and visibility on the main search results page.

    Mike

  8. Miriam says:

    Mike -
    I had that thought, too. Rather funky, isn’t it?
    Miriam

  9. Johnny says:

    It was 10 months old in November 2008, now it’s about over a year and a half old. Maybe Google doesn’t care about quality anymore? Cause it would be so easy to fix this.

    check on this google maps result:

    http://maps.google.com/maps?source=s_q&hl=en&ie=UTF8&q=Milpitas+florist&fb=1&split=1&view=text&ei=Hp5oSoq1EczVsAbS9oW7CQ&sll=37.427978,-121.901158&sspn=0.018112,0.038348&latlng=8251208316390912236&cd=1&dtab=2&ct=rp_review&usq=florist&cad=google.com&pcsi=8251208316390912236,0

  10. Marc says:

    Very good in explaining the truth behind the very thing that is working against the search engines. This has become such a big problem some other competitor will come along and steal these search engines customers one day. Someone that can handle all the mean people out there!!!!

  11. Here’s another example:
    View this page page:
    http://maps.google.com/maps/place?hl=en&um=1&ie=UTF-8&q=rex+roofing&fb=1&gl=us&hq=rex+roofing&hnear=Stamford,+CT&cid=12659089703846427259&dtab=2&ei=mpxITPm0KpGksQOf59jkCw&sa=X&oi=local_result&ct=result&resnum=2&ved=0CB8QqgUwAQ

    on which you will find the following review:

    customer‎‎
    By Katie – Sep 6, 2009
    the guy was 83 yrs old did not get up on my roof and handed me estimate he just threw out a price 2 times more then ant other compant‎
    maps.google.com
    Was this review helpful? Yes - No – Flag as inappropriate

    Now view this page:
    http://maps.google.com/maps/user?uid=117025730620986319716&hl=en&gl=US

    Put two and two together and you’ll see this “Katie” has bashed many roofing companies yet favored only one. Think she’s really used ELEVEN roofing companies? Think she’s used the one company she favored in four separate locations?

    The president of the company that was bashed (false review) maintains he never provided an estimate to any Katie on Sept. 6 of ’09. He employs no one who is 83 years old.

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