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Google Places Cracking Down on Fake Reviews

Google Places | 19 Oct 2011

Google Places Fake Reviews

Got Fake Google Places Reviews?

Unless you are smart about it (is that an oxymoron?), then probably not. I have been watching my competitions reviews get chipped away for the last day or two and being legit has never tasted so good.

During the last few months I have been experimenting with some dummy listings, trying to isolate exactly what is the bare minimum you can do to sneak past the Google Places review filter. From what I can tell, they have stepped up their game considerably from the last time I conducted this test. Here are my findings:

August 10th-30th Tests

During this time I had 3 Google Places dummy pages set up, which I dripped fake reviews to over this period. I followed general scrubbing procedures, used brand new Gmail accounts created on US IPs and all businesses were in the US. When it came to the posting I used 1) Intl IPs 2) State IPs 3) City IPs.


Reviews posted from IPs outside of North America were removed. Surprisingly, as long as you were in North America, reviews stuck.

Oct 1st-17th Tests

All the same variables existed as my August tests except in this test I used 3 different fake business listings.


All results remained the same as the last test until October 15th-17th when many reviews got slayed. Those reviews left from an out of country IPs were toast. Similarly, those left from an IP in the same state, but not the same city, some were slayed, others remained. There was no pattern to how far from the city one should be…it was erratic. Finally, reviews left from an IP address in the same city all remained.

Another thing I noticed is many of those reviews that were posted with out of state IPs in my first tests disappeared too. So Google isn’t just cleaning new reviews, they went back and cleaned old ones that seem fishy too. My last observation was that accounts that have reviewed more than one company faired better. Granted, those same accounts that had done multiple reviews were also more often logged into and used. Thus, it is hard to make the conclusion that accounts that are more active fair better or those that have left a few reviews.

Make of it what you will, but I could not be more sure that Google Places is tightening it up. Those Blackhats who are trying to skip the line are going have a lot of more trouble and with luck will be pushed out of Google Places. Of course there is no way to get rid of them all, but Google has done a great job so far. Some monumental changes included the switch to post card verification and the addition of the organic component.

Related posts:

  1. Know Thy Enemy: Black Hat Google Places
  2. Goodbye, Farewell Google Places Phone Verification…
  3. Places Optimization: The Ins and Outs
  4. Google Places Page Optimization: Google Local in Review
  5. Google Places Pending Status Surprise


  • Kevin Bossons

    Great test! With the [perceived] random nature of local this sort of information is invaluable.

    • Adam SteeleAdam Steele

      Thanks Kevin – obviously, take it with an OCEAN of salt, but I think there are some conclusions to be made here. Going to keep tinkering : )

  • Nyagoslav

    Great test, Adam!

    When you say all reviews from outside the US were removed, do you include these that were written by active account users too?

    • Adam SteeleAdam Steele

      Those reviews left on my 2nd tests dummy accounts were left by brand new Gmails. I am glad you asked this because I have just recently been doing some testing with Canadian to UK and vice versa and all accounts used had some history. Of those reviews left, all stuck.

      This immediately (and I am sure you thinking the same thing) reminds me of the Yelp filter. In the last 3 months, reviews left by accounts with little maturity get filtered out 9/10 times.

      That said, perhaps we are seeing Google following in similar steps, and what we’ve seen Yelp employ we can expect to see from Google as well.

  • Matthew Hunt

    Try using gmails or google profiles that are active. With same tests. I bet you find that as long as the account/profile seems a little active in other areas, the review will stick regardless of where you are or say your are.

    Also where are your gmails from – how old? and did you do voice verification on any of them? All these little factors add up.

    I personally found that if a accont is in-active “even from real people” who left a “real” review then the review risks being deleted.

    and to make things worse…. google places has been known to mis place reviews (often)… sometimes they come back and sometimes they dont.

    fun posts and great test. i like tests. keep them coming Adam! :)

    • Adam SteeleAdam Steele

      Yes – we’ve been showing more success with aged or seasoned accounts.

      At this time, Gmails are created in the same country as the dummy business we review. They are created en masse, so I don’t have a lot of control over what state/city. Gmails are typically 1 month old.

      Thanks for your comments – going to continue testing and pushing the limits. At this time however, we are getting 95% to stick. Yelp is another story…

  • Phil Rozek

    Awesome test, Adam. Thanks for sharing.

    I’ve got a rather geeky question: to what extent did the text/sentiments/keywords of each of the reviews you “dripped” vary? For instance, let’s say you slowly posted 5 reviews to one Places page: was one of the reviews like 5 words long with maybe one relevant search term, another one 3 paragraphs long with a ton of keywords, and the other 3 somewhere in between?

    I only ask because it sounds like you’ve homed in on Google’s location-based filters pretty well, and I’m just wondering what you’ve been able to determine about its “language” filters so far.

  • Adam SteeleAdam Steele

    Honestly, I haven’t done any testing w/ regards to language filters. I will tell you that with all the reviews I posted, I made 1 mention of the cityname, state and keyword.

    The anatomy of the review content is a whole other arena that I have not yet pushed the limits of. From an optimization stand point I am convinced doing the above pushes better rankings based on my colleagues findings, but I don’t thing anyone has done a formal case study.

    Great questions, and thanks for the comment Phil!

  • Dawn

    We need to get 60 minutes or 20/20 to do an expose on this! Imagine all the people who are relying on these fake reviews and then getting bad service. Maybe a class action lawsuit is in order?

    • Adam SteeleAdam Steele

      Pretty nasty stuff huh? Frankly I wouldn’t know where to start…it is everywhere. Buyer beware : ( Thanks for stopping by Dawn!

  • Original

    Thanks for the post. Any thoughts on the the other side of the coin? (Real reviews getting dumped.) I just found out that I lost 3 really good bonafide reviews on Google Places. As a small business, this hurts. I went back over and over the remaining listings to try to figure out what happened. We did not give our customers any incentives to do reviews, and we did not tell them what to say.

    Then I noticed that the missing reviews can from customers who hosted their sites on our server. Perhaps they saw that their businesses were hosted on an IP address related to our business name? I can see how that might raise an eyebrow, but when part of your business is shared hosting, what can you do? I would think it would be better to go by domain registry info than IP address.

    I know they have to put safeguards in place, but it’s really frustrating to work honestly and still get dinged.

  • Adam SteeleAdam Steele

    We as Local SEOs hear the ALL the time. As Nyagoslav and Mike B. recently pointed out in a recent interview, it is one of the main grievances on the Google Places Support Forums.

    It is my understanding that there isn’t much that can be done about it. Honestly, Google isn’t even that bad, Yelp is WAY worse.

    There are so many variables that could trigger the filter that it would be impossible for me to say if any of the things you suggested did it. My guess would be it was something else though.

    It is only going to get worse, so you will just have to try harder to solicit more reviews.

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