The organization that awards the prize — The Top Writers Foundation — has a rigorous process to determine the winner, as noted on its Web site: At Top Writers we evaluate and rank writers in order to identify the best authors. We have created our proprietary methodology for identifying the best writers and ranking them based on their merits and competitive advantages. This method takes into consideration the changing nature of writing as a whole.
Needless to say, you’ll soon see this award prominently display on my company Web site, in my bio, and, of course, in every sales pitch!
Now before you congratulate me, I have a little confession to make: I made this whole thing up. The award, the foundation – it’s all bunk. Sadly, the concept of a fake award or ranking, however, is not fiction. Indeed, the language I quote above was taken verbatim from a Web site that rewards SEM firms who pay them the most money with a rank as a top SEM (or SEO, or a dozen other categories).
The companies that pay handsomely for these false rankings in turn miss no opportunity to crow about their well-paid-for prize. Indeed, I made the mistake of visiting the Web site of the current “top SEM firm” (sic) a few weeks ago and have been endlessly bombarded with retargeting banner ads reminding me of their prestigious No. 1 ranking.
Clearly, this whole scam works for everyone involved; otherwise, the “top firms” wouldn’t pay for their bogus prizes, nor would they use them in all of their advertising. Perhaps the only folks who don’t benefit from this scheme are the duped clients of the award-winning agencies. Can you fault someone for trusting their marketing campaign to what appears to be the industry’s best agency?
Ultimately, this begs the question: Are people so influenced by the opinions of others (and especially authority figures) that we should all shout about our high rankings and recognition, regardless of whether any of it is actually true? Morality aside (and to be clear, that’s a big thing to ignore), the answer seems to be yes. Stanley Milgram’s famous study – aptly titled “Obedience to Authority” – observed that volunteers could be convinced to administer a lethal dose of electricity to other volunteers, simply because an actor in a lab coat told them that they must do it.
In a more relevant online example, a one-star improvement in ratings on Yelp was directly correlated to a 5% to 9% increase in revenue for restaurants.
For those of you who have resisted using AdWords review extensions in your SEM campaigns, now might be the time to reconsider. If savvy business owners can be tricked into choosing a third-tier SEM agency because of a fake award, imagine what the impact of legitimate, verified customer recommendations will have on your AdWords performance? Actually, you don’t have to imagine it – according to one study, review extensions drove 66% more site visits!
So there you have it: awards, ratings, and customer reviews – whether real or not – seem to have a stunningly positive impact on the bottom line of the companies that earned them (or fabricated them). Now if you’ll excuse me, I’ve got to spend some time updating my bio. I just got accepted into Who’s Who Among American Business Executives – the best $129 I’ve ever spent!