Alleged Fake Reviews, SEO At Center Of Brewing Legal Battle

There’s a legal battle brewing between two tech-savvy competitors. Both now own a business making edible flower bouquets from beef jerky, and the owners of each also have experience in either IT, engineering or search marketing and advertising.  

The accuser -- Andrew Summers, founder of Say It With Beef -- suggests its competitor, The Manly Man Co., uses fake reviews to increase its rankings in Google search results and on Facebook.

In a phone call with Search Marketing Daily, Summers suggests his company is a victim of fraudulent reviews posted on his closest competitor’s website, The Manly Man, which is run by Greg Murray and Ben Wynkoop.

“The cost of trying to combat this may put me out of business,” Summers said, accusing The Manly Man of using blackhat SEO.

The Manly Man website posts about 12 anonymous and 17 named customers on the first page alone, all giving the company five stars.

Summers, who’s cataloging historical data on reviews posted to The Manly Man’s website, feels so strong about his convictions that he also began tracking data on Google, Facebook and through The Manly Man’s leaky website app extensions.

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Some of the data comes from pop-ups on the page that states the city and the product name each time there’s a purchase. He said these pop-ups expose a lot of data, including order IDs, the date of purchase such as the customer name and the city where they live. By law, this data must reflect actual recent purchases otherwise it is false advertising.

Much larger companies have gone through similar challenges. In 2018, Amazon took action on fake reviews serving up on its marketplace. The company deleted thousands of reviews, restricted seller access to customer data on its website, and fired several employees in the United States and in India in an attempt to stop data leaks and bribes within the company.

“There are plenty of whitehat ways to optimize,” Murray said. “It’s all about getting traffic and having high conversion rates. Google sees traffic to the website and where it comes from. Analyzing this lifts up the site in the rankings and makes it more competitive.”

Murray claims all the reviews posted to the company’s website are legitimate and that traffic and sales have dramatically improved in the past year since being mentioned on the Food Network, Good Morning America, Food & Wine and others, but declined to share numbers.

The Manly Man uses a popular review plugin called Stamped.io, which creates a reviews page on the company’s website. Summers, on his website, states all the reviews have a five-star rating.

“It’s unlikely that a major SEO loophole has gone unnoticed since Stamp.io indexes in Google,” said Marty Weintraub, founder at aimClear, a digital marketing agency with an expertise in Google and Facebook. “It seems like Stamp.io is a CRM for organizing interactions with customers, encouraging them to post reviews.”

Using CRMs to organize the review process is not bad for SEO because it creates a greater sampling. If someone asks 20,000 customers to review them, good or bad, in theory it provides a greater sample, he said.

“What’s bad for SEO is when one business uses a CRM and the competitor is out herding chickens, because when both uses the platform it levels the playing field,” Weintraub said.

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