I received an email this morning from The Competition and Markets Authority(CMA), that prickled my interest, it was about an SEO company that has been forced to cease writing fake online reviews for small businesses and remove those already posted.  totalseo

The investigation into Total SEO & Marketing Ltd, a search engine optimisation company, found that between 2014 and 2015 it had written more than 800 fake positive reviews for 86 small businesses that were published across 26 different websites which contain customer reviews. Now I know this happens but I thought this type of black hat work was mainly based out in Asia so I was a little shocked to see UK companies involved in it. In addition to this action, the CMA has written to all of its clients (Ouch) to warn them that third parties writing fake reviews on their behalf might lead to them breaking the law themselves. The businesses concerned included car dealers, mechanics, landscape gardeners and other smaller tradespeople.

The CMA has also produced a useful written brief explanation for businesses summarising how to comply with consumer protection law in relation to online reviews. In particular:

  • PR, marketing and SEO companies should not write or arrange fake reviews on behalf of their clients; and
  • businesses should not commission third parties to write fake reviews about them.

Nisha Arora, CMA Senior Director, Consumer, said:

With more than half of people in the UK using online reviews to help them choose what to buy, they are becoming an increasingly valuable source of information. Fake reviews can lead to people making the wrong decisions and fair-playing businesses losing out.

Search engine optimisation companies, PR and marketing agencies provide a valuable service to businesses, but they must do this lawfully. Our enforcement action against Total SEO makes clear that posting fake reviews about clients is unacceptable.

This is our latest action to ensure that consumers can trust in the opinions that they read on online, following the CMA’s report last summer into online reviews and endorsements. In the next few weeks, we expect to announce the outcome of our investigation into unlabelled endorsements.

Well that’s clear I will make sure my staff at Prohibition don’t write any fake reviews in future. That was obviously a joke but I really cannot believe in the modern era this type of stuff is still happening, do PR companies go out and buy fake reviews or write them for clients? If you do that, shame on you – we all know we have to get our client noticed but this definitely is not the way to do it. Just do great work, great campaigns and don’t cheat the system and you will get a good result in the end.

Below is a video review of Total SEO’s services – I will leave you to decide whether it was from the heart and real. I am sure it was.

About Chris Norton

Chris Norton is the founder of Prohibition and an award winning communications consultant with more than twenty years’ experience. He was a lecturer at Leeds Beckett University and has had a varied PR career having worked both in-house and in a number of large consultancies. He is an Integrated PR and social media blogger and writes on a wide variety of blogs across a huge amount of topics from digital marketing, social media marketing right through to technology and crisis management.