Ok, let me couch that. Online ratings are now more worthless than ever to end users.
There’s a new game in town folks, and that game is selling bogus reviews to get pretty little stars attached to your Adwords ads. For those who have never noticed them, they look a little something like this:
When Google first started assigning star ratings to Adwords ads (back in April 2014 if memory serves), they were using reputable resources such as Bizrate for those reviews. Last year though, everything changed. Instead of just using a few trusted sources, Google opened the floodgates and created a new cottage industry of allegedly selling bullshit reviews.
If you’re not familiar, here’s how it works. Adwords charges on a “per click” basis. The price and position though isn’t just based on the amount you’re willing to bid. It is a calculation based on your max bid, the quality of your ad, the quality of the landing page and the click through rate. Basically, Google is trying to figure out how to maximize their revenue by showing the most relavent ads. The idea of adding the star ratings is to improve click through rates on ads, hypothetically decreasing the cost per click (as CTR is a large component of the Adwords quality score calculation).
The problem though is that there are now dozens of companies that are in the business of gathering reviews and giving the data they gather to Adwords. Now, I get weekly calls and daily emails from extremely aggressive salespeople from these review aggregators and they all come with the same basic sales pitch:
“Hey Mike, I see you’re spending quite a bit of money on Adwords. I’ve got a great way for you to decrease your cost per click! Google leverages reviews collected by as a data source for its seller rating extension and it has been shown to increase click through rates by 17% on average! Oh, and did I mention that we guarantee that 95% of your reviews will be 4 or 5 stars and less than half of one percent will be one star? Seriously, how strong is that?!?!?!?!?!?!?!?!?!?!?”
No offense to the great Herb Tarlek, but I’m pretty sure that all of these jackasses that waste my time on a daily basis look like this:
If you then look at the reviews from these companies, you’ll notice that somehow everyone is averaging 4 stars or higher. One of these services goes on to claim that 95% of their ratings are either 4 or 5 stars. If you believe that 95% of the ecommerce companies deserve 4 stars or higher, put down the bong and the Grape Ape, as you’re clearly abusing your MMJ card. As for the quality of the reviews, the vast majority are short, one liners like “always a pleasure” or “great site”. No details, nothing to show that these are verified buyers or in any way legit. Just page after page of worthless 3-5 word, 5 star reviews for companies you’ve never heard of.
Not surprisingly, there are now hundreds of individuals on Fiverr offering to sell you positive reviews. These guys were there before, offering to write you Yelp reviews to artificially boost your Yelp stars, but now the floodgates are open. And don’t worry if the reviews don’t actually make any sense, are written in broken English or simply look like they came from spambots. After all, if the review services don’t care/encourage these types of reviews, why should we?
Honestly, I don’t blame companies for using this service. Google has created an environment where they are effectively encouraging Adwords customers to use these systems, as they allow the companies to publicize the fact that their review data is used by Google. This then encourages sales people to use aggressive and deceptive tactics to make sales.
Are all the companies Google uses bogus? Are all the reviews bullshit? Of course not. Just keep in mind though that the next time you see 80k five star reviews for a company you’ve never heard of, there just might be the slightest hint of cow feces wafting from the rating.