Yelp Elites Bribed, SMBs Do SEO, What’s After Google?

Fake Reviews: Bribing Yelp Elites, Amazon Sues

We’ve previously written about review fraud and the platforms’ inconsistent takedown efforts. Yelp is probably the most consistent, but it takes a blunt and arguably overbroad approach — nearly 30% of its results are “filtered” as untrustworthy, even though many may be legitimate. So-called review brokers are getting around this by bribing Yelp Elites, the most trusted users on the platform. According to a local NBC affiliate investigation, brokers are paying a subset of Yelp elites to post fake reviews: “one former Yelp Elite told us he was part of an invitation-only online chat that included a few thousand Yelp Elite members who are paid $25 to $50 per fake review.” Separately, Amazon is making PR hay out of a lawsuit filed against two review brokers, AppSally and Rebatest, which match sellers and consumers willing to write reviews for free products or money.

Our take:

  • Amazon has filed lawsuits in the past to address review fraudsters. These are band-aids; the problem needs more radical intervention.
  • Google’s Local Guides was inspired by Yelp’s Elite Squad. There’s no data on Yelp Elite review numbers; 62% of Google reviews are written by LGs. Elites likely dominate Yelp’s review corpus as well.
  • Transparency Company data suggests something approaching 20M reviews on Yelp may be fake (vs. a potential 200M on Google).

More ‘SMBs’ Doing PPC than SEO

Most SMBs have de-emphasized SEO in favor of other channels, especially social media. For example, a 2021 Call Rail survey found only 15% of SMBs engage in SEO or local SEO, while 57% do social media marketing. A new UpCity-Pollfish survey (n=600) of US and Canadian SMBs finds more SEO usage but still not by the majority. The bulk (62%) of respondents were B2B marketers; half had 50 or fewer employees. Under half (44%) had an existing SEO strategy, though 34% planned one this year. Yet 50% said they did PPC advertising (see graphic below). Strangely, social media was a top SEO tactic for these marketers, though there are many others as well, especially content and on-page SEO. Most (75%) of these SMBs believed their SEO efforts were at least somewhat effective. Just under 40% had in-house SEO teams, the rest were using an agency/freelancers. LinkedIn was the top source for consultants.

Our take:

  • Even in this SEO-centric survey the results show an emphasis on social. Most social won’t help with SEO (e.g., Facebook, Instagram).
  • It’s unclear how many of these SMBs were online only; just 12% were doing local SEO — probably reflects ignorance more than e-commerce.
  • The vast majority of traffic and revenue comes from organic search vs. social. This suggests a marketing misalignment among these businesses.

We Can’t Imagine a Post-Google World

The article “Google Search Is Dying” is just the latest to complain about declining search quality, the gaming of SERPs and too many ads. It’s being promoted in You.com’s email campaign. (You.com is a new search engine.) The screed argues that “Reddit is currently the most popular search engine,” because its results are more trustworthy. Perhaps more “authentic” but, as a statistical matter, Reddit isn’t the most popular search engine — Google has 92% market share globally and slightly less in the US. However, the point and larger argument are provocative. Below is a survey I posted on Twitter asking about the hypothetical market position of Google in 10 years. The survey responses are all digital marketers. And 88% either assume Google will still be in the same position or they “can’t predict.” Only 12% believe Google will have been replaced by something else.

My take:

  • While search is a powerful and important tool, quality is eroding. But we collectively have trouble envisioning a true alternative.
  • Social media was once thought of as a more trustworthy way of gaining information. But that dream (save Reddit perhaps) is all but dead.
  • Search in its current form won’t continue indefinitely. But, so far, there’s a failure of creative imagination in envisioning what comes next.

Alex Vilk

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