Everything You Need to Know About FRO (Fake Review Optimization)

I’m 10 weeks in here in Houston, and I’ve found myself referring to CitySearch again and again. I check there first for everything: from delicious Thai restaurants, to reputable Thai massage parlors (Side note: who knew come to this place for “a good time”!!! was a common euphemism?). The point is, I’m not checking any local business’ official Web site, but instead, I’m checking other platforms for third party information. Any business that’s been around for a while will have several reviews.

As users embrace local search in droves, having this “distributed presence” is becoming increasingly important for any local business. The distributed presence is important for national and global businesses, too, but even more so for a firm that gets half its online customer referrals from Google Maps.

Which brings me to the fake reviews. I first began to notice these on hotel reviews at Travelocity:

“I don’t know what the other reviewers are talking about!!! My room was spotless and the decor was beautiful. The management was extremely helpful and gave me everything I could have possibly needed. The nice owner, Lisa, even gave me tips on sightseeing. I can’t believe how cheap their rates are!! Stay here and you won’t regret it!!!!”


The fake self-reviews are here, whether you like it or not, and they’re surprisingly pervasive. It’s gotten to the point where half the businesses I check have at least one obviously fake self-review. Generally the only ones I can trust are:

  • Negative reviews (these are extremely helpful)
  • Mixed reviews (here’s something positive, here’s something negative)
  • Tons of reviews (generally the managers only do two or three fake self-reviews, so if I see 47 reviews for a business, I allow myself to trust the “aggregate opinion”)

So, local business owners, if you’re going to do fake reviews (and, let’s be honest, if you own a local business, you probably will), please keep the following tips in mind:

  • Don’t end sentences with multiple exclamation points.
  • Don’t begin with “I don’t know what those other reviewers were talking about!”
  • Don’t refer to the owner or manager by name. I don’t think I’ve EVER seen this happen when it wasn’t a fake review.
  • Include a negative or two. They can even be “gentle negatives”. The following does NOT count as a negative: “The only negative I found was the price: it was too cheap!”
  • Don’t rate yourself 5 out of 5, or 9-or-10 out of 10. Instead, stick with 4 out of 5 or 8 out of 10.

Instead of:

Mai Thai is my favorite Thai restaurant in Houston! Everything from the chicken pad thai, to the hot and sour soup, to the chef’s specialty “Chicken Curry No Hurry” is absolutely delicious! The decor is wonderful, there are authentic Thai paintings on the wall. I go there at least twice a week, and the owner, Lewis, always says Hi to me and we chat pleasantly for a while. It is a great place to go for a business lunch or even a Friday night date!! Oh, and don’t forget to try the green tea ice cream!!!!! 10/10


Mai Thai is a pretty decent Thai resaurant for the price. I’ve tried the Pad Thai (good) and the hot and sour soup (average). The lunch crowd is busy but they get you seated fairly quickly. 8/10

The second review will get me in there. The first, not so much. Oh, and for the record, I’m not actually trying to coin FRO as an acronym. I think we have enough silly acronyms, don’t you? ;-)

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#1 isabelwang on 09.20.07 at 12:11 pm

I like FRO as an acronym :) Thanks to you, now I’ll imagine someone with big hair every time I read a fake review.

#2 Cameron Olthuis on 09.20.07 at 12:18 pm

In addition you also need to be cautious of the fake negative reviews left by competitors. I always like it when a business has 10+ reviews so you can take the good/bad and form your own opinion. I’m always weary of the business that only has a couple reviews whether they’re negative or positive.

#3 Shimon Sandler on 09.20.07 at 1:00 pm

I had a client once that asked all the employees to login & review their products. So, you could imagine the amount of reviews from a company that has 15,000 employees. After that experience I’ve always been weary of reviews. Thanks Andy, for calling this out, and the great acronym.

> To isabelwang: Thanks for the Mnemonic :-)

#4 Jeremy Luebke on 09.20.07 at 1:09 pm

It’s not just local reviews, it’s also reviews for eCommerce sites on places like shopping.com, BizRate, ect.

#5 JonKelly on 09.20.07 at 3:52 pm

Andy, this cracked me up as I do the same thing — fake review parsing. I tend to look for the longer reviews (thinking of TripAdvisor) that have a bit more story gives the review some credibility.

@Jeremy — exactly, especially the big NY etailers, they manage to generate literally thousands of fake reviews on the comparison shopping sites.

#6 admin on 09.20.07 at 6:23 pm

> I tend to look for the longer reviews (thinking of TripAdvisor)

Yep. Oops, in the post I said Travelocity… I meant TripAdvisor

#7 cylai on 09.22.07 at 2:02 am

admittedly I wrote some fake reviews b4… last time..*cough*

here’s tip of making the review looks credible: if you want to write a positive review, you must bring up at least one negetive point at the beginning.

it works like charm. This tactic brought me some nice sales…

#8 markus941 on 09.23.07 at 2:39 pm


#9 James on 09.23.07 at 4:35 pm

I always trusted comments, I must’ve been naive.
What about fake comments to danage competitors. Now that’s dark….

#10 BrettFromTibet on 09.24.07 at 7:44 pm

The worst are the real “average Joe” reviews on Amazon - the Wal-Mart of e-commerce. You’re no more likely to get a trustable opinion on Amazon than you are likely to get expert advice from anyone in the electronics section of a Wal-Mart Superstore - clerk or customer. Only after there are dozens of reviews can you start to read between the lines

#11 jasonleimgruber on 09.25.07 at 12:21 pm

This post was amazing!!! I always make a point to read through the posts on Tropical Seo at least twice a week, and this time I was even more impressed than normal. Bookmark this blog right away, and keep checking back for more. I went right away and recommended it to 10 of my friends!

#12 john-sampson on 09.27.07 at 11:08 am

Good points. I would hope that there would be some honesty in the comments as well. It may not make as much difference in the short-term, but it’s generally good to maintain one’s integrity.

Welcome to Houston. Thai Gourmet is my wife’s favorite Thai place here in the Houston area.

#13 QualityNonsense on 11.06.07 at 7:39 am

This is due to become a criminal offense under British law next year:

“Under laws due to come into force at the beginning of next year, but likely to be delayed until April for the UK, companies posing as consumers on fake blogs, providing fake testimonies on consumer rating websites such as TripAdvisor, or writing fake book reviews on Amazon risk criminal or civil liability.. Those that break the new rules risk both civil proceedings and criminal prosecution.”

(From The Register).

#14 downhaul on 04.08.08 at 9:15 pm

the problem is that people trust negative reviews so much more than positive reviews, and many negative reviews are fakes from competitors. The perceptions of people reading reviews is skewed towards the negative. As a marketer i would rather spend money paying for positive reviews than paying for premium listings on the review sites.

Does anyone know any companies that will post fake reviews for me? If so, i think it would be one of the best ways to spend my marketing dollars.