CMA takes action against Total SEO & Marketing over fake reviews.

The Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) investigation into Total SEO & Marketing Ltd, a search engine optimisation (SEO) and online marketing company, found that between 2014 and 2015 it had written over 800 fake positive reviews for 86 small businesses that were published across 26 different websites containing customer reviews.

CMA says that Total SEO co-operated with the investigation and the company and its directors have now undertaken to the CMA that they have ceased the practice of writing fake reviews for their clients and will take steps to remove the fake reviews already posted online.

In addition, the CMA has said that it has written to Total SEO’s clients warning them that using a third party such as Total SEO to write a fake review on their behalf might lead to them breaking the law themselves.  The small businesses concerned included car dealers, mechanics, landscape gardeners and other tradespeople.

CMA reminds readers that last summer it published guidance for businesses on how to comply with consumer protection law in relation to online reviews.

This follows the announcement in February that, in a separate case, two websites for finding tradespeople and a further three care home review sites have agreed to improve their practices for checking and presenting online reviews, in response to concerns raised by the CMA.

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.

So why does it matter….?

Online reviews are obviously a focus point for the CMA. This announcement about Total follows a separate recent announcement about websites for finding tradespeople and care home review sites which have pledged to improve their processes for validating and displaying online reviews after the CMA raised concerns.

Furthermore, in the next few weeks, the CMA expects to announce the outcome of its investigation into unlabelled endorsements.

Marketers should therefore take care with customer reviews. They should ensure that fake reviews are not posting in order to increase the attractiveness of their goods or services, whether by themselves or by agencies which they retain. Furthermore, any use of customer reviews by a brand in the course of its advertising must comply with the Committee of Advertising Practice (CAP) Code, on endorsements and testimonials.

To read the CMA’s press release in full, click here.

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Author: Christopher Hall