The investigation, known as “Operation Clean Turf,” discovered that companies have been hiring freelance writers to post glowing reviews online to game Google’s search engine rankings.
The attorney general’s office said 19 companies have been ordered to cease their “misleading” practices and collectively pay $350,000 in fines, according to The New York Times.
“This tactic is used to increase the reputation of a brand as well as increase sales. SEO firms that practice ‘black hat’ optimization practices have used this tactic for clients in industries from local pizza shops to well-known corporations,” said Ken Wisnefski, president and chief executive of WebiMax, a leading Internet marketing company.
In many cases, reviewers were based in Bangladesh, the Philippines and Eastern Europe are writing about places they have never seen in countries they have never visited, according to the Times.
“Not only will the crackdown help expose companies that are using tactics that will hurt their clients in the long run, it also provides online consumers some reassurance that the reviews they read online will be vetted for accuracy,” Wisnefski said in a statement.
The term “black hat” was created to define methods used to trick major search engines like Google, Bing and Yahoo into improving the search engine rankings of Web sites, which increases their exposure to Web surfers and boosts page views.
“The best way to garner positive buzz is to produce quality content that is share worthy. When companies produce pieces of content that current and potential clients can’t wait to show their friends, positive feedback will continue to pour in,” Wisnefski said.