PAYING FOR POPULARITY

PAYING FOR POPULARITY

MORE and more businesses are splashing out millions to fake a higher ranking on search engines, according to SponsoredLinX.

CEO and founder Ben Bradshaw says there has been a surge in “black hat social media”, where businesses purchase followers or create fake reviews.

Bradshaw says the industry is worth millions, with more companies paying for support on platforms such as Facebook and Twitter.

“The term black hat refers to a practice which is outside the rules and guidelines of a particular system,” he says.

“Black hat social media has some estimates placing sales of these services at over US$250 million and potentially over US$500 million.”

Businesses partaking in black hat social media risk fines of up to $1.1 million from the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC).

“The ACCC has taken issue with three companies over fake online reviews so far,” Bradshaw says.

“An Australian removals company paid a $6600 infringement notice in 2011 after publishing false consumer testimonials on its review website.

“Euro Solar and reseller Australian Solar Panel have also appeared before the courts.”

Businesses wanting to get ahead aren’t the only culprits, with government departments and private associations also engaging in the practice.

Bradshaw says the US State Department was criticised for spending more than US$630,000 on Facebook likes.

He says the benefits black hat social media has on a company’s SEO (search engine optimisation) is minimal.

“It simply makes the business or individual seem popular and gives a superficial result not worth the risk of your brand’s reputation.”

Bradshaw says a business should focus on the importance of a high-quality website and successful conversions of traffic into customers.

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