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One Real Case: Does Fake Buzz Work? Do Fake Reviews Work?

Annoying, yes, but does it work? We all assume spam works because it keeps on coming, right? What about putting fake comments on blogs, faking reviews at and elsewhere? We all hate those tactics when we see them, but the real question for today is whether or not those tactics actually work. Are the culprits better off?

Of course it’s hard as hell to get good data on a question like this, but I decided to track one case just to satisfy my curiosity.

There is a book for sale at that was promoted last month by sneaky fake trackbacks on blogs. I’m not going to mention the book or its author because I don’t want to throw good publicity on bad.

I discovered the fake by accident. The same identical trackback appeared overnight on both of the two blogs I moderate, this one and  Up and Running. Otherwise I might have just approved without checking because it was cleverly engineered to look like a legitimate link from another blog that was discussing my post, with a generic tag line like “good discussion on this issue here.”

Because of the coincidence, I clicked the link to check it first before approving it to show up as a trackback below the post. Instead of going (like it should) to a discussion that referenced my blog post, it went straight to the sell page of the same book on And it’s not a book related to the subject. It’s just a book on

I was annoyed. I bookmarked it to check back later.

I’m happy to report it doesn’t seem to have worked very well. Six weeks later, that book is ranked 996,133 in books.

And the book has three reviews, all five-star raves. And (no surprise) two of the three reviews are by people who have reviewed only two books in their life – this book and another book by the same author. They are allegedly by different people. What do you think? Are these just fake reviews? I think so.

I admit it. I want that book to fail. I want those tactics to fail. Seems mean, why wish ill on anyone, but still…


  • Dan Ness says:

    I get a similar visceral reaction when I’ve spotted fakes.
    Realistically, though, it’s widespread and has been for years.
    I have some published friends who are part of a network of authors who write glowing reviews of each each other’s books sight unseen, often published in the pages of that book.
    There are companies who hire staff to stand around retail outlets posing as satisfied customers to drive buyers towards a specific product.
    There are more than a few airbrushed and photoshopped photos out there.
    I’ve even heard that in some countries, the press is only allowed to ask politicians questions which have been vetted in advance.
    You’ve raised several issues, and reactions may depend on where someone stands:
    – Is it wrong?
    – Can consumers & readers tell the difference?
    – When they spot fakes, does it erode their confidence in that medium?

    • Tim Berry says:

      Thanks Dan, you ask some good questions in response to this post. Interesting questions too.

      Here’s my opinion for all three: Re

      1. Is it wrong, I say yes, when it’s intending to deceive. I reserve some doubts on reviewing authors’ book site unseen, though, because for me there are some authors I’ve never met whose books are always good, like Seth Godin on marketing, or Ann Patchett for novels. I feel like recommending an author is not necessarily as deceptive. To stretch the point, I’d recommend your market research and Metafacts without having seen the specific study.
      2. I think some consumers and readers can tell the difference, and even if many can’t, the hit you take for dishonesty with those who can isn’t worth it.
      3. I think the fakes do in fact erode my confidence in the medium. For example, I don’t take the stars in reviews as valid automatically. I always check how many reviews there are, and often I go into them and look to see if they are obviously fakes.


  • forgiveme says:

    These things work when done much more professional way.

    What if the book is reasonably good and people are buying it to some extent.

    Now from that background, add fake buzz with 20 comments very professionally crafted.

    I have seen this kind of promoting in other areas many times and successful too.

  • Charles Robinson says:

    They brought it on themselves by not being genuine. There are plenty of legitimate ways to build traffic. Trying to game the system leads to your just desserts .There are no shortcuts, right?

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