The Internet In 2021 ~ How are People Using It?

The internet has become an integral part of pretty much every aspect of our lives. However, over the past year, the internet has literally saved us. With offices shut and almost every business in the world operating in a reduced or altered way, the internet has allowed us to maintain at least some sense of normalcy.

For many, it’s been the only means of contacting other people, the only method for making money, and the only way of safely and securely getting the many goods we need to survive.

All of this has led to some pretty dramatic changes in how we use the internet compared to previous years. We could also argue that the COVID-19 pandemic simply accelerated a trend that was already starting.

As an example, due to the growing importance of the internet in general, telecommunications companies have been investing heavily in 5G wireless networks, which are just now being rolled out across the country. This will make mobile internet connections even faster than they currently are, expanding what we can do. Also, more and more devices are being equipped with internet connectivity, giving rise to the Internet of Things.

These changes mean that we can use the internet for pretty much anything, but what do we actually use it for? We turned to the numbers to find out, and here’s what we found.

Internet Use Statistics in 2021

Number of internet users around the world graph

Why People Use the Internet in 2021

To help you better understand how people use the internet, we’ve divided our analysis into subgroups. Within each one, we can find a range of activities for which we all use the internet. Some you can expect, but others will surprise you.

To Communicate

As you might have guessed, one of the main reasons people use the internet is to communicate with one another. This was one of its original purposes. In the early days of the internet – back in the 1950s and 1960s – computer scientists were trying to figure out how to connect two computers and communicate. Then, when the internet went mainstream in the 1990s, email, blogging, and instant messaging helped make the internet one of our most important communication means.

Here’s some more information about the different ways we use the internet to communicate:

Video Calling

While always popular, video chatting has taken on new meaning in 2020 and 2021. For many of us, it’s the only way to interact with people socially.

With quarantine and lockdown measures in place, there are fewer places than ever where we can connect with one another. Virtual happy hours, book clubs, yoga classes, etc., have become the new normal.

Furthermore, many things are happening over video calls that we never thought would or could be. One of the most prominent examples being medical visits. In an attempt to keep people safe, many doctors have started seeing patients virtually wherever possible. Things such as home tours, therapy sessions, and job interviews are all happening via video call, and some of this may continue even after the pandemic has subsided.

Here are some statistics about video calling in 2021:

  • The number of downloads for Zoom, one of the most popular video calling apps, jumped from less than five million to 26.9 million in March 2020. [Statista]
  • Google Hangouts and Microsoft Teams have also seen usage jump 90 percent from pre-pandemic times. [Computer World]
  • On New Year’s Eve 2020, there were more than 1.4 billion video calls made on WhatsApp, a 50 percent increase from the year before. [Compsmag]
  • There were more than 1 billion telehealth visits in 2020. Using video chat software for routine medical appointments is rapidly becoming the norm, and many believe it will remain this way even when the virus is under control. [CNBC]


Email was one of the first forms of widespread internet communication. It became so popular in the 1990s that a movie was made about the joy felt when you opened your computer and heard “You’ve Got Mail.”

Some claimed that email use would decline as other communication forms developed, such as instant messaging and video calls, but this simply isn’t the case.

Here are some stats about email that show how it’s just as widely used today as ever:

  • In 2021, there were around 4 billion email users worldwide, which is just a little less than half the population of the entire world. [Statista]
  • Some 319 billion emails are sent each day in 2021. This number is expected to grow to 333 billion by 2022 [Statista]
  • These statistics mean the average email user sends 80 emails per day. In 2018, this number was 74, suggesting email is becoming more popular.
  • Just under 91 percent of internet users in the United States use email, making it the second most popular online activity in the country behind instant messaging. [Statista]

Social Media

Social media emerged alongside the internet during the 1990s, but it took off at the end of the 1990s/early 2000s with the release of sites such as MySpace and, more importantly, Facebook. By the end of the first decade of the 21st century, social media had become a worldwide sensation.

Consider these stats about social media use in today’s world:

  • Currently, there are around 4.3 billion social media users around the world. Projections from a few years ago had this number at 3 billion in 2021. The pandemic may have helped accelerate this trend, but it’s also linked to the overall growth in internet connectivity worldwide. [Statista].
  • The average person spends 116 minutes per day using social media, which is equivalent to five years and four months out of a lifetime of 66 years. [Social Media Today]
  • 74 percent of people use Facebook daily. [Pew]

Instant Messaging

Another significant form of online communication is instant messaging. Some of us remember AOL Instant Messenger – AIM – and what use now is not all that different from this original messaging tool. AIM is no longer used in the same way, although it still exists, reminding us that old fads die hard.

Today, one can instant message on a wide variety of platforms, but the most popular are WhatsApp and Facebook Messenger. WeChat, a social media network/instant messaging platform specific to China, is not far behind.

Here are some stats about instant messaging:

Stats about instant messaging

[1], [2], [3]

To Work

Perhaps one of the most significant changes to come out of 2020 is the prevalence of remote working.

In general, remote work has been getting more and more popular every year, but 2020 sped that growth up considerably. The big question everyone is asking is: what happens next?

Some companies have already said they will extend their work-from-home policies throughout 2021, with some extended forever. Many believe that workplaces will be forced to become more flexible in the wake of the pandemic since it has taught us just how much can get done even when working remotely.

However, we will likely have to wait at least another year before we can really answer this question.

In the meantime, here are some stats about remote work in 2021:

[1], [2], [3], [4]

To Go to School

Before the pandemic, remote learning was becoming more and more popular. Still, it was primarily seen as “in addition” to in-person learning. It was a bonus or a perk offered by schools and companies to accommodate students with challenging schedules.

However, the pandemic has forced the world to adapt to remote learning pretty much overnight. Public schools sent kids home and asked teachers to completely transform how they do their jobs. While this transition has forced many to finally appreciate the tremendous work teachers do all the time, the reality is that few people think full-time remote learning is a long-term solution.

For this reason, getting kids, especially younger ones, back into schools became a top priority for pandemic response teams around the country. With the pandemic still raging, many districts, especially those in larger cities and other densely populated areas, have had to accept remote learning or adapt to a hybrid model. Education is conducted partly in person and partly online to limit the number of people in one place and hopefully control the spread of the virus.

This is far from ideal for most people, and the ramifications of this are yet to be understood, but things aren’t promising.

Here are some stats to consider:

  • More than 4.4 million households with children do not have consistent access to the internet for remote learning [USA Facts]. It is a reminder of how the pandemic continues to expose many of the deep-rooted inequalities in American society.
  • Multiple studies have found that students are falling behind due to learning online, and those in lower-income brackets are struggling even more. [Washington Post]
  • Schools across the country have lost an estimated $200 billion making accommodations for remote learning, putting tremendous pressure on district budgets, and calling the future into question. [Anand Market]
  • While this is going on, however, the eLearning industry continues to grow and develop. Here are some stats related to eLearning as we understood it before the pandemic
  • Approximately 77 percent of US corporations offer their employees eLearning opportunities [Tech Jury]
  • The global eLearning market is valued at more than $243 million and is expected to reach 337 billion by 2026 [eStudent].

To Get Information

Another big reason why people use the internet is to get information.

Today, you can use the internet to learn about pretty much anything. Here are some of the main types of information people access via the internet, as well as some stats about each.


  • Fewer industries have been impacted more by the growth of the internet than the news media. In the past, people relied on newspapers and TV for their news, but those days are nearly gone. For evidence, just look at how many newspapers are still around today compared to 15 or 20 years ago.It’s easy to see why this is the case. Internet news is instant, and it allows people to follow events as they happen. Of course, some argue this leads to more mistakes and degradation of the overall quality of news. Of course, every change has its positives and negatives.Here are some stats about online news:
  • 43 percent of people “often” get their new online compared to 50 percent who “often” get it from television. In 2017, these numbers were 38 percent for online and 57 percent for television. [Pew]
  • Two-thirds of American adults get their news from social media. [Reuters]
  • Despite people getting more and more news online, trust in online news sources is low. [Statista]

Product Information

As you will see shortly, shopping has become a significant reason why people use the internet. It’s now easier than ever to find the exact product you want from around the world and have it shipped to you.

However, another powerful reason why the internet has become so popular is that it’s an excellent place for people to research products and read reviews about the products they’re considering buying.

This is such an important part of people’s internet use that entire businesses exist to help people find out which products to buy and how to get the best price. Typically, they use affiliate links to earn a commission based on the reviews they offer.

Here are some stats about people using the internet to learn more about products:

  • 95 percent of shoppers read online reviews before making a purchase. [Spiegel]
  • 87 percent of customers place as much trust in an online product review as they do what they hear from word-of-mouth [Broadly]
  • 90 percent of consumers want to read between 5-10 product reviews before deciding. [Broadly]

To Be Entertained

Another primary reason people use the internet is for entertainment. This could be anything from reading and researching to watching movies and TV shows to gawking at cute pictures of dogs. However, the three main activities for which people use the internet include watching videos, listening to music, and listening to the radio and podcasts.

Here are some stats about each one:

Watching Video

Video streaming went mainstream around 2007-2010 when faster, broadband internet connections become more popular. Since then, it has become one of the main reasons why we use the internet. YouTube and Netflix remain the most popular platforms, but Disney+ and Amazon Prime are not far behind.

Here are some stats about video streaming:

  • Netflix added more than 16 million subscribers in the first three months of 2020, which the company attributed to the fact that people are spending so much more time at home. [Comparitech]
  • Disney+ surpassed Hulu in terms of subscribers in 2020, giving it more than 60 million just a little more than a year after it first launched. [CNBC]
  • 45 percent of people globally watch one hour or more of online video per day. [Wordstream]
  • Netflix consumes 26 percent of the world’s streaming traffic [Sandvine] and 15 percent of the world’s internet bandwidth [Fortune]
  • Netflix users spend about 1 billion hours per week watching content. [Softpedia]
  • There are more than 1 billion mobile YouTube videos viewed every day. [Statistic Brain]
  • 50 percent of people between the ages 18 and 34 would drop what they were doing to watch a new YouTube video from a channel they subscribe to. [Think With Google]


Many of us know the story of Napster, one which promised free music to everyone in the world. This vision never came to pass, but the digitization of music certainly changed the industry. Nowadays, a significant amount of people use the internet to listen to music.

Here are some stats:

  • 79 percent of the music industry’s revenue comes from online streaming, compared to 12 percent from physical copies. [Statista]
  • 25 percent of all the music we listen to comes from a digital source; however, AM/FM radio is still the most popular way to listen to music. [Statista]
  • Spotify has more than 286 million monthly active users, 130 million of which are Premium subscribers. [Business of Apps]
  • Both Spotify and Pandora users spend around 1.7 billion hours per month listening to streamed music. [Musically]

Podcasts and Radio

Another important source of online entertainment is podcasts and radio. Podcasts were initially made only for Apple iPods (hence the name “pod” cast), but the term’s meaning has since expanded to refer to any serial online audio show. Podcasts are widely popular and will likely continue to be in the future.

Here is some more information about podcasts and radio:

  • There are currently more than 1,750, 000 active podcasts that have aired more than 43 million episodes. [Podcast Insights]
  • 80 percent of podcast subscribers listen to all or most of each weekly episode. [Podcast Insights]
  • Weekly podcast listeners spend an average of 6 hours and 37 minutes listening to podcasts. [Musico Oomph]

To Shop

We hinted at this earlier when we talked about product reviews, but shopping is another significant online activity. When most of us think of online shopping, our thoughts tend to go straight to Amazon. This makes sense as Amazon is enormous, but the growth of online shopping has made it possible for many small businesses to reach new customers and grow, giving birth to a new industry: eCommerce.

Consider the following about online shopping:

  • In 2020, consumers spent nearly $3 trillion while shopping online. [Statista]
  • In 2020, eCommerce made up around 35 percent of all retail sales, up dramatically from just under 20 percent in 2019. This jump is due to the pandemic, and it will be interesting to see if it holds once restrictions are lifted and people can shop as they once did. [LinkedIn]
  • The pandemic accelerated growth in eCommerce by “4-6 years.” [Forbes]
  • Nine out of ten consumers check Amazon before buying a product to see if it’s available cheaper. [Media Kix]


As you can see (and as you probably expected), we use the internet for many different things and use it often. This past year has forced us all to make considerable changes in how we live our lives, and, thankfully, the internet has been there to help us try and adapt as best as we can.
If 2020 has taught us anything, it’s that life can change in the blink of an eye. So, while we look forward to the end of the pandemic, let’s never forget that we must be ready to adapt to new challenges.

VIA: Broadband Search

Google rolling out mobile search redesign with black “Ad” label, favicons for organic results

The new look brings some branding to the search results, and preps the mobile search for more types of content and actions for users to take right from the search results.

TeamVFM Local SEO Google Mobile Redesign Favicons Ad Label

Google Search has a new look on mobile, including an updated “Ad” label.

Google is rolling out a new look for Search results on mobile. Announced Wednesday, the update includes a new presentation of text ads and organic listings.

What’s new for text ads? The black “Ad” label that Google has been testing for several months is officially here with this update. It replaces the green outlined label that Google introduced in 2017.

The label now appears at the top of the ad along with the display URL also in black text — above the ad headline for the first time. “When you search for a product or service and we have a useful ad to show, you’ll see a bolded ad label at the top of the card alongside the web address so you can quickly identify where the information is coming from,” said Google in the announcement.

What’s new for organic listings? Organic listings are getting a new favicon treatment, as shown in the National Park Service example below. You’ll notice, the site name and bread crumbs appear in black text next to the favicon and both display above the title link in a similar structure to the new text ad treatment. Prior to this update, the site name and breadcrumbs appeared in green text below the title.

Google has also removed the gray line below the organic titles and ad headlines so each card looks more like a single unit.

The name of the website and its icon appear at the top of the results card to help anchor each result,” said Google.

TeamVFM Local SEO Google Mobile Redesign Favicons Ad Label

A closer look at the updated treatment in Google mobile search results.

How to get a favicon for organic listings? If your site has a favicon, which needs to be a visual representation of your brand, you’ll need to add a <link> tag to the header with specific syntax, which you can find on the help page here. When Google crawls your home page, it will look for and update your favicon.

Your favicon should be a multiple of 48px square and any valid favicon format is supported, but note that Google says that your favicon isn’t guaranteed to show even if it’s set up correctly.

Why we should care. This update sets the stage for Google to continue to evolve the types of content it shows in the search results, including video, hi-res images, 3D objects, and the types of actions it enables right from the search results.

As we continue to make new content formats and useful actions available—from buying movie tickets to playing podcasts—this new design allows us to add more action buttons and helpful previews to search results cards, all while giving you a better sense of the web page’s content with clear attribution back to the source,” the company said.

As for the ads, text ads in search were the first native ads in digital. That may never have been more true than with this update in which the ad label mimics the placement of the new favicon treatment.

Advertisers, site owners and SEOs will want to be watching for any potential impact on traffic from Google mobile search as this rolls out. The update is coming to mobile first and will be rolling out over the next few days, said Google. During testing, the company said, a majority of users found it easier to identify websites and more than two-thirds said it was easier to scan results more quickly.

via: Search Engine Land


Audience measurement

Over the past couple of days, some SEOs have been sharing some unusually looking charts from Google Search Console’s Search Analytics report. It shows negative numbers, charts that don’t connect, numbers that are off, etc. John Mueller from Google event replied.

click for full size

click for full size

Market research

John Mueller from Google said this:

Forum discussion at Twitter.

TeamVFM Local SEO Valencia, CA

Study Finds 96% of Business Locations Aren’t ‘Voice Search Ready’

The rise of virtual assistants and voice search is changing the way consumers seek local business information. Voice search has led to queries that are longer, more conversational and often more specific (e.g. Where is the nearest grocery store?).

Three years ago Google said that 20% of all searches were initiated by voice. Since that time the company has not updated the statistic, though in the interim more than 100 million smart speakers have been sold in the US. There are also more than a billion devices globally that feature the Google Assistant (mostly smartphones).

All of this is driving more voice search volume. But are businesses “voice search ready”?

A new study from Uberall analyzed the voice search readiness (VSR) of 73,000 businesses in the Boston Metro area, ranging from SMBs to large enterprises, all of which had a location. The study utilized “a percentage-based grading system that analyzed a business’s optimized online presence” and data.  Specifically, it took into account:

  • Which directories are most important for feeding voice search platforms (37 of them)
  • The accuracy of multiple categories of business information

By assigning a value to the top pieces of business information, including address, hours of operation, phone number, business name, website and zip code, the study calculated a VSR score from 1-100%.

The study discovered that an overwhelming 96% of businesses are not voice search ready, and the average VSR score was 44%. Dentists faired best, with an average VSR score of 96.82%, followed by health food (96.6%), home improvement (96.5%), criminal attorneys (91.5%) and dollar stores (90.1%). The bottom five categories averaged a VSR score of less than 2%.

The major contributing factor to low scores is inaccurate business information across online directories. According to the study, a mere 4% of businesses had correct information on the most significant directories (Google, Yelp and Bing).

Out of a possible 2.1 million listings (across directories) for the 73,000 businesses analyzed, there were an overwhelming number of errors, including:

  • 978,305 for hours of operation
  • 710,113 for websites
  • 510,010 for location name
  • 421,048 for addresses

The study concluded with recommendations about how to improve VSR scores. Those included having an accurate and complete Google My Business listing, as well as on key other search and directory sites, such as Bing and Yelp. It also recommends getting help from a service provider, making sure listings are correct across channels and using voice-friendly content on sites and in listings.


Contributed by: 

Courtney is the content strategist for the Local Search Association

AssistantOver the past year we  have seen the expansion of Google’s Reserve with Google call to action in all of their local products.

It was never very clear to me which categories were eligible for Reserve with Google  or which might get it in the future. Joel Headley of PatientPop recently shared a link to Google’s API documentation that clearly indicates which verticals are eligible for the feature and provides insights into both those that might get it and those that probably won’t.

At the highest level, it requires a merchant to have a physical address and a booking service compatible with Google’s API. Thus no service area businesses allowed.

Supported Services

Google lists off the types of services that are eligible although the docs is outdated as we know that restaurants, which are not on the list, are supported:

  • Appointments
  • Reservations
  • Classes
  • Activities
  • Basic ticketing
  • General admission day tours
  • Consults and evaluations
  • Signups and trials

And which health, fitness, spa and beauty categories are currently embraced

  • Acupuncture
  • Craniosacral therapy
  • Physiotherapy
  • Sports medicine
  • Sleep clinic
  • Drug testing
  • Retreat center
  • Speech pathologist
  • Meditation
  • Reiki
  • Massage
  • Lymph drainage
  • Spa
  • Skin care
  • Hair removal
  • Hair replacement

Non Supported Services

However, the most enlightening section details the types of categories and services that are explicitly not allowed.  Essentially any service that utilizes insurance payments, doesn’t have a confirmable, discreet bookable time slot or any on-demand service that is provided at the searchers home or place of business are proscribed.

The following is a list of some specific examples of services that aren’t supported:

  • Medical services:
    • Doctors, dentists, or surgery
    • Medical spas that aren’t covered by insurance
  • On-demand or home services:
    • A stylist that comes to your workplace
    • In-home trainers
    • A pet grooming truck
    • Field services, plumbers, or contractors
    • Mobile mechanics
  • Location-agnostic multi-day tours

If I were to speculate on the whys of this, the prohibition of on-demand service involves liability risks with the possibility of in home visits from unvetted businesses. I think Google’s approach to these types of businesses can be seen with the extra vetting required in the Local Service Ad program.

I assume, but do not know, that liability issues may still be present in the desire to avoid doctors, dentist and spa bookings as well.

It is also understandable that Google wants to avoid booking for things that are messy and include too much back and forth to nail down the schedule or might provide too much private information about the searcher.

The Future

We have seen the expansion of the program to restaurants,  museums and events. We also know that TripAdvisor and Yelp have signed as partners to this program.

In fact last week I saw my first screen shot of Yelp’s participation via the Duplex project reported in the VentureBeat last week*.


Given that this program is available via an API and we know that beyond Yelp, TripAdvisor, Thryve and TicketMaster are all “coming soon” we can expect to see this transactional capability expanding across more categories and services.

Categories beyond those noted are speculative but obviously could include legal appointments and others.


Clearly transactional capabilities in Maps, the Knowledge Panel and Google Assistant are coming and coming at a furious pace. While we have seen monetization of certain bookable events in the Local Service Ads arena, these Reserve with Google have not been monetized directly.

I would ask two questions:

What other categories might they include by the above. criteria?

Will Google further monetizate Reserve with Google beyond the the current API billing?

*It will be interesting to see if Yelp is “happy” with their positioning and this new program. 

Please consider leaving a comment as your input will help me (& everyone else) better understand and learn about local.

Google My Business is testing a new, direct in the GMB App messaging capability. This was noted by Casey Bryan(from down under) on Twitter and confirmed by Steven Johns in the UK:

I have yet to see a test in a US based company although I presume that there must be someone that has received beta access. The Help page notes that it is “currently available to select merchants in select countries”. And that it is not to be confused with the GMB’s SMS capabilities.

Casey Bryan

How it works (from the Help page):

Once you turn on messaging, customers will see a “Message” button on your Google My Business listing. Customers will then be able to message you at any time.

  • Messages will appear in the Google My Business app, and you’ll receive notifications for incoming messages.
  • You can customize the automated welcome message that customers will see when they message you.
  • If multiple people own or manage your Google My Business listing, each one can message with customers.
  • Customers may see your name and profile photo from your About me page

But this is a new and as yet unannounced capability that takes the GMB onto an independent path for b-c communications. This feature, like review responses and the new(ish) ability to communicate with followers, is a clear indication of the GMB is gaining capabilities for better b-c communications.

When viewed in tandem with their recent decision to allow GMB Website creators to use WhatsApp as the communication app of choice it also seems to indicate that the Google My Business team is marching to its own drummer vis a vis Google’s over arching messaging strategy (if you can call it that).


Google’s messaging strategy has long confusing and not made less so by recent announcements to cut their messaging apps from 7 to 5 over the next few years as they focus on their new telco driven RCS messaging standard and their Hangouts Chat.

While I think that GMB efforts to create better communication between the consumer and the business is a good thing, this new beta for direct GMB messaging and support for WhatsApp both seem to further muddy Google’s larger messaging strategy.

In case the Tweet is ever removed, here is the screenshot of the capability being announced in the GMB App:



Please consider leaving a comment as your input will help me (& everyone else) better understand and learn about local.

Who knew? Near Me searches peak on the weekends.

In October, I noted that Near Me searches, while generally going up, had a distinct seasonal peaks in July and December. Actually more careful analysis shows those peaks to fall around the 4th of July and the week right after Christmas.  Both correspond with high travel periods.

The fact that, when viewed over a shorter time  fame, it is obvious that they peak on weekends seems to confirm their most common use is likely associated with travel.

4th of July
Each peak covers a two day week end.

These queries viewed over the last 90 days reflect both travel and seasonal interests:Christmas

However, I found this two year look back telling. It appears that folks were very interested in finding nearby early voting opportunities. Barring that they needed some psycho-active stimulation or escape.

high travel periodsMakes sense to me.



Please consider leaving a comment as your input will help me (& everyone else) better understand and learn about local.

Google has the unique ability to look like they are doing something about systemic problems in Local when in reality it is just misdirection.

Spam reporting is but one flagrant example of this. I recently reported some obvious spam. Any effing idiot could see that it is spam and yet my edit was denied. #ShameOnGoogle


Curious, I called the number and it was clear that it was lead gen spam. After a set of qualifying questions from the auto attendant, it directed me to the corporate offices of Liberty Mutual in Orlando.

Obviously these are showing in the search results. So naturally I set aside all of 15 minutes and explored whether this was just a regional or nationwide “marketing effort”.


Clearly these are national in scope. #ShameOnGoogle

I called bogus listings in Cincinnati, Buffalo, Denver and Los Angeles (when I stopped looking) and was asked the exact same set of qualifying questions by the exact same automated attendant but each call led me to different actual AllState or State Farm etc agents around the country. Usually in the same state but often hundreds of miles away from the pin. Often the listings were not even verified.



State Farm

Another flagrant example of Google’s misdirection is when I meet with Google about spam, I am often told “Show us the pattern” or “we can’t do anything if we don’t know the pattern” or “we are a search company and have a lot on our plate” or “blah, blah, blah”.

WTF? This pattern isn’t complicated, it isn’t hidden, it isn’t all that difficult to figure out… #ShameOnGoogle.

Google if you are reading this, here is the pattern: reported as spam, suspiciously spammy name, with exactly the same listings effing EVERYWHERE and they all ring into the same automated attendant.

Shame on you.

Please consider leaving a comment as your input will help me (& everyone else) better understand and learn about local.

advertising toolsFake reviews are a long term AND growing problem at Google. The unfortunate reality is that Google helped create this illegal market place and benefits from it economically.

Google has, over the years, created both new opportunities in existing markets AND created new market opportunities. 

And Google often touts the economic benefits that it brings to society.  In fact Google claims that “last year, Google’s search and advertising tools helped provide $283 billion of economic activity for more than 1.5 million businesses, website publishers, and nonprofits nationwide”.

Unfortunately Google doesn’t much care whether the activity created is legal. And they only proactively go after illegal activity once it has become a visible public relations problem.

The drug rehab space comes to mind (although there are many other previous and current examples). Google did very little until the Verge expose by Cat Ferguson brought national attention to the abuses of needy people by unscrupulous Rehab Centers in the fall of 2017.

This pattern of market creation and profiting from illegal activity on Google’s part is no where more true than with fake reviews. 

– Google created search results that favor businesses with more reviews. 

– Google has rarely created significant barriers to fake reviews, often allowing them at massive scale. 

– New businesses sprang up to help local businesses get more, often illegal, reviews. It would appear from the scale and increasing frequency that this has become a criminal enterprise that includes threats and retaliation to those that report them.

– Google supports a vibrant market place for businesses to sell fake reviews using Google’s organic, email, video and ad platforms. 

– Google profits from this illegal marketplace by selling AdWords into the space

– Google has done little to dampen or eliminate the fake review market despite the fact that it is both against their terms of service and a violation of state and national laws. And Google externalizes the costs associated with identifying the spam review to volunteers. 

– While there has been some limited public relations blow back on the review front, Google has not yet put in place adequate filters for fake reviews, does not filter these illegal results from their search engine and apparently has not enforced rules in Adwords that prohibit advertising their acquisition. 

– Ultimately, after years of neglecting growing problems, when the spam  gets so bad that it makes the product worthless, Google tends to throw up their hands and create a pay to play product like Local Service Ads or Google Shopping.

It really doesn’t matter where you look on Google, the activity to sell fake reviews is obvious and easy to find. 

Last week, a Gmail user solicited me to buy illegal reviews. I had a long and interesting back and forth with him (I assume it is a him) about the quality and reliability of his product. He notes that he only uses long standing Google accounts and can thus guarantee that he can get me  reviews every month .

All the accounts that we use to post the reviews are 6-10 years old that we have been maintaining as a real person would do, that is why we are able to maintain more than 95% success rate with the reviews we post and that is what makes the reviews look organic and real.


After some negotiation, he guaranteed that he could provide me with 10 Google reviews every month on his subscription plan for only $50. And the first month was free!

Search Google for buy fake reviews and while the first few results are why you shouldn’t buy them, I am sure that the organic result in the number 4 position gets most of the click throughs. 

public relations

A quick search on YouTube finds fake review offers at the top of the results. 

search engine

Never one to leave a new market place untapped, Adwords continues to provide opportunities for businesses to sell into the space.  And for Google to profit from this activity. 

visible public relations problem

Google lives in a very strange world, with near categorical protection from use of their platform by bad actors, only reacting when a problem becomes so big that they have to respond or face the wrath of the public and the government.

Fake reviews certainly warrant a response from Google. Legitimate businesses are hurt every day and more importantly consumers world wide are deceived. And yet they continue to act as if it isn’t a critical issue.

Google’s failure to act decisively in the review space, now that they are THE local monopoly and dominate the review space, will ultimately decay consumer trust in reviews and lead to the failure of reviews as an alternative to traditional word of mouth.

What will it take to make them respond? It remains to be seen.

Please consider leaving a comment as your input will help me (& everyone else) better understand and learn about local.

This is my second post in the “who the f knows” series.

And it relates to Google now showing the book or schedule button in the 3 pack. Or not showing as the case may be.

When your boss comes and sees you and asks why are your booking buttons not showing you can either say “who the f’ knows” or the current, more accurate variant “Only Google f’ing knows”.

On a tangental a note, these book buttons were first spotted in the SERPS by Sergey Alekov in February when Google released Reserve with Google in Canada. I don’t think they showed in the SERPS reliably at that point.

In fact they still don’t show in the SERPS reliably.

Over the past day or two I have spotted the following desktop and mobile variations involving or not involving the booking button as the case may be.

Mobile variants:

Alphabet Inc.CanadaGoogleDesktop Variants

Sergey Alekov World Wide Web

Please consider leaving a comment as your input will help me (& everyone else) better understand and learn about local.