What You Need To Know About Fake Online Reviews

For the past month and a half or so ‘fake online reviews’ has been a real hot topic in the internet marketing industry. In late September BusinessWeek posted an article describing how the State of New York has made it a point to start cracking down on fake online reviews. Just last week, ABC reported that Samsung was fined $340,300 by Taiwan’s FTC for paying bloggers to praise their products and bash HTC’s. And on a more intimate level, we have had several conversations with our clients about fake online reviews and what to do about them.

So what is all the fuss about?

Pretty much everyone understands that consumers turn to online reviews before making a purchase decision. You do it, I do it, we all do. But the question is can we really trust these reviews?

The issue with the majority of the free online review sites is anyone who has 10 minutes and an email address can create an account and review any product or service regardless if they have ever actually used the product or service. Even though some of these sites have ‘scrubbing filters’, there is no real verification process to validate the reviews. Since business owners and executives know consumers read these reviews before buying and how easy it is to manipulate the system what do you think happens? That’s right… people will write fake reviews to either glorify themselves or criticize their competition.

Why Businesses Write Fake Reviews:

The main reason, as we already covered, is business are aware of the fact that consumers will read reviews before buying. If there are positive reviews they buy. Negative reviews they won’t. That being said there are a few other reasons businesses write fake reviews:

  1. The More Positive Reviews The Higher You Will Rank: Generally this is true for search engines, internet yellow pages sites, product/service review sites, and ecommerce sites. For example, if you search for a local service on Google you will likely see about 7 local search results with the little red pin marker next to them. The number and quality of Google Reviews does play a factor in how you will rank in this section.
  2. To Hurt Their Competitors: This sounds childish but it is a serious issue on both the corporate and local levels. See the Samsung article referenced in the opening paragraph as an example.
  3. To Make Them Look Better: Better reviews the better chance they will buy.
  4. To Drown Out Legitimate Negative Reviews: If a business receives a legitimate negative review they understand the potential consequences. The shortcut way to cover up a bad review is to write a bunch of fake positive reviews to make the legitimate negative review appear as a rare occurrence.

Why You Should Not Write Fake Reviews:

Many businesses become frustrated when they see their competitors reap the benefits of fake reviews. This sometimes leads to, ‘Well if they are doing it why shouldn’t we?’. Our advice… don’t. Here is why:

  1. You Are Misleading Consumers: This is something that review sites and some States are beginning to take seriously. Costly fines have been issued and lawsuits have been filed. Expect this to happen more often in the future.
  2. It Is A Short Term Solution: It is no longer a matter of IF you get caught, but WHEN you get caught. When you do get caught there are consequences. For one you will likely lose that high search engine ranking and it will be very difficult to regain your position as you have been labeled as misleading. And even worse, Yelp will post a ‘consumer alert on pages of businesses who were caught buying fake reviews. No one will trust you then.


How To Spot Fake Reviews:

This applies to both business owners and consumers. Whether you are looking to purchase a product/service or determine if you competitor is writing fake reviews the tips below will help you separate fake reviews from legitimate reviews:

  1. Reviews Are Clustered Together: Look at the dates of when the reviews were posted. For example, let’s say a business has been open for 10 years and has perfect 5 star rating after 25 reviews. When reviewing the dates you notice that for nine and a half years in business they only managed two reviews, but in the past six months they managed to receive 23 impeccable 5 star reviews. That certainly raises a flag. Another example is only a few days after a negative review four positive reviews were posted.
  2. Every Review Had a Perfect Experience: All five stars raises a flag in itself, but especially when each review had a perfect experience… no issues, no flaws, it was the best experience they ever had.
  3. The Same Writing Style: For example, if 17 of the 25 reviews seem to close with something along the lines of “I would highly recommend to others”… the majority of those reviews are fake.
  4. Look at the Reviewer’s Profile: On many of the review sites, you can click on the Reviewer’s name to see their profile and other reviews. If they only have 1 review or only real positive or negative reviews take those reviews with a grain of salt. Especially if you notice on their profile page that they signed up the same day of the review and/or do not include any personal information.
  5. Reviews Are Unusually Long and Too Specific: Most legitimate reviews are to the point and only a few sentences. Reviews that are extremely long, overly detailed, and/or contain industry jargon are likely fake. For example, a review of a kitchen remodeling company where the review explains the entire process and names the specific tools used during the project.

What To Do If You Feel You Received A Fake Review:

If you have a strong suspicion that one of your competitors, ex-employee, or former customer posted a fake review about your business, product, or service there are steps that you can take to have the review removed.

  • ‘Flag’ or Report the Review: Visit the site of the suspected fake review. Look for a link, button, or icon to ‘Flag’ or Report the review.
  • Contact The Review Site: If several attempts of ‘Flagging’ or Reporting a review have failed, try contacting the review site directly.
  • Take Legal Action: If you believe a fake review is against any Federal or State laws contact an attorney to discuss your options.

Questions or Comments?

If you have any questions or comments feel free to comment below or contact us directly. We will be more than happy to assist you.

St. Louis Digital Media, LLC is an internet marketing company based out of St. Louis, Missouri. We specialize in local business search engine optimization and pay-per-click management.