Online reviews are an important and powerful digital marketing strategy for most modern businesses. The majority of people who visits a selling site will check other peoples reviews before even considering making a purchase and approximately 67.7% of people who make purchases are impacted by online reviews. This makes it all the more alarming that a lot of reviews are fake and some of the reviews left on products are not even from real people! A deceptive practice known as “opinion spam” has been discovered to have affected a lot of products and businesses. This is where a rival business or other party hire a third party to write fake online reviews in exchange for money and discounts on their products or services. This is not only deceptive, but it is also an illegal practice.
Federal Trade Commission
The FTC states that online reviews and endorsements must be honest and not misleading. It also states that businesses, marketers and advertisers that use online reviews as part of their strategy should practice fair and equal collection reviews, which includes negative reviews, and they should not publish or pay third parties to publish fake reviews. Failure to comply with the principles laid forth by the FTC is not only seen as unethical but it could also mean that the marketers themselves could be subject to criminal and civil penalties.
Despite the rules and penalties laid forth by the FTC, fake online reviews that are used to improve ratings and reputations for companies and their products and services don’t seem to be going anywhere and there are so many that it is hard for selling and review websites to keep up. The better the ratings and reviews that a product has the higher it will show up in search results. This means that if a business uses a lot of fake reviews it could bump them up and leave legitimate and honest businesses lower meaning they are less likely to make sales. This is an obvious problem and reviews on products should be taken with a grain of salt and it should be up to the consumer to do their research and not just base their decision on reviews alone.
How to Spot and Counter Fake Reviews
Even with the efforts of online titans such as Amazon there are still fake reviews littered all over the Internet. Because of this there are actually tools like FakeSpot (Chrome Extension, Firefox Extension) that have been designed to expose fake reviews by analysing reviews on the sites you visit and pointing out obvious signs that they might not be legitimate. This is one way to counter fake reviews but there are other ways too, such as if you suspect a business of using fake reviews to amp up their products or services you should call them out because it will help others follow suit and eventually they will be flagged and will be dropped down in the search results again.
When trying not to get caught out by fake reviews you should consider the length and the way a review is written. If a company is looking to “bump up or down” a rating they will most likely leave only a short review of up to 4 or 5 lines. Also, watch out for vague or non-clear reviews as people who are legitimate will give details on why they feel the way they do about a certain product. The most trustworthy reviews don’t overpraise too much and don’t go too far with emotional or extreme language.
Another thing to look out for when reading reviews is when several reviews are posted within a short amount of time of each other. You should be especially cautious when there are long times before and after these reviews where there are none at all. Be on the lookout for similar language or wording styles when you see reviews like this as this can be a sign that the review was posted by the company that is selling the product.
A product that has no 1, 2 or 3 star reviews is also something to be weary of as even if a product is of good quality there will be people who have criticism and won’t like it. If there are only 4 and 5 star reviews it is best to keep a healthy level of skepticism and do extra research before purchasing.
Sometimes Google Business can see through these fake reviews but this is usually when the businesses use them on their own websites. Google penalises businesses like this because it usually means that the employees are asked to write good reviews to boost the business. Google Business can see straight through this as they usually notice that the reviews are all coming from the same IP address or from a small area such as an office building and then it will penalise businesses that do this and in some cases may even remove a site from the search results altogether.
Most ratings systems now allow you to answer whether a review was helpful or not and whether it influenced your decision and your thoughts on the product itself. If you are suspicious that someone has left a fake review you should click yes even if you don’t agree with them as if the fake reviewers get enough attention it will show others and will hopefully be disregarded.