Fake reviews hurt everybody. I remember the last time it happened to me. It was my parents’ 35th wedding anniversary. I chose a restaurant to take them to dinner after some research. Alas, the restaurant turned out to be a mood killer. While customers like me suffer due to fake reviews, the real question is — do fake reviews really hurt businesses? While there are many influences at play, the short answer to this question – Yes. Fake reviews can make or break a local business.
Reviews sway buyer sentiment. Research suggests that 92% of customers read online reviews before making a purchase decision. Think about the last time you bought something. Whether it’s a big purchase like a car or a medium purchase like a television or a relatively small purchase like a pair of sneakers, chances are that you looked at a few reviews before you made your decision. Similarly, every customer calling your business or walking through your door mostly likely looked up your business information online and read all your customer reviews.
The increasing importance of reviews saw the emergence of fake reviews. Be it to discredit a business or to over-inflate its importance, fake reviews are all over the web. The problem of Amazon fake reviews became so universal that it gave rise to websites like fakespot.com and ReviewMeta.com. These websites help customers gauge the credibility of reviews on the e-commerce website. Today, ReviewMeta.com gets over 10,000 visitors a day.
- What is a fake review?
- What types of businesses are most likely to get a fake review?
- How to spot a fake review
- How can fake reviews be damaging
- Respond to fake reviews as a business owner
- Can you get a fake review removed?
What is a fake review?
With time, fake reviews became sophisticated as well. What do you think of when you hear the term ‘fake reviews’? Do you think of a business owner manually typing out a harsh review to lure some customers away from their competitor? A few years back this might have worked to lessen the credibility of a competitor. While this continues to be true sometimes, fake reviews is now an industry. They are not always just vicious either. With reviews planned to out-rave a product, fake reviews are more often than not overwhelmingly positive.
Research suggests that users are more likely to leave a review after an overwhelmingly positive or negative experience. This ‘selection bias’ results in over-inflated reviews, which weaken the trust economy.
What types of businesses are most likely to get a fake review?
All types of marketplaces (online or in-store) get hit by fake reviews. Ordinary, brick-and-mortar stores, selling products or services are just as likely to be hit or helped by fake reviews. Industries like healthcare (hi there doctors and dental marketers!) and hospitality (Tripadvisor), where the focus is on the user’s experience, are also regularly flooded with fake reviews.
Caption: Fake reviews collected by a UK-based journalist for a fictional restaurant, reported on Vice News
How to spot a fake review
Unless you are running a tight establishment and know all the customers who walk in the door personally, figuring out a fake review requires some detective work. A lot can be found after a little bit of snooping, thanks to search engines and social media. While this isn’t 100% effective and is more likely an estimate, it gets you some relief.
Check the dates.
If a bunch of reviews came up on the product or service’s page on the same day or around the same time, you are probably looking at a deluge of fake reviews. Organically acquired reviews occur over a period of time and are likely going to have the timestamps to prove this.
One high profile example of this is Hillary Clinton’s book, What Happened. In 2017, Hillary Clinton wrote a book talking about her experience of campaigning in the U.S. Presidential Election in 2016, which she lost to the Republican nominee Donald Trump. Within a few hours of her book becoming available for sale, thousands of over-the-top congratulatory and severely critical reviews cropped up on Amazon. Almost 900 of these sham reviews were soon removed.
Check the reviewer’s profile.
Fake profiles are frequently shallow. They either have a stock image or no image at all. They have vague sounding names. When you click on the reviewer’s profile, you will have access to the reviewer’s previous writing history. Red flags include a high volume of only positive or only negative reviews or a sudden surge in quantity of reviews.
Check language choices.
Very few products are uniformly terrible that there is no redeeming quality about them or are so perfect that there is nothing wrong with them at all. Think of how you would describe your favorite pair of jeans. As much as you love the item and would recommend it to others, it’s hard to imagine 4-5 paragraphs of purple prose on them. Red flags here include vague, universal terms and incorrect use of words. Some research has shown that language patterns can also help in differentiating between fake and real reviews. This research claims that fake reviewers are frequently non-native English speakers.
How can fake reviews be damaging
So you have a bunch of 5-star reviews on your Google My Business page. What’s the big deal? Positive reviews are a good thing, right? While theoretically only having 5-star reviews is the goal of every company, in reality it isn’t always desirable. Customers don’t trust 5-star reviews. Nothing is perfect and customers are aware of this. When potential customers are looking for reviews, they want the pros and the cons — having only the good stuff looks suspicious. So, having a huge number of 5-star ratings with few details is actually going to make your business look less credible.
It’s understandable to think that if you cared enough to go online and give a business/product a five-star rating, it will have details too. Authentic reviews have details — the good, bad and the ugly. Any review that has only one of these components is not going to help you convince a potential customer. However, real people writing authentic reviews, talking about your product/service in detail and not absolutes — this works!
It’s all in the response
All negative reviews aren’t fake reviews. Here is how you respond to a negative review. Getting hit by fake reviews, isn’t the end of the world. There is still a lot that you, as a business owner, can do. Here are a few do’s and don’ts to help you deal with fake reviews:
- Be polite and respond to the review.
- Hit them with facts. Refute or deny the claims politely and publicly. If you have it on record that they weren’t a customer or if you have proof, question their claims. Do it in a way that will highlight your commitment to customer service.
- Try and get the review removed — be it on Google, Facebook, Yelp or other sites — some of these posts can be reported and brought down.
- Attract more positive reviews. If you regularly request and receive authentic reviews that praise your business, the odd fake review will not have the same weight.
- Get into a verbal match with the reviewer. Nothing good can come off this.
- Ignore the review. Remember, your potential customers are reading this.
- Buy fake positive reviews to combat the problem. Instead, invest in receiving authentic reviews.
Can you get a fake review removed?
There are ways to get a fake review removed. Google, Yelp and Facebook have community guidelines that will help you bring the fake review down if it violates community standards.
- Google — While you cannot give an explanation as to why you are requesting the removal of a particular post, you can definitely flag a post. When you flag a post, an independent moderator will take a closer look at the post to check if the writer is someone with a conflict of interest or by a fake profile.
- Yelp — Be prepared to write your case and back it with proof. Yelp only takes down biased posts. This includes a serious conflict of interest, usage of foul language and an absolute disregard for anything that would focus on the customer’s experience. However, if you are not able to convince site moderators of foul play, the review will mostly continue to be up.
- Facebook — The social media giant has strong community guidelines in place, which includes a low tolerance for bullying and sexual harassment. If you are hit by a fake review that violates any of these guidelines, you can report the post.
Similarly, on other websites, you can report or request removal of a fake review. Business owners shouldn’t attempt to do this with every negative review they attract but keep this option for the severely critical fake reviews they don’t deserve.
How Birdeye Can Help
While getting reviews removed can be a long, tedious process, you can fight this problem by requesting authentic reviews regularly. With software like Birdeye, you can automate review requests, respond to customers across multiple platforms from a single dashboard, follow up easily, among other things. Find out more about Birdeye and how we can help you establish a spectacular online reputation.