Would you be surprised if I told you that over half of all electronics reviews on Amazon are forged? And how about the fact that one out of seven reviews on Tripadvisor is a fake?
Why are fake reviews dangerous?
Any business, especially locally-oriented, heavily relies on good reviews left by its happy customers on websites like Google, Facebook or Yelp. And, although, statistically up to 70% of unhappy buyers would be willing to give you another chance if you improved, the chances are that a negative review could imminently impact your sales. You know it, so do your competitors. And when it comes to addressing an issue with a few reviews a week, it seems to be not such a big deal. But once bad reviews come flocking from many directions you might need support from professionals who can automate your reputation management efforts for you.
There is another risk that a fake negative review holds in itself. It may deter not only potential customers but also prospective employees from your business. Companies such as Glassdoor provide platforms for unhappy employees to post reviews harming the image of their ex-employers. This way your hiring process may suffer from reputational damage caused by such reviews.
Identifying fake reviews
The most challenging part about fake reviews is that they are really hard to identify. A study conducted recently revealed that even professional copywriters and editors fail to spot a fake review among others in some cases.
There are a number of recommendations to identify a fake review. For example, such a review may lack details, because it’s hard to describe something that did not really happen. Or, a person leaving such a review overuses personal pronouns ― they tend to say “I” or “me” all the time to sound more genuine.
Reviews with maximum or minimum possible scores also tend to be fake. Such reviewers often try to statistically influence the current average score of your business. Another way to spot a scammer is to trace the language used by the reviewer in his posts featured on his profile. The use of the same expressions and/or claims may be an indication of abuse.
If you realize that a negative review is fake because such a user never had any experience with your product or service, you will be eligible for filing a complaint inside the review site.
Ways of handling fake reviews
There are two distinct strategies you may follow in handling fake reviews. First is a Do-It-Yourself type of strategy, where you will need to demonstrate a lot of tenacity in identifying such reviews, reacting to them and conducting follow-ups. And the second is a strategy involving the third party companies who will handle this matter for you.
When handling fake reviews yourself, you should first identify such a review (as we described above), then report it within a review site using their built-in mechanisms. But be prepared to go through the review site’s policy on identifying fake reviews to validate your claim. You will need to be specific here, why you think it is a fake and not just an authentic opinion of a disgruntled user.
If you fail to prove that the review is fake, we urge you to respond to it in a professional fashion. Chances are that you will be able to restore your business’s reputation in the eyes of potential customers just by providing a proper and thorough response to that review.
Now that you have faced the problem of fake reviews yourself, it would be a good idea to start closely monitoring reviews using such free tools as Google.Alerts. They provide functionality allowing you to receive email alerts when a new review on your business comes up. Jonas Sickler, Marketing Director from Reputationmanagement.com also seconds this opinion: “The best way to identify fake reviews is to create a profile on the top review platforms so you’re notified of new feedback. It’s also a good idea to sign up for Google Alerts to track mentions of your brand.”
Also, keep in mind that a seemingly immaculate 5-star rating may be viewed as a fake itself by some people. So, if you occasionally get something less than five stars, consider it a reputational vaccine that will help you identify areas of improvement and grant you a chance to interact with unhappy customers as well.
Reputation intelligence experts
As for the strategy that involves the use of third-party software solutions and/or services, let’s consider the following cases of solving the problem of fake reviews.
An obvious way to approach a fake review is to remove it from a review site altogether. Some companies do it even with a money-back guarantee. They are ready to conduct a free reputational audit of your business to see how you are doing in terms of rankings on popular review platforms and suggest ways of improving your current standings. The process looks like this: you identify the reviews you need to be erased on various review platforms (the price of review curation depends on the platform) and initiate the process; then the system will prompt you on the current status of each such query.
An interesting development in the industry is the use of AI in identifying the likelihood of removing a negative review. In case a review is deemed genuine, you will be able to respond with corresponding feedback to turn an unhappy customer into a loyal client in the future.
Of course, such companies are normally approached in the event of an outburst of negative reviews that may be devastating to your course of business if simply left ignored.
There is also a mixed approach where you will be able to identify all types of reviews and have them reported to you through an easy-to-use dashboard. And later handle the reviews in a one-by-one regular fashion.
Some companies claim that even if you have one bad review out there (be it fake or real), it is quite possible to minimize its negative impact by pouring over hundreds of positive reviews solicited from your satisfied customers. So, the companies provide an easy to use tool for sending requests to your users, willing to leave a good comment about your business, and directing them to popular review platforms. This stream of positive reviews might eventually obliterate the harm done by a negative one that you failed to remove using conventional ways.
Some companies automate all the processes related to reviews. They produce tools that maximize the online visibility of your business across all popular social platforms (including but not limited to Google Maps, Facebook, Instagram, etc.). Normally, such apps don’t concentrate around identifying fake reviews but rather on emphasizing the benefits of your products to your customers through soliciting more positive in-depth postings.
Another cohort of companies takes this process further a notch and provides a complete range of SaaS solutions that you might need in handling your reputational concerns. Such companies not only work with reviews through the tools called review checkers but also give you special programs for rank tracking and citation management. The idea here is to give you a more thorough approach to knowing your business’s current online standing so that you will know both what people are saying about you online and potential areas of improvement.
Opinions from the industry
We went and asked some top managers from companies involved in Reputational Management about fake reviews. And here is what they had to say on this matter.
How big is the problem?
Do you see such a problem as Fake Reviews posted on review sites, like Tripadvisor, Yelp, and others? Do you think such a problem exists or whether those websites are good at identifying fake reviews and stopping it themselves?
Myles Anderson, CEO of BrightLocal:
“Fake reviews are a huge problem, though it’s impossible to know their full extent. Google have said they removed more than 75 million policy-violating reviews in 2019, though it’s highly likely many more fake reviews slipped through the net.
Some sites don’t require reviewers to write a message, so it can be incredibly difficult to identify whether these were written by real reviewers. This makes it hard for business owners to get review sites to remove these, as for most businesses it is very hard to prove or disprove that this comes from a customer.
The top review sites will dedicate a lot of resources to tackling fake reviews, but undoubtedly many will be posted that manage to pass automated checks, but aren’t legitimate.”
Justin Gilchrist, co-founder of Flyte360:
“Fake reviews in the sense that the reviewer is fictional are less of a problem lately. The real danger is factually incorrect reviews or ‘revenge reviews’ that may contain defamatory information.
Sites like Tripadvisor and Google seem to be getting better at handling those, but Yelp’s policies often cause problems for small business owners.
While Yelp’s idea of a review filter is, in theory, a good one it frequently fails the business owner when their genuine positive reviews frequently get caught up too.”
Rohit G., Co-Founder at Famepilot Internet:
“Yes, Indeed. Fake Reviews are a serious problem. Review Sites are not very good at handling Fake Reviews, not even Google. In countries like India, where there is a huge population, there are groups who are posting fake reviews in bulk.
Sometimes Google, Zomato, and other review sites are able to detect [fake reviews] to some extent, but still there is a huge gap in immediate detection of fake reviews.”
Curtis Boyd, Founder of Objection.Co:
“Yes, I see lots of fake reviews posted on review sites like TripAdvisor, Yelp, Google, Amazon, etc.
I think that there has been a technical evolution with fake reviews and that many black-hat review vendors are evading detection. Some websites are better than others because they are simply putting more effort and resources into moderating their content better.
If you look at fake reviews as a product, the product has to last for a little bit – or the customer will want a refund. This has caused black-hat astroturfers to either become more sophisticated or stop selling products.
For many years, these review websites have used back-end metrics like IP Address, email address, MAC Address, Browser Type, Device Data and other IT related metrics. These things can all be spoofed, and are not enough for semi-sophisticated teams.”
As we see, all the executives agree on the fact that fake reviews became a real burning issue for the industry. Review sites, on their part, also use various approaches to handle the matter. Since they are supposed to be genuinely interested in improving the situation with fake reviews, we asked a followup question about it.
How to make things better?
Do you think that Fake Review Identification should be done by tools like those provided by your company, or whether Review sites themselves should take care of this issue if such an issue exists?
Myles Anderson, CEO of BrightLocal:
“We don’t have a fake review identification service, though we do urge customers to monitor reviews closely so that they can address any fake reviews quickly. While some review sites could do more to identify fake reviews and tackle those that are flagged by businesses, this is a mammoth task with no simple fix. Of course, review sites should hold responsibility for ensuring their services are accurate and useful for local business owners, but businesses also need to stay on top of their own reputation across review sites.”
Justin Gilchrist, Co-Founder at Flyte360:
“The problem should really be tackled by the Review Sites. Our customer is ultimately the business, and they’re often very aware which reviews are fake/fraudulent and which aren’t.
The damage is being done on the consumer end – the people who visit the review sites, looking for accurate impartial information and often failing to see that. Those review sites have a responsibility to their users to do better.”
Curtis Boyd, Founder of Objection.Co:
“We want to lead the way in front-end review fraud analysis, especially review content analysis with our NLP models.
I think it’s important to have unbiased third parties help with the identification of review fraud, as companies who self-govern and moderate their content have bias and maybe financially unmotivated to do anything about removing bad reviews.
Complete review fraud identification requires complete front end and back end analysis, working in unison to predict for fraudulent actors, I think we should be working together to solve the problem in an open and transparent environment that puts truthfulness first.”
As we can see from the answers above, tackling the problem will require an extra effort on the part of review sites. Generally, the business owners can identify a fake review, so we need the review sites to improve their features in settling this type of problem.
Fake reviews definitely create a real problem that leaves customers clueless and misled about products and services. Most RepIntel companies agree that to solve this problem all the parties involved should work together for the benefit of transparency and unbiased opinions presented online. In the end, this is exactly what regular customers need and expect from the industry.
Many companies involved in reputation management provide solutions that heavily rely on proxy servers specifically catered to their needs. We at PrivateProxy have designed a special package of proxies oriented to the RepIntel sector. This helps RepIntel providers make their clients happy by addressing their concerns with fake reviews in a prompt fashion. A clear win-win in action.