Since we’ve enjoyed the internet, the ability to remain anonymous and post through fake accounts has always led to spam and scams. Online reviews are no exception to the problems that this anonymity poses. A disgruntled customer, a biased shopper, a desperate manufacturer, or even bitter competitors have been involved in the unethical act of fake reviews to bring down a particular brand to its knees. To curtail this menace, brands have been taking action–Amazon sued over 1,000 fake reviewers and has banned incentivized reviews. But the shadow of fake reviews is far away from getting written off. It has been reported that up to 20% of Yelp reviews are fake. And considering that 77% of buyers say that customer reviews impact their purchase decisions, the magnitude of the damage that such fake reviews can do is extremely tangible. And thus, the need to prevent fake reviews tactfully and pragmatically was never as glaring as it is today.
The quest to prevent fake reviews isn’t always easy. With the mushrooming of social media networks and reviews platforms, fake reviews get distributed almost in an innumerable and indiscreet way. The first step, thus, that enables a company to efficiently prevent fake reviews is properly identifying them. They come with certain signs and characteristics.
Signs Of Fake Reviews:
The psychological set up of a common consumer is not as same as a salesperson. He will not use the full name of the product down to the model number each time it’s mentioned. He generally prefers brevity instead of stating the full product name repeatedly. The ulterior motive behind this repetitive use of the product name by the fake reviewer is to get multiple links indexed or to create the impression of popularity. In the realm of SEO, it’s been known as a black hat scheme. Note that search engines consider it as a web scam.
Extremes are another indicator that the review is a contrived piece of writing. Phrases like “incredibly awesome” or even more exaggerated like “it’s the greatest ever” could just be pompous jive talk. Such reviews are laced with hyperboles without even giving the slightest insight into the actual functionality of the product. The vice versa is also true. Too many overly negative extremes can create suspicion that someone is being paid to bash a competitor. As you can see in the below figure, all ratings hover around 1. It’s a sign of dubious reviews.
A person with a mission to tarnish your image will try to utilize as much digital space as he can to spread negativity about you. Your devised methodology to prevent fake reviews should check more than one reviews sites and social media networks. If you see that same reviews are getting copy pasted and have a similar pattern in them, you can categorize those reviews as fake ones.
If the person doesn’t regularly write reviews, it may not be genuine. This may be a case where your competitor has rewarded the reviewer for writing negatively against your brand. Or, if he has written other reviews, check the nature of those reviews. If there is no consistency in his tone, language, and style, he tends to be a fake reviewer. Also, usernames ending in over 3 numbers indicate automated programming.
This is the most simple indicator of the fake reviews. If you see a listing of a commercial website or a rival’s product link in reviews, you can be ensured that it’s all hoax. It can be considered self-promotion or spam- a different type of fake post. This type of activity is frowned upon by search engines, which may detect fake reviews if duplicated posts trace back to the same source.
Actions That Can Prevent Fake Reviews:
As we have discussed earlier, a path to prevent fake reviews is not that easy to traverse. Digital space is too vast a place for any solution to act as an absolute deterrent to fake reviews. But there are certain ways that can mitigate their entry and influence.
One in five Americans has written online reviews about products he/she not bought or used. So, now the question is not whether the reviewer actually exists or not. The question is whether he has actually used the product or not. The need is to ensure that only genuine buyers are coming up with reviews. Just like Amazon, all other e-commerce sites need to implement this reviewer authenticity identification process.
Verified reviews are easier on your own site’s ratings and reviews platform, as you simply need to link your e-commerce platform’s database of purchases with your review platform.
Certain restaurants now ask their reviewers to send the TripAdvisor team an image of a receipt to prove they visited the establishment. A campaign backing the idea took off on Twitter last week under the hashtag #NoReceiptNoReview. Of course, this isn’t a full proof method. If a group of four goes to a restaurant, only one will get the receipt of paid bill. The questions about other three’s authenticity remain. But it’s a good idea to prevent fake reviews which can take a better shape in coming times.
The ideal scenario to prevent fake reviews is getting the review removed before anyone can see it. But it’s your word against the word of the reviewer, and review sites can’t take down every post that a business owner doesn’t like. Nevertheless, depending on the site, you may be able to request an assessment of the review. Facebook will only remove reviews if they don’t comply with Facebook’s Community Standards. But it does allow you to comment on a review. You can reply to a fake reviewer here to get to know his authenticity. With Yelp, you can get a fake review removed in case a reviewer had a clear conflict of interest, didn’t focus on their own consumer experience or included offensive language/private information in the post. The process is more or less similar for Google.
If you believe that reviews which are squirming on popular forums, social networks, niche business directories, or major listing and review platforms are fake, flag them immediately to bring them to the attention of the respective moderators. Google My Business, for example, allows you to flag such fraudsters.
On your own ratings and reviews platform, you can use your content moderation tools to flag potentially fake reviews. If you’ve noticed any kinds of patterns in the fake reviews you’ve been seeing, you can automatically alert yourself to them or just outright block them. It’s always a best practice to automatically block mentions of competitors’ names from your site’s reviews, and while automatic moderation is a time-saver, you shouldn’t let users’ reviews get published without a human screening them, too.
It’s true that fake reviews is a reality and it cannot be killed completely. It has become some sort of a permanent evil. But it’s absolutely necessary to prevent fake reviews, as simple one-star bump in reviews can create a 5% – 9% increase in revenue according to a Harvard study. Moreover, it’s just not enough to prevent fake reviews. It’s also necessary to think about how you are going to respond to the fake reviewer. That also determines the status and image of your brand. All these factors make countering the threat of fake reviews a high priority.