Why Shouldn’t You Buy Fake Online Reviews

It’s Against the Rules.

The biggest reason businesses shouldn’t buy online reviews is it’s against the terms and services of many online review sites. Businesses that ultimately do buy reviews or post fake reviews on behalf of their customers could suffer legal action or face sanctions.

Yelp has been very active in trying to ensure its reviews are authentic. Its Consumer Alerts program was created to make sure its reviews are properly vetted and provide helpful, accurate information to consumers conducting online research. If a business on Yelp is found to be purchasing reviews, their profile will be tagged with a warning to consumers about the dishonest activity.

It creates distrust

As we mentioned, online reviews are a valuable tool for both consumers as well as businesses. If trust in reviews declines, that value will diminish. According to survey data from BrightLocal, 31% of consumers trust online reviews as long as they believe they are authentic. That number is up from nine percent from the previous year’s survey.

Overall trust is still high for online reviews, but some consumers are leery of businesses either posting fake positive reviews on their sites or trying to sabotage their competition by posting fake negative reviews on their competitor’s sites. To ensure that trust is earned, businesses should make every effort to be transparent in their collection of online reviews.

It’s unethical

Don’t lie to your customers. When you buy online reviews, you are lying to your customers even if you don’t think you are. Customers are looking for businesses that are open and transparent. Consumers use online reviews to help make decisions and set expectations for what type of experience they will be receiving. Fake reviews could lead to disappointment when your business doesn’t deliver on those expectations. Good online reviews should be earned not purchased.

You miss out on valuable customer feedback

When you buy online reviews, you are missing out on valuable feedback from real customers. Feedback from online reviews can help you identify problems that might exist in your business and gives you the tools needed to fix them. Businesses that are focused on the customer and care about the experience being delivered won’t need to buy online reviews or post fake ones because their customers will be motivated to post positive reviews on their own.

The best way to capture that feedback is through an online review management platform. A good platform will streamline the process of managing your online presence and enable you to monitor and respond to reviews from a single dashboard.

Yelp has been very active in trying to ensure its reviews are authentic. Its Consumer Alerts program was created to make sure its reviews are properly vetted and provide helpful, accurate information to consumers conducting online research. If a business on Yelp is found to be purchasing reviews, their profile will be tagged with a warning to consumers about the dishonest activity.

What the FTC Thinks About Fake Reviews

If you were to choose your relationship with the FTC, you’d probably go with the “never the twain shall meet” variety. So, it might disturb you to hear that the FTC can and will issue fines against businesses caught using fake reviews.

Section 5 of the FTC Act 15 U.S. Code § 45 makes fake testimonials illegal. The FTC considers your review to be fake if it is not based on the experience of a real customer. A fake review is seen as deceptive advertising as it may mislead the customer, encouraging them to purchase a product or use a service under false pretenses.

The FTC considers fake reviews and testimonials to be false or deceptive advertising, which is against the law for several reasons. 

  • The reviews aren’t based on actual customer experiences. 
  • They mislead consumers because the content of the review is false. 
  • They encourage people to buy something they otherwise wouldn’t, which financially defrauds the customer.

Incentivized reviews are also illegal unless the company or individual giving the review or testimonial clearly states that he or she has received compensation or another form of incentive for the review and that his or her statement is true and accurate.

The FTC is serious about allegations of consumer fraud. If the organization catches you buying or incentivizing reviews, you could end up paying hundreds of thousands of dollars in fines. In 2019, it fined a business $12.8 million for purchasing fake reviews.

The FTC released a guide on how to follow its rules for online reviews, endorsements, and testimonials. The guide reiterates that the review must be made by a real customer and based on a real experience with your company, but it gives a little leeway for offering the reviewer an incentive. As long as the review clearly shows that the customer was influenced by money, publicity, or a gift, you are allowed to post those reviews. Keep in mind that free trials count as a gift, as do gift cards and giveaways, and so reviews created by customers thusly incentivized must say so in a disclaimer.

Keep in mind, though, that while the FTC is okay with you incentivizing a customer to leave a review if you include a disclaimer, this will get you banned by most review platforms. So, this practice should be used only for reviews posted to your own site.

What if Someone Posts a Fake Review About You?

Just because you’re following the rules doesn’t mean your competitors will do the same. As hard is it is to watch them get ahead breaking rules you choose to follow, it only gets worse when they start posting fake, negative reviews about your company.

A recent New York Post article outlined a scary incident where an Amazon merchant saw his sales plummet from 450 units a day down to just 150. It all started when a few negative reviews reached the front page of his Amazon product. Even though most of the reviews were positive, the negative ones had received enough upvotes to outrank the others.

Customers scrolled down to the reviews, saw the bad ones first and didn’t bother to keep scrolling.

Suspiciously, the man was contacted by a “list optimization” vendor who offered to help clean up the review page by generating upvotes for the positive reviews. When the man turned down the service, the negative votes rapidly increased, nearly doubling within a day. The vendor contacted the man again, saying the price to fix the review page had doubled. The vendor admitted that one of the Amazon seller’s competitors had hired him, but that he would be happy to turn against the competitor if the price was right.

The seller contacted Amazon and reported the incident, but Amazon was unwilling to fix the problem.

Negative reviews are as much of a commodity as the positive ones. Chances are your competitors will use them against you, and there’s not much you can do about it unless you can prove that a review is fake (and that’s tough). Yelp, Google My Business, TrustPilot, and other review sites will not take a review down unless they are sure it was put up in bad faith.

As the New York Post example shows, the issue is even more complicated thanks to users’ ability to upvote negative reviews. You can’t please everyone, so chances are your product will receive at least a few genuine negative reviews. If your competitors upvote those to give them more prominence than your positive reviews, they may successfully scare away your customers.

Google will delete your reviews

Google’s content policy specifically prohibits fake reviews.

“Your content should reflect your genuine experience at the location and should not be posted just to manipulate a place’s ratings. Don’t post fake content, don’t post the same content multiple times, and don’t post content for the same place from multiple accounts.”

Moreover, Google states that if your business profile features fake reviews, it will remove them from your profile.

“Reviews are automatically processed to detect inappropriate content like fake reviews and spam. We may take down reviews that are flagged in order to comply with Google policies or legal obligations.”

An example of Google doing so is when it removed all but one of a Kentucky law firm’s reviews for offering family zoo passes in exchange for reviews.

The right way to earn more Google reviews

  • Ask for feedback immediately after a transactionNearly 80% of people will leave a review when asked. So, don’t be shy about asking, whether you are interacting online or face to face.
  • Make it easy for people to review you—Be sure to use the Google Review Link Generator to get your custom link. This way, customers don’t have to track down your Google business listing to leave a review. You can post this link on your social media accounts, your website, and on signs in your store, if you run a brick-and-mortar business. You could also enclose a note or sticker asking for a Google review when you ship your product.
  • Automate the process—A smart way to ensure you’re reaching out to all your customers is to automate the process.
  • Respond to all your reviews—Responding to all reviews is a great opportunity to engage with your customers. Doing so shows that you care what your customers think, which encourages others to write reviews.
  • Address customer pain points —Of course, the best way to garner more positive reviews is to thoroughly wow customers in every interaction they have with your business. To do so, you need to identify and solve their issues and make customer satisfaction part of your company’s culture.

For a brief moment, the Internet provided a level playing ground for small businesses. Anyone could compete with the big guys. All it took was a great product and a few customers willing to review it. Fake reviews and fake upvotes may have tilted the market back in favor of the big guys.

Before you fight fire with fire and wage a review war of your own, keep in mind the genuine risk of getting caught.

Fortunately, it is easy to get real positive reviews. All you need to do is to offer excellent products/services. Provide great customer experience. And simply send them a request to write you a review.

Don’t forget to go through your reviews on a regular (every day possibly) basis and respond to them.

This will, in turn, improve local SEO and ultimately boost revenues.

 

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