Fake reviews are a growing problem for small businesses. In the online world, it’s very easy to create a new account and leave either a positive or negative review for any business — regardless of whether you’ve used or know them. Fake reviews are prevalent and just as Google and other review sites consider some forms of SEO spamming to be completely unacceptable, the same goes for reviews that aren’t organic.
As a consumer, you expect reviews on Amazon, Google and other review sites to be neutral, objective and trustworthy. But this expectation is frequently prevented by aggressive marketers who pay third parties to create phony reviews in exchange for money, discounts or free services.
These practices are known as “opinion spam” can harm both parties – it hides the truth from the consumer and can also ruin the reputation of the review site where the fake review appears.
Unfortunately, opinion spam appears to be a permanent feature of both the world of e-commerce and the local business ecosystem.
Amazon is trying to fight back to clean up a messy marketplace – it has sued over 1000 sellers and vendors of fake reviews who allegedly posted reviews for payment and in 2016 changed its Community Guidelines to prohibit incentivised reviews.
Similarly, Google has warned against deceptive advertising and have asked product review bloggers to disclose any compensation-based relationships with vendors. Review sites are also trying to clean things up using algorithms which are getting increasingly better at flagging opinion spam, using a mix of linguistic and behavioural signals to find an offender.
As a marketer, you’re fully aware of how critical online reviews are to your business and it is extremely easy to use a consultant or social media agency to post some complimentary reviews about your business on Amazon, Google or Yelp. However, think twice!! Opinion spam is risky, foolish and a couple of five-star reviews are surely not worth breaking the law for.
So, what’s a marketer to do?
Opinion spam is a part of life. So how can you fight back against your rivals without using the same tactics? The answer is to make full use of white-hat, long-term methods to encourage positive reviews.
Remember, review quality and frequency count, so try simple marketing tactics like emailing recent customers with a request to review the product or service, include a reminder review card in each product sold via Amazon and use signs at your physical place of business to let customers know that reviews are appreciated (albeit not incentivised).
Interestingly some industries, such as cars, computers, electronics and software, are using associated vetted and bona fide review sites associated such as Which whose reputations are high due to the fact that they are not open to outside evaluators.
Secondly, if you have reason to believe that your competition is resorting to opinion spam, report them to the review site. To do this you need to provide evidence, so make use of sites such as Fakespot.com and ReviewSkeptic.com, which let you paste in a URL from a review site to evaluate the probability that it’s real or fake.
And finally, remember to adopt a responsive marketing stance that responds quickly to both positive and negative reviews. Consumers are becoming more and more review-savvy and won’t necessarily accept any review they stumble across – they are discerning enough to know that not every customer can be 100% happy. If a negative review does appear, then acknowledge it and open up a channel to the complainant in order to make things right.
Being active and responsive in the review space will be seen as proof that you’re paying attention, and you care.
One angry customer or jealous competitor doesn’t have the power to hurt your business, provided you know how to respond to false reviews online. If you can’t get the review removed, respond in a positive way can show other consumers just how professional you are. Meanwhile, carry on working to drown out the rare fake review by attracting a steady stream of positive reviews.