Online rating and review sites are often plagued by fake reviews typically posted by freelancers who have been compensated by unscrupulous companies to post fabricated content on their behalf. This is pretty bad news for consumers because of the massive influence that reviews are known to have on purchasing behaviour online.
For example, a study by Bright Local found that 84% of consumers trust online reviews as much as they trust personal recommendations. This means that any consumer can be duped into doing business with a bad company or make purchasing decisions that they wouldn’t have made if they hadn’t read misleading and deceptive reviews about a product, service or company.
In fact, a Guardian Money investigation carried out a few years ago uncovered fake reviewing on an almost industrial scale.
Fortunately, governments are now recognising the scale of the problem and the damage that fake reviews can cause for consumers as well as for honest businesses, and they are fighting back.
According to The Telegraph, countries are really clamping down on fabricated reviews, and the UK Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) recently announced that it is taking part in an international social media campaign to bring an end to deceptive reviews.
Importance of Reviews
Even before the internet, people always have and always will go out of their way to look for as much evidence as possible to guide them in making the right buying decision to avoid getting ripped off. Compensated reviews are really bad news because they can seriously undermine all of the due diligence performed by cautious consumers.
Fake Negative Reviews
Just as individuals and companies can be paid to manufacture positive reviews, it is worth keeping in mind that not all negative reviews are genuine. There are cases where unscrupulous companies have paid businesses and freelancers to write fabricated negative content about a competitor’s product.
These types of reviews are just as deceptive as fake positive reviews because they can influence purchasing decisions. They are also much harder to spot especially when they are from a verified customer who is supposedly just giving their personal opinion on the business, product or service.
Here’s an article that offers advice on how to identify and handle fake negative reviews.
How to Spot Fake Positive Reviews
Knowing how to spot compensated reviews is critically important when shopping online. There are certain tell-tale signs to look out for that can help you to spot fabricated reviews. Note however, that some fake reviews are harder to spot than others, especially when the reviews on sites like Amazon are based on verified purchases. If the reviewer is a skilled writer, you may not be able to identify the review as fake even if it is. However, there’s a lot you can learn from the general tone of online reviews.
Check Out the Reviewer’s Profile
If you are actively researching a particular company, product or service and have come across a review that is full of nothing but pure glowing praise, start by checking out the person’s other reviews. Look for patterns in the way he or she reviews companies, products and services:
- Do they write a lot of 5 star reviews? If this is the case, view this as a red flag because most users can’t be bothered to write positive reviews and those who take the time to write lots of detailed positive reviews are most likely being compensated for their time.
- Does he or she write any negative reviews? If the reviewer writes a lot of reviews but none of them are negative, then that is a huge red flag because its just not normal behaviour. Keep digging, and take everything written by that person with a pinch of salt.
- How lengthy are the reviews? If the person has written a lot of lengthy positive reviews, that is another red flag. Most authentic positive reviews are short sentences. Negative reviews from disgruntled customers on the other hand, are usually quite lengthy.
- Does the individual say the same thing about different companies? Does the reviewer ever leave negative reviews? Generally, a fake reviewer will say more or less the same thing about different companies and they won’t have any negative reviews in their profiles.
- Do they pretty much say the same thing? Check out reviews from other similar profiles. Many of these people often have multiple anonymous profiles, all of which sound the same.
- How excessive is the praise for the company? Excessively positive language is often a red flag. Most natural reviews are rarely excessive in their praise. When they are, the authentic reviews are usually very specific, and you can often tell whether the praise is coming from the heart.
Most fake reviews are written by freelancers in countries such as Bangladesh, India and Indonesia, who, for a relatively low fee, will submit fabricated reviews using false aliases and fake addresses.
If you’ve spotted a review that doesn’t quite pass the smell test at first glance, check out the location of the reviewer. If you’re looking at the ratings and reviews of a hair dressing salon in London, it would be logical to expect the reviewers to be located within the same post code. If you’ve got reviewers from different parts of the UK or other countries, chances are it isn’t a legitimate review.
Check Dates of Reviews
If you find that there are odd, wide gaps in the posting dates of the reviews of the business with thousands of 5-star reviews written within a short space of time, the situation is likely the result of a compensated review program. Generally, authentic reviews should appear consistently over a period of time. If the business gets lots of reviews at once, you might be looking at a fabricated review.
Scan Amazon Links For Fabricated Reviews
If you’re browsing Apple, Yelp or Amazon and want to verify the reviews you’re looking at, the easiest way to do so is with fakespot. To use the tool, simply copy and paste the URL of the page you want to review. Fakespot analyses the language used in every review and checks the profile of the reviewer. It then uses a number of algorithms to determine whether the review is likely to be fabricated.
Here’s a screenshot of an analysis by fakespot of some Amazon reviews about in-ear headphones from a company called Rxvolt:
Identifying fabricated reviews can be challenging, and there’s simply no foolproof way to spot every single type of fake review. However, if a review is overly glowing with nothing but great things to say, or overly negative with nothing but unsubstantiated anger, hate and vitriol, you should probably ignore both.
What To Do When You Spot a Fake Review
If you spot a fake review on a review platform, don’t simply ignore it. It is important that you flag the review with the rating and review site so they can take action against the reviewer. Most sites will investigate the reviewer and delete the profile of the reviewer if he or she is found to be a fake.