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Businesses and Consumers Fight Back Against Fake Online Reviews

Online reviews posted by consumers on sites like Yelp, TripAdvisor, Google, etc. have the unique ability to influence consumer behavior and purchase decisions. The latest research shows that:

With numbers like these, it makes total sense that smart brands and businesses are leveraging reviews to gain a competitive edge. They’re:

  • Listening closely to customer feedback on online review sites;
  • Responding actively to what customers are saying;
  • Analyzing review data to improve the customer experience;
  • And generating positive new reviews to engage audiences and build reputation.

Wrote the New York Times’ Matt Richtel: “(The) wealth of information and user reviews is causing a fundamental shift in how consumers make decisions.”

The shift that reviews are causing can be felt on the business side of things, too. It’s become part of the modern marketing mix. These days, it’s not uncommon to see “review management” as an operative phrase in everything from corporate strategies and brand books to customer experience management processes and SEO campaigns.

The latest TripAdvisor TripBarometer study identified reputation and review management as the 2nd most important investment priority for the surveyed local businesses. Furthermore, 83 percent of marketing experts and SEO professionals agree that review management efforts “absolutely” deliver good return on investmgent.

“(Review) and reputation management has a very positive impact on the fortunes of a local business,” wrote Search Engine Land’s Myles Anderson in an analysis. “The obvious benefits are improved ranking and higher conversion, but there are some less immediate benefits (such as impact on behavioral signals, which have a growing impact on local ranking)… and any edge that a business can get on its competitors is one worth driving after.”

In short: great reviews = positive impact on your bottom line.

The growing problem of fake reviews

It’s not always a fair game, though. Some companies have attempted to exploit the review revolution by manufacturing a 5-star reputation for themselves – in ways that can be described as unscrupulous. They’re:

  • Posting fake positive reviews of their business on sites where (they think) they could get away with it;
  • Posting fake negative reviews of the businesses that they compete with;
  • Hiring writers – from Bangladesh, India, the Philippines, among others – to generate these fake reviews under unique IP addresses;
  • “Incentivizing” reviews, or giving cash / other forms of rewards to customers who post positive reviews;
  • Or implementing measures to prevent / censor negative reviews, through penalties and non-disparagement clauses.

Read MORE: Florida Apartment Complex: Write a Bad Review, We Fine You $10,000

According to Gartner, an estimated 10 to 15 percent of all reviews were fake or paid for in 2014.

“For the service companies,” wrote NY Times tech reporter David Streitfeld, “buying reviews seems a shortcut to the better reputation they are unlikely to achieve on their own.”

Regulators and the legal departments of review sites have cracked down on brands and businesses that are faking it until they make it. But the problem of fraudulent reviews is still on the rise. Here are some notable examples:

  • A chef in the UK was exposed as the author of a number of online reviews that bashed competing restaurants on TripAdvisor.
  • The clinic where the late Joan Rivers died was trashed on Yelp with fake negative reviews written by Rivers’ fans and followers.
  • Yelp sued a bankruptcy and foreclosure defense law firm for giving itself 5-star reviews on the site.
  • The FTC penalized an auto shipment broker for misrepresenting its reputation and giving $50 discounts to customers who post online reviews.
  • A frustrated Yelper was caught writing a bad review of a restaurant which he didn’t even eat in.

MORE businesses caught red-handed: “Shamed After Posting Fake Online Reviews

As you can see in the examples above, reasons for posting fake reviews vary. But it undermines the trust that consumers place on user-generated reviews, while also hurting brands and businesses that play by the rules.

Not-so-genuine reviews on TripAdvisor

For many businesses, Yelp is an easy target (and not least because of its massive popularity), but travel site TripAdvisor has also had its fair share of struggles in combating phony reviews.

Late last year, Italian regulators slapped a $610,000 fine on TripAdvisor for being unable to help users determine which reviews on its site were genuine and which ones weren’t.

Hoteliers and hospitality businesses listed on TripAdvisor also complained of being blackmailed on the site, with customers threatening to leave one-star ratings and negative comments if their demand for a free meal, a service upgrade, or some other special privilege was not met.

Said CNET’s Chris Matyszczyk: “Hotels and restaurants are often in fear of the one negative review that will be shared and reshared until it somehow becomes definitive.”

#noreceiptnoreview: Twitter campaign aims to combat fake reviews on TripAdvisor

This week, local businesses and consumers alike are teaming up to put an end to the problem of fake reviews on TripAdvisor.

Led by anonymous restaurant inspector @EaterWriter (“TomEats”) and restaurant critic Jay Rayner, a Twitter campaign under the hashtag #noreceiptnoreview was launched, calling for TripAdvisor to implement a new verification method by requiring users to provide a scanned receipt before being given the ability to post a review. That way, Rayner said, TripAdvisor can more effectively weed out the fakes and restore the trust that consumers place on online review sites.

The campaign on Twitter comes on the heels of Amazon’s announcement that it would sue more than 1,000 people who have offered to write fake reviews for businesses in exchange for a fee.

Said Rayner: “TripAdvisor have admitted they have a problem with fake reviews, and if you have a business model that functions on trust, then you need to do something to protect that.”

Restaurateurs, food writers, and consumers have all expressed support for the Twitter campaign, demanding a more thorough and reliable vetting process for reviews. After all, there is no substitute for real, authentic public feedback – regardless of whether it’s positive or negative – about the customer experience. Consumers rely on this feedback to make decisions, and businesses use it to make performance improvements.

So far, however, TripAdvisor hasn’t warmed up to the whole #noreceiptnoreview idea. Speaking to the Guardian, a company spokesperson said, “We believe that every experience counts, not just that of the person who paid the bill. If four friends go out to dinner there will be four different opinions, but only the one person with the receipt would be able to leave a review.”

Has your business been affected by fake reviews? If so, how did you deal with the problem? Share your thoughts in the comment section below.

Migs Bassig

Migs is the Content Manager for ReviewTrackers. He’s a creative writer who has helped numerous companies communicate more effectively online, and he loves sharing his local marketing knowledge to help brands and business succeed.

Discussion

  1. Doris

    Tim Sykes is full of fake good reviews about him, he is a scam artist. Deceitful manipulater pathological liar.

    Reply
  2. Steve Chemp

    We make an herbal Sport Warmup Oil called Athlon Rub. We were recently advise by Amazon that they discover fake feedback reviews linked to someone doing fake Customer Reviews for our product. When we looked at the name and address of the individual doing this, it was the name and address listed for the managing member of a competitor. We’ve been finding occasional negative comments from fake profiles in social media, there are people with no fans or friends and profile faces that don’t match. Now we have proof it was a direct competitor. What can we do to stop this??

    Reply
  3. Mel Salada

    In January of 2017 I hired an SEO company to help my business improve my exposure on Google. In essence optimize my Google Listing. After a week of their efforts my google listing was moved to the wrong city and then eventually lost completely. Frustrated I repeatedly called and emailed this company called Our Local Advantage and questioned how a company with such a name could cause all my local business to not be able to find me! I asked for a refund in February of 2017 (one month later) and they then said too much time has gone by and I cannot get a refund for the annual service I paid in full for. I fired them immediately and wrote a very accurate YELP of my experience with dates and names.
    Within days later I started seeing fake reviews of my business by fake people that I have never heard of. Profiles of the reviewers showed Anaheim, CA … the same location of the SEO company. Coincidence? YELP was on it and actually deleted their fake reviews. Thank you YELP. Then the same reviewer posted on Google. Can’t delete from Google Reviews. Then on RipOffReport.com. This last site cannot be corresponded with. They do not even review or verify the reviews posted. I then contacted Our Local Advantage and told them to contact their fake reviewer or I will seek legal action. After that a new YELP fake reviewer showed up with a different and obvious fake profile. They didn’t even do their homework on the geography of my location. The new profile supposedly lives 2 hours away but still wanted my service? Also fake reviewer on same day reviewed a coffee shop 1.5 hours away that she said she frequents 3-4 days a week. YELP again deleted this reviewer. Thank you YELP!
    Unfortunately there are other sites out there that do not care if a reviewer is fake or not. I still want to fight the reviews on Google Review and RipOffReport.com but do not know how. Anyone have any suggestions? Anyone have any suggestion on how to fight future fake reviews? This whole thing is a waste of time and energy that should be put toward running my business and living my life.

    Reply

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