Americans trust online reviews of products and businesses a lot.
According to findings by Forrester Research, 70 percent of U.S. adults online take to heart the recommendations they get from friends and family members. What’s more, 55 percent value professional online reviews, and 46 percent trust customer reviews they find on sites such as Yelp, Google+ Local, and TripAdvisor. In a separate study by SEO company BrightLocal, 85 percent of consumers said they read online reviews to assess the quality of businesses before making a purchase.
With such high value attributed to other people’s opinions, it’s not surprising that some unscrupulous individuals create fake online reviews in an effort to build themselves up or harm their competitors’ reputations. Small-business owners and customers alike should be on the lookout for these misleading reviews, especially the negative ones.
Here are four tips for identifying phony reviews, followed by a few suggestions for counteracting their potentially devastating effects.
1. Investigate the username. You can generally verify a reviewer’s identity through a site’s “reviewer profile.” An authentic author also is likely have a Facebook and Twitter account. Even if an account is private, a Twitter page should appear in the search results when a real person’s name is used. If that search turns up empty, try Google. Investigate what kinds of results that username brings.
Paid reviewers often post reviews for a broad spectrum of goods and services. Check out their reviews of other businesses to see whether the language they use is the same, regardless of what’s being reviewed. Closely duplicated reviews strongly suggest the information is fraudulent.
2. Study the reviewer’s writing style. Just like “tells” in poker, fake reviews share certain stylistic tics. A tone that’s over-the-top, a striking lack of detail about the product or service, and an excessive use of exclamation points or ALL CAPS are typical giveaways.
According to Katy Steinmetz in Time, people who lie tend to avoid using personal pronouns. Instead of saying, “I lost the bracelet you gave me,” someone might say, “The bracelet was lost.” Recognizing this, she says, fake reviewers “overcompensate in the opposite direction” by using too many first-person pronouns. “That could be saying, ‘I ate the ravioli,’ instead of ‘The ravioli was delectable.’”
3. Check excessive praise and put-downs. Many fake reviews wildly exaggerate in an effort to sway readers, either positively or negatively. A ride on a hovercraft isn’t just fun; it’s “the best experience I’ve ever had!!!!” A toaster-oven doesn’t have a specific design flaw; rather, “This has to be the WORST toaster-oven I’ve ever used!!!” A genuine reviewer with no hidden agenda is unlikely to report such an all-or-nothing experience.
4. Watch for anything that sounds like marketing jargon. Some businesses attempt to mislead through absurdly inflated reviews of their own products or services. If what you read sounds like brochure copy or a company’s press release, trust your instincts. Consumers rarely use terms like “superlative performance” or “unsurpassed in its field.” The same holds true for needless repetition of a brand name or product model.
If you find one or more of these warning signs, it may be time to take action. Most of the leading review sites include a flag or “report link” beside every review. Flag the review and ask the website administrator to remove it. On Google+, for example, you can use a “Flag as inappropriate” link to report a suspected false review. Be forewarned: the process will likely take some time and there’s no guarantee the flagged review will be removed. The simplest thing you can do is not reply to a suspected fake review, but instead invite your loyal customers to review your product or service at their earliest convenience.