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How to Spot Fake Online Reviews

fake reviews online

Fake it ‘til you make it…right?!? Wrong! But it seems that’s how some sellers try to do it. Amazon is reportedly “fighting a barrage of seller scams on its website,” The Wall Street Journal reports. They have deleted thousands of reviews that could have been fake; fired workers who gave sellers inside information; and killed some techniques that might have helped products surface higher on searches when they shouldn’t have, reports the Journal. “If bad actors abuse our systems, we take swift action, including terminating their selling accounts, deleting reviews, withholding funds, taking legal action and working with law enforcement,” an Amazon spokeswoman told The Journal.

And Amazon is not alone. Fake reviews are a problem across all retail platforms. Why some businesses think that trashing the competition is the quickest way to the top is beyond us, but more and more are doing it online every day.  Whether it be review sites, blogs, or even Facebook – it seems that no one is safe from the fake reviews or comments these days.

What’s funny is that it DOES NOT work.  No matter how sneaky/tricky/brilliant you think you are with your made up review or comment, you’re not fooling many, if anyone.  Did you know that website owners can look up your IP address to see where your post is coming from?  You may think this is a good way to get a leg up on your competition, but really, it’s just making you look foolish.  Even if you get away with it for a while, when word gets out, you’ll just look silly at best.  Worst case scenario, you (and possibly your business) will be banned from the site that you’re posting to.

A survey released last year found that nearly 8 in 10 consumers say they think they’ve read a fake review in the past year; and 84% of consumers say they can’t always spot a fake review. Can you tell what is fake and what is real?

Try these tips:

Look at the Timing of Reviews – “See if there is a spike in the total number of reviews during a very short time frame. This can indicate a targeted campaign to add new artificial reviews,” says Derek Hales, the editor-in-chief of product testing and research site ModernCastle. If reviews are obviously favorable or negative towards a specific product or business, that can be a red flag. Also, if a review is published before the product being reviewed is released, it is likely not authentic.

Dig Deeper into the Reviewer Profile – On sites like Amazon, Yelp or TripAdvisor, look at the user’s profile and read other reviews they’ve posted.  If their only reviews are praise for one particular place or product, or complaints about a particular place or product, they’re likely fake. Another common type comes from a “professional reviewer” — someone who was given the product for free and given extra money to give a five star review, explains Jean H. Paldan, the founder and CEO of marketing firm Rare Form New Media. If the reviewer has a big trend of giving all five star reviews without any negativity, most likely they were bought and paid for. Another hint is if they’ve done a lot of five-star reviews for products owned by the same company.

Look for verified purchases or when in doubt, reach out to the reviewer. Most fake reviewers will not respond, but real reviewers often look forward to opportunities to be more helpful.

Look At The Lingo – Keep an eye out for industry specific words that the average reviewer would not likely use.  Most restaurant guests are not going to say “delectable cuisine” when reviewing a meal. Phrase repetition is another clue. “Look through several reviews and see if any words or phrases are repeated in different reviews. Reviews that use the same phrase(s) may have been instructed to do so by the party faking the reviews, says Derek Hales, the editor-in-chief of product testing and research site ModernCastle.

 According to research from Cornell University, online reviews that frequently use “I” and “me” are more likely to be fake than those that don’t — possibly because when people are lying they try to make themselves sound credible by using personal pronouns. Additionally, “deceivers use more verbs and truth-tellers use more nouns,” the research found.

And, says Michael Lai, the CEO of review site SiteJabber.com, “Check the spelling and grammar of the review. Many fake reviews are outsourced to international content farms and are either written in poor English or not in a way a real consumer would express their opinion.”

Watch Out for the Untrustworthy – The first clue would be generic names (i.e. John Smith) or a profile with no picture. Next, look for reviews written in all caps, have terrible grammar, swear frequently, or put seven exclamation points at the end of every sentence (or right smack in the middle for extra emphasis!!!!!!!) It is very hard to take these reviews seriously, let alone see them as credible.

And we’ve all seen the “I tried this product, hated it, and promptly bought the {competitor product here} and I LOVE it! Go buy it here now for 20% off!” review.  What’s even worse is reviewers who leave a link to their own site in their review. Instant credibility loss!

So is it even worth reading online reviews?  Actually, yes.  Many sites are cracking down on fake reviews, due to the importance of legitimate ones.   Sites like Yelp, Google, and TripAdvisor continue to work on their fraud detection, even allowing other reviewers and businesses to submit questionable reviews to be moderated.  Yelp claims that an astounding 20% of reviews never get published due to reviews not meeting their content guidelines.

Your best bet is to read the middle-of-the-road reviews. “It’s often helpful to sort reviews that fall in the middle of the pack (e.g 3/5 stars). These reviews are often the most honest and insightful about both the positive and negative aspects of the venue and can be used to cross-reference other reviews to look for trends in both positive and negative feedback,” says Marc Nashaat, an enterprise SEO & digital PR consultant.

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