Can fake reviews boost business credibility?
For some, creating fake reviews sounds like a good effortless deal that leads to boosting your business's reputation and local Search Engine Rank. However this can lead to serious penalties and fines.
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Lets face it. It is not only dishonest, it is also illegal. There are legal and honest alternatives however, which I am going to share with you. Every year several businesses are caught and fined from thousands to millions of dollars by the Federal Trade Commission (FTC). Here are a few recent examples:
Los Angeles-Based Sage Auto Group Will Pay $3.6 Million to Settle FTC Charges
Sage Automotive Group – nine Los Angeles-based auto dealerships, their holding and management companies, and two individuals – has agreed to pay more than $3.6 million for return to consumers in order to settle Federal Trade Commission charges that it used deceptive and unfair sales and financing practices, deceptive advertising, and deceptive online reviews. Source: ftc.gov
FTC Action: Texas Car Dealers to Pay $85,000 Civil Penalty
Three Dallas area auto dealers, collectively known as Southwest Kia, have agreed to pay an $85,000 civil penalty to settle Federal Trade Commission charges that they violated an FTC administrative order barring them from deceptively advertising the cost of buying or leasing a car. Source: ftc.gov
FTC Stops False Advertising, Phony Reviews by Online Trampoline Sellers
Commission alleges duo developed supposedly independent review websites, posted deceptive endorsements. Two brothers have agreed to settle Federal Trade Commission charges that in marketing and selling their trampolines, they deceived consumers by directing them to review websites that claimed to be independent but were not, and by failing to disclose that one of the brothers posted online product endorsements without disclosing his financial interest in the sale of the products. Source: ftc.gov
I am not going to bore you with more examples. If you want to read more, just go to ftc.gov and search for something like "fake reviews" or "deceptive reviews" or "deceptive ads".
But what are the possible penalties if your business is found guilty of FTC violations? Well, to adjust for inflation, authorities increased the maximum FTC civil penalty from $16,000 that used to be to $40,000. The new maximums have been applied to civil penalties assessed after August 1, 2016, including civil penalties whose associated violation predated the effective date. The maximums will be adjusted for inflation each January from now on. Source: ftc.gov
And that is for each violation, so it has to be multiplied by the number of the fake reviews. It sucks right? It sucks even more if you think about the damage to the business's reputation resulting from such a charge. However in my opinion it is well justified. Scam and fraud and deception have to be stopped and that can only be achieved if the consumers can identify and support only honest businesses. To every honest business's satisfaction we live in an era that this is so easy to achieve. Now everyone can simply Google a business and find out whether they are honest or not. So how does fake and deceptive reviews seem now? Pretty stupid, right?
But it is not just the fines one must take into consideration. Since fake reviews also violate Google's guidelines, they are also penalized by Google. Are you wondering whether Google would be able to identify fake reviews?
A new software algorithm was announced at the World Wide Web 2012 conference in Lyon, France. It tries to detect groups of spammers working together to influence products. Back in the 2012, the algorithm was pretty young, but today it has evolved and using Google's Machine Learning Technology it grows exponentially. Here are some ways it could detect a fake review.
- IP address. Almost everyone who is an Internet user knows what an IP address is. There are thousands of databases today that blacklist spammers and other blackhat influencers and Google has its own as well. Once any of these IPs is used for a review then a signal is sent and your review is blacklisted. At first, Google will filter out your review and will not show it however, if there are repeated incidents, Google will suspend or even delete your account. This means you will lose all the work you have done so far and all your followers and your business will be blacklisted in Google's database with a Google Penalty, which would require a lot of effort and financial cost to reverse.
- Review exchange. Some of Google's Local Guides exchange reviews and tend to do that via social media accounts and other means within the web. Google is aware of that and when it catches one of them, it not only removes his or her account, but also puts all the businesses they reviewed under the microscope.
- Reviewer’s other reviews. This is a very strong signal for Google, which everyone can check since Google Places allows everyone to check the profile of each reviewer. In most cases the fake reviews are being left by fraudulent "Reputation Management" or "SEO" companies, which frequently handle hundreds of listings. They have the habit of posting the reviews via the same Google accounts. For example, "Jason S.", seems to have a lot of favorite businesses throughout the country. He is getting his landscaping done in Chicago, IL, his office cleaned in Las Vegas NV, and plumbing fixed in Phoenix AZ.
- Reviewer's location VS Business's location. Let's face it, you cannot own an office cleaning business based in Los Angeles CA and get reviews from people who live Toronto, Canada, or Paris, France, or even Calcutta, India!
- Generic reviews, lacking detail and substance. In many cases fake reviews are written using the same good old template. Again, they are being left by fraudulent "Reputation Management" or "SEO" companies with multiple clients. Such reviews usually don’t mention details like price, service quality, background story, or anything that would personalize the review and give something more to the reader, other than an appraisal to the business. Here is an example:
“Houston Landscaping was recommended by my friend who used them before and was happy with their services, so I contacted them and they sent professional landscapers to trim my trees at my home. The price was affordable yet the service was professional. Thanks!”
- Reviewer’s avatar. Just think about it for a second, imagine if you are blackhat influencer who writes fake reviews for a living, would you put your picture next to them? In almost all cases fake reviews have an image of an emoji, a cartoon, or something that is not a picture of a person, and when it actually is, it is someone famous, like a singer or an actor. Here are a few examples:
- Best ever badge. This is one of the fake reviewers' favorite! They think it adds value to the review and to its trustworthiness, but since they use it constantly and improperly, it actually adds up to the fake review score. You may not have heard about it because it is hidden inside the profile. However, think for a second, would you choose "Elevator Services", or "Heating & Air-Conditioning", as your most favorite local business? This is how the best ever badge looks like: Here is a live example of a company that has actually created a flowchart on how to do it and asks reviewers for the best ever badge (click on it to see it live):
Don't get me wrong. I don't think there is anything wrong with asking your customers to review your business, but tell them what to write and how to select the best ever badge, is totally against Google's guidelines and regulations and is penalized.
- Review copy/paste. Fake reviewers, are always looking for the easiest way. A way that will cost the minimum of their time. Why would they write their own review when they can just copy one from another website? Google actually catches these type of reviews and filters them out immediately. Again, if there are repeated incidents, Google will suspend or even delete your account. This means, again, that you will lose all the work you have done so far and all your followers and your business will be blacklisted in Google's database with a Google Penalty, which would require a lot of effort and financial cost to reverse.
- Too many reviews posted within a short period of time. While this could be a result of an inconsistent and badly planned online reputation campaign, it is most probably caused by the business (or someone on their behalf) posting fake reviews. In many cases these are real past customers' testimonials, that the business owner decided to post on their behalf. However, this is also against Google's guidelines and regulations. It would be best if you asked some of your clients to do their own review posting.
- Use of complicated language. Fake reviewers tend to use longer and more convoluted sentence structure, inserting unnecessary words and irrelevant, but factual-sounding details, in order to pad the lie.
- They Include more first person pronouns. If you're anxious about coming across as sincere, apparently you talk about yourself more. That's probably why words like 'I' and 'me' appear more often in fake reviews.
- Has more verbs than nouns. Language analysis shows the fakes tend to include more verbs as their writers often substitute pleasant (or alarming) sounding stories for actual insight. Genuine reviews are heavier on nouns.
What are the legal alternatives?
There are ways to get a ton of reviews the honest and legal way. You could ask your actual customers to post a review. Of course this does not always work, but it results to some reviews.
However, if you are looking for a professional solution to get reviews, we suggest to try our Online Reputation Management Service You will get a lot of reviews by your own customers and it is covered by a money back warranty.
Conclusion: Fake reviews are dishonest, illegal, and the supposed boost a business would get from them, if any, is only temporary. They lead to huge fines, irreparable damage to a business reputation, and they are just not worth it! Say NO to fake reviews! There is a better and honest way to do this. Use an honest Reputation Management company to manage your business online reviews and reputation! We live in the era of total transparency. Everything we do leaves a digital footprint that can be traced. We are close to the time when only the honest businesses will survive, let your business be one of them.
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What is your view about fake reviews and the risks and penalties for businesses? Do you think they are fair? Leave your comment bellow.