How to Spot and Combat Fake Reviews and Bots
With the value consumers put on reviews in the purchasing process, it’s important to have a good handle on your review management protocol. Here’s how you can ensure the reviews your business receives are on the up and up.
Reviews play an important role in establishing your business as a trusted service provider and strengthening the social proof value of your marketing strategy. Customer reviews help drive consumer behavior and can increase conversions by up to 270%, so it’s crucial that reviews are credible and truthful. This is especially true in the case of negative reviews. That isn’t to say that you want more negative reviews, but rather you don’t want a string of unsubstantiated negative reviews driving away business.
While a few legitimate negative reviews might give more weight to positive reviews, false negative reviews tend to show up in clusters and can have an overall negative impact on your bottom line. From a consumer point of view, it’s equally important to remember that not all businesses are acting with integrity and that a common tactic is to use automated tools and bots to generate fake reviews either touting their own products or services or warning against using those of competitors.
In either case, it’s important on both a professional and personal level to be able to spot reviews generated by bots and other automated methods to protect your brand and your experience as a consumer.
How to Spot Possible Fake Reviews
From eCommerce shopping sites to social media platforms to online directories, reviews make up a significant portion of the average consumer’s online journey. With consumers ramping up their use of reviews in choosing a product that meets their needs and expectations of quality and value—especially in the wake of COVID-19—bad actors across all industries have increased the generation of false reviews. However, while reviews come in all shapes and sizes, some common hallmarks set verifiably false reviews apart from legitimate ones.
Poorly Constructed and Overly Opinionated Reviews
People from all backgrounds leave reviews online, and the quality of those reviews can vary greatly. However, the software and tools used to create false reviews while sophisticated still cannot create entirely convincing reviews. If a string of reviews seems to be poorly worded, are full of grammatical errors, or just strangely constructed and seem to have little to do with the product or service they are reviewing, chances are they are fake.
Another indicator found in the content of a review that indicates that it’s false is when a review seems to be over-the-top in terms of the content. You can tell from the types of reviews that customers generally leave for a product how much enthusiasm it generates, and if a number of reviews are overly positive or aggressively negative and stick out from the usual tone of reviews left for the brand, it can be a flag that they’re false.
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Products and services will receive reviews over time and only will clusters of reviews appear when sales occur or new products are released. However, if a business is purchasing reviews, or a competitor pays to have a product smeared in its reviews, those services often are fulfilled in bulk with little delay between posts. This appears as a flood of reviews over a short amount of time with content that seems very similar in tone and voice, from similar users, which brings us to our next indicator of falseness.
False reviews require someone to post them, and no service provider of false reviews would risk their own profiles or identities in fulfilling these services. That means that they often rely upon mass-generated false profiles. Because they are often generated automatically and randomly, they have minimal information input into the background, interests, or other fields. They will have little history in general and might have no other activity on the review site in question.
Repetitive Content and Mismatched Reviews
Many of the indicators that reviews are false live in the details and the content of the reviews. LIttle is more telling of a false or fake review than when multiple reviews have similar or even identical content, down to the wording, misspellings, and grammatical errors. An even more obvious content indicator is when the reviews are talking about completely unrelated products or services, or are so vague as to seemingly be about no product or service at all.
No Balance Between Positive and Negative Reviews
Unless a product is of extremely poor quality or a leader in its industry, the reviews online should be mixed across most channels where it’s reviewed. When a company pays for reviews to boost its position, or a service provider is the victim of a negative review campaign, then there will be extremely large clusters of either positive or negative reviews. Since the point of these campaigns is to shift undesirable reviews, positive or negative, out of consumers’ view, reviews will be largely skewed in one direction or the other.
How to Prevent Fake Reviews and Keep Bots Off Your Listings
If you are involved in managing your organization’s online reviews or social media presence, there are some tools and strategies that you can employ to help keep fake reviews at a minimum and keep automated bots off of your pages.
Set Alerts with Popular Platforms to Track Mentions
You can’t have a strategy to manage reviews if you don’t know when and where customers are talking about your services or products. Google allows you to set alerts for specific brands or products. Once you’ve set this alert, you can actively track down all reviews, ensure they are legitimate and handle them according to your content moderation strategy.
Fight False Reviews With a Strong Review Generation Strategy
One of the most powerful strategies for reducing the impact and power of false reviews is for your brand to have a strong strategy for inviting your customers to submit legitimate reviews. This can take place during follow-up calls after a sale, during a customer service engagement, or via email follow-ups from your sales department. If you have a robust review generation strategy in place, your flow of inbound reviews will show consumers seeking out your brand real reviews, mitigate the impact of false reviews, and even help to keep negative reviews off of the top of your review stack.
Do You Have a Review Moderation Strategy?
You have to have an active role on any platform where your product or services receive reviews. That includes monitoring, moderating, and culling reviews if necessary when you come across fake negative reviews if they occur on a platform where you have control. On platforms where you don’t control postings, you have to take a proactive approach by reporting false reviews according to the rules of the platforms where your service is listed. You have to be cautious and be certain that a review is false before reporting it because many platforms will penalize incorrect claims.
As our digital real estate evolves and expands, it becomes increasingly difficult to manage our online reputation. Integrating a software solution designed to monitor, track, and report back on review activity across the web, allowing you to even automate responses. In this sense, you can focus your attention on the truly positive or negative reviews to manage the perception of your brand. These systems also make it easier to manage and report false reports.
Respond to All Reviews to Give Your Process Transparency
You should also engage with reviews, even those that might be verifiably fake. Responses show your audience that you have a solid and active presence and care in what your customer base has to say about your products. It can also help to show your audience that a review is in fact false. Finally, it shows audiences what your standard response to a customer’s negative experience is, and encourages them to first reach out before leaving a negative review themselves if they do have a bad experience.
Don’t Let False Reviews Ruin Your Reputation
With the value consumers put on reviews in the purchasing process, it’s important to have a good handle on your review management protocol. Whether you’re looking for a service provider or an automated tool to help you manage your brand reputation, UpCity is a great place to start your search and find solutions that will successfully elevate your review management capabilities.
About the author
David J. Brin
David is the Managing Partner for the Code Ninjas franchise responsible for the Baton Rouge, LA market, where he facilitates the education of youth in programming, game design, and STEM education fundamentals. A lifelong learner, David combines a passion for strong business practices and solid marketing strategies honed throughout his 20-year career in the food and beverage industry with his desire to share those best practices with other business owners as a contracted copywriter for Gartner. When he's not helping his daughter build her digital art-focused social media brand, he's creating content focused on digital marketing trends, B2B best practices, and IT and cybersecurity managed services.