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True or False? How to spot a fake review

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Phillip Smith
May04/ 2015

Reviews are all over the Internet and are used by consumers far and wide, not just to guide and validate their purchase decisions but, to make choices about where to travel, which restaurants are highly recommended and what local services they can benefit from.

When genuine, these reviews are equally valuable for business, helping companies to build trusting relationships with their customers and boost their confidence in using their services on an on-going basis. According to the Nielsen Global Trust in Advertising 70 per cent of all consumers trust online ratings, so it’s worthwhile ensuring there’s a system in place to capture feedback and display it to encourage faith from consumers.

However it’s also important to consider that fake reviews sometimes fall into the mix. This in turn can reflect badly on a brand and lead to distrust and even lack of repeat business.

That’s why for businesses and customers alike, distinguishing whether a customer review profile really contains genuine and authentic reviews is so important to maintain a positive online experience. There are a number of simple indications that can act as warning signs:

Quantity is key: The more reviews a company receives, the greater their significance. The general rule is that 100 reviews will give a realistic picture of a website and have a higher impact than a handful of high-praise reviews.

Plausible recommendations: It’s inevitable that all great reviews will contain some critical comments, but this shouldn’t have a huge impact on the overall rating of a business. In fact it reinforces the authenticity of reviews – after all no company has a perfect record and a variation of feedback is likely to provide a much more realistic overview.

The company replies: If the company in question actively comments on the reviews, this indicates willingness from the business to admit its mistakes and actively seek to address customer concerns and rectify the problem.

Trust-boosting characteristics: In addition to the actual reviews, there can be other characteristics in the customer review profile that demonstrate trustworthiness – this could be a trustmark for example or the business may display reviews by other providers as well.

It pays to be up to date: In an ideal world, reviews would be shared on a regular basis, as consumers are much more likely to believe in recent feedback rather than refer to comments made months ago.

Authenticity beats advertising: Regular customers rarely write very detailed comments. If there’s a high volume of reviews that are particularly descriptive or positive, it can raise suspicions about their validity. Could someone have written it from the business? Tip: people who write fake reviews may also include keywords for better search engine optimisation.

For example, the chances are that the following comment is not from a genuine customer:

“Thank you very much for the beautifully designed, space-saving and super-silent A3585X vacuum cleaner from XY’s 10 series! It’s great that you also offer the “room freshener 8” filter in the bargain-priced pack of 5. It won’t be long until I make my next purchase from this Peterborough-based start-up entrepreneur!”

Genuine reviews are very different: Any form of recognisable pattern indicates that something is not quite right. Genuine customer ratings are entered continuously, and not in batches in response to a critical customer review. They are neither particularly elaborate nor nondescript (“very good”, “very nice”, etc.). They are formulated based on the individual customer, and are not written in the same style by the same authors, or by a so-called automatic content spinner.

The customer reveals their identity: Ideally, each customer will have a public profile for reviews that includes their name and profile picture, as this builds a picture of a genuine, identifiable character. It’s worth taking a quick look at the profile to see if the details seem plausible and if the customer has rated other organisations as well. As a rule of thumb, reliable writers will have given reviews for a wide variety and volume of businesses.

Phillip Smith

Phillip is responsible for driving the UK business for Trusted Shops, coordinating different aspects across Sales, Marketing & Customer service. His team ensures E-commerce and multichannel retailers build trust and confidence with their customers, while creating a 100% safe environment for consumers to shop. As former Head of E-commerce, Phillip's knowledge and expertise in the e-commerce industry has been evident for the past 12 years working for niche and FMCG's online retailers.