Before the Internet, the most powerful influence on a customer’s decision making was corporate advertising. But this changed with the proliferation of online peer reviews.
A survey by Zendesk shows that more than 85 percent of customers are now influenced in their buying decisions by a positive or negative online review. For restaurants, a recent study from UC Berkeley shows that a half star increase in Yelp ratings can be worth as much as a 19 percent increase in business. This isn't surprising given that consumers have always wanted to know what other customers think before they purchase a product or service.
But what happens if a review is a fake or, worse, if the company actually paid for that glowing review? Bing Liu, a computer scientist at the University of Illinois at Chicago, an expert in the area of fraudulent online reviews, estimates that about 30 percent of all Web reviews are fake. In fact, it's very easy for any company to get a fake review. The popular website Fiverr employs dozens of people who will create a positive review for just $5.
But why should you care if you're getting fake reviews if they're positive? Any small business's reputation is all about authenticity. If your product reviews are fake—either positive or negative—it affects the credibility of your brand. As a result, customers are less likely to like, trust and buy from your company.
So how can small-business owners tell a fake review from a real one? Ben Popken at Consumerist suggests entrepreneurs watch for these telltale signs:
1. Lots of glowing adjectives with no downside to the review. No product is perfect. The most effective review is one that says what the consumer liked and disliked.
2. Many reviews left in a short period of time. Check the dates of consecutive positive or negative reviews. If they're all within just a few days of each other, then they're suspect.
3. A focus on features only. Real reviews talk about performance, results and the value the customers received from the company.
4. The full product name repeated over and over. This is only done for better search engine value. A real reviewer doesn't feel the need to mention the product name more than once or twice.
5. A discount code or recommendation for another product. If the reviewer lists where a buyer can get the product at a lower price or recommends a competitor's product, it’s probably a fake.
6. A user review name with more numbers in it than letters. Reviewers who don’t care about being identified with their writing don’t have names like “HappyShopper34568.“
7. A unique phrasing of words. Type the phrase into any search engine, and see if that type of review comes up on other sites.
8. Overly emotional language. Too many “absolutely love, love it,” “ridiculous,” “pathetic,” “amazing” or “a great buy for everyone” is a sign of a fake review.
9. Use of the phrase “planning to go.” Some paid reviewers who don't want to run afoul of the law say they're “planning to go” but haven't yet visited. The review talks about what others have said and not the reviewer's personal experience.
10. A review dated before the product was available. Unless he or she is psychic, the reviewer either made up this review or was given the product for free in exchange for a favorable review.
While smart small-business owners always respond to positive and negative reviews, what about ones they suspect to be fake? Contact the website (like Yelp or Trip Advisor), and report the review. These websites will do their own investigation since they want to ensure all reviews are from actual customers.
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