Customer reviews, especially positive ones, are invaluable to lead acquisition for the very reason that they’re user-generated and trusted by most consumers.
Unfortunately, some companies decide to take a shortcut, buying fake reviews to generate leads and improve their online reputation, even if there are honest and effective ways to request reviews from clients.
So, why do some companies buy fake reviews?
Image source: BrightLocal
A report published by BrightLocal showed that 98 percent of consumers had read online reviews for local businesses, with 79 percent trusting online reviews as much as personal recommendations from family and friends.
So a brand that has little to no reviews will not have the benefit of word-of-mouth referrals. Since consumers prefer buying from brands with positive feedback and high star ratings, they will have difficulty competing for business.
The solution is to use the best reputation management services for review generation. But some companies, instead of learning how to ask customers for reviews, opt to buy fake product reviews, hoping to jumpstart their lead acquisition.
There is another instance in which a company might buy fake product reviews. Consider, for example, a ReviewTrackers report that shows 94 percent of consumers avoid a business with a bad review. So, the motivation for buying fake reviews is to bury the negative ones, hiding them from the public.
At any rate, there are risks in buying fake reviews. So regardless if there are reasons to do so, businesses must first consider the consequences and long-term damages it can do to their online reputation and financial stability.
Legit vs. Solicited, Incentivized and Fake Reviews
Brands receive customer reviews in several ways. While some are organic, others require companies or reputation management consultants to reach out to customers (e.g., emailing customers to request Google reviews).
- Legit Reviews. As implied, legitimate reviews are organic and left by customers after they buy and use a product or service. Usually, they are either positive or negative. Regardless, one thing in common is that most of these reviews are honest opinions about their experiences.
- Solicited Reviews. Businesses can request reviews from clients by reaching out through text, phone, email or social media. It is also one of the most common services offered by online reputation management companies.
- Incentivized Reviews. In essence, this type of review is similar to soliciting reviews. One fundamental difference is the promise of an incentive in exchange for a review. For example, businesses can offer coupons or discount codes, special offers, etc.
- Fake Reviews. These are not authentic reviews. Usually, they are bot-generated, and agencies that provide them are dubious. While some businesses foolishly get more reviews that are deceptive, others may not realize it until it is too late.
FTC Prohibits Fake Reviews
Consumers expect online reviews to be genuine and shared by their peers. But even if brands solicited or exchanged something to generate reviews, they must at least encourage honest opinions. Also, they must follow the terms and conditions of the platforms. Google, for instance, prohibits fake Google reviews.
The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) also regards fake reviews as deceptive, prohibiting this practice.
If a platform allows solicited or incentivized reviews, businesses must try to adhere to the following to avoid trouble.
- Avoid asking people who have not used or experienced the product or service to write about them.
- Avoid asking or letting people, such as employees, family and friends who are related to the company, write reviews, as they are most likely impartial. But if anyone did, they must disclose their association with the company.
- Avoid asking people to write only positive reviews. Instead, ask them to share their honest opinion. Also, never discourage people from writing negative reviews.
- Incentivizing review generation is acceptable, but there must be no conditions, such as offering an incentive for a positive review. Besides encouraging honest opinions, the customer review should also have a disclosure.
So, what happens if the FTC finds a company using deceptive endorsements?
On October 13, 2021, the FTC published a press release about putting over 700 businesses on notice, in which a company could incur up to $43,792 in civil penalties per violation if found guilty.
The FTC is also ramping up its campaign against companies that get more reviews using deceptive marketing practices. For instance, it voted to strengthen its rules against fake online reviews and hidden fees on October 21, 2022.
Why It’s Not Okay To Buy Fake Reviews
Fake Google reviews and customer feedback can be positive, negative or neutral. Nonetheless, they are not authentic opinions or experiences of real customers. In some cases, the reviewer might even be a non-existent entity. Although not widespread, artificial intelligence or AI-driven bot reviews are on the rise.
Rather than being honest and impartial, bogus reviews aim to shape public perception. Usually, companies hope they will influence consumers to patronize their products or services. But, in extreme cases, they might be malicious, a deliberate act to sabotage or ruin a brand’s reputation.
Morality aside, there are other serious consequences. So before a company proceeds to buy fake Google reviews or fake Yelp reviews, consider the possible outcomes.
- Fines. Companies found violating consumer protection laws, such as misleading the public about their reviews, can expect a heavy fine. LendEDU, for example, claimed to provide “objective,” “accurate” and “unbiased” information about financial products. But the FTC found them to be not true. As a result, the company incurred a hefty fine of $350,000.
- Ruined Reputation. According to BrightLocal, around nine out of 10 consumers are wary of fake reviews. Furthermore, 62 percent said they had seen a fake review for a local business within the last year. Fake reviews, in general, are worse than negative reviews because they destroy customer trust and brand perception. Fortunately, online reputation management companies can help repair and salvage the brand reputation.
- Stunted Growth. While shortcuts like fake Yelp reviews can help generate leads, the cost of being discovered for deceptive practices can hinder growth. In some cases, the financial cost of penalties and customer attrition may be too prohibitive, leading to the shutdown of a business. Hence, it is better to use the best reputation management tool to get more reviews.
- Compromised Public Safety. Many professions and businesses, such as doctors and car repair shops, can harm people and property. Likewise, many products and services can also be harmful. Unfortunately, fake reviews may mislead people into patronizing these brands and professionals who may not be able to back up their claims by providing a safe customer experience. In this case, the consequences of any mishap may not be limited to fines but also prison time.
Examples of How Fake Reviews Hurt a Business
Google and Yelp are, by no means, the only top review sites that consumers use, as others like Facebook and TripAdvisor also have large monthly users. But their penalties should give businesses an idea of the general consequences of paid and fake reviews.
Consequences of Fake Google Reviews
According to Bizrate Insights, nearly 60 percent of consumers turn to Google to read reviews. So compared to other platforms, Google offers businesses the most prospects for leads and conversions. Not surprisingly, some companies are tempted to generate reviews by buying them or offering an incentive. The problem is that buying Google reviews is against the platform’s policy.
Google has no tolerance for deceptive practices. So they detect fraudulent reviews using an automated system that factors in hundreds of cues and a large team of human content moderators and analysts.
What happens when Google spots fake product reviews on its platform?
Google considers fake reviews as prohibited and restricted content. So they can do various actions, from removing the content to penalizing the search rankings or taking down the entire listing.
The consequence of fake review generation on Google is severe. First, being taken down from Google Business profile (previously Google My Business) hurts local SEO efforts. So instead of generating leads, the offending company loses customers to competitors. Second, it hurts brand equity and needs reputation management consultants to help regain customers’ trust.
Consequences of Fake Yelp Reviews
As much as 97 percent of consumers who read Yelp reviews about a product or service end up buying. It suggests that while there is already a genuine interest, the customer reviews closed the deal for businesses. Unfortunately, an estimated 20 percent of the reviews are fake.
Yelp uses a variety of ways to spot and deal with fake reviews. Businesses, for instance, can claim their listing and flag fake reviews. Yelp also has an internal review system that scours all reviews and determines their authenticity using many factors.
Yelp also tries to identify solicited reviews because they violate their guidelines. So businesses cannot boost their lead acquisition strategy by using an online reputation management tool to generate reviews.
If Yelp finds fake or incentivized reviews, it will penalize the search ranking of the business listing. But suppose the deceptive practice continues or escalates. In that case, Yelp will add a “Consumer Alert” on the listing’s review section, warning users that the business is using fake or solicited reviews. Yelp’s penalties, though, are not permanent, as they last only 90 days.
How To Ask Customers for Reviews
In this section, the example used is Google Reviews. While different platforms have varying guidelines, the principle should be the same if they allow businesses to request reviews from clients.
Best Practices To Request Google Reviews:
- Request Google reviews by sharing links to the homepage or a specific website page. To get the link, follow these steps:
- Go to Google Business Profile (www.google.com/business/).
- Select “Customers”> “Reviews”> “Get more reviews.”
- Copy and share the link with customers using the sharing option, email, at the end of chat interactions, etc.
- Encourage customers to leave honest reviews and help spread the word about a business by doing any of the following:
- Verify business profile, so the listing appears on Search, Maps and other Google services.
- Remind customers to share their experiences without offering incentives or encouraging them to write only positive reviews.
- Respond or reply to customer reviews to build a relationship and trust. If there are issues, resolve them as soon as possible to show sincerity and care.
- All reviews, including negative ones, are valuable. A mix of good and bad reviews, in fact, are more trustworthy.
Get Genuine Reviews Using the Best Reputation Management Services
Fake reviews are generally prohibited by all platforms, including Google, Facebook, Yelp, TripAdvisor, etc. Also, not all review sites accept paid reviews. So the best way to generate more reviews is to request customers to write them.
There are various methods and contact points across multiple channels to reach customers. But requesting reviews is a cumbersome process. So it is easier to use the services of an online reputation management agency. They have not only the expertise but also the tools required to produce the best results.
If you need help boosting customer reviews without violating FTC regulations and platform guidelines, contact us at 866.325.0303. Our specialists can discuss how we generate and monitor reviews and brand mentions to enhance your reputation and lead acquisition strategies.