How to Spot Fake Testimonials and Reviews
Editor’s Note: This post was originally published in October 2012 and has been updated for accuracy and comprehensiveness.
We all know that companies would prefer to have only good reviews, and that company performance is largely motivated by obtaining such feedback because it helps businesses thrive. Reviews play an important role, as ReviewTrackers.com reports that 85% of consumers read them to determine whether or not local businesses are good or not. However, many people don’t realize just how many fake reviews really exist, posted everywhere from company websites, Google reviews, and social media. In response to the demand for positive reviews, some companies have actually taken to paying for them, and even more have cashed in on the need by creating review mills.
Reviews and testimonials are supposed to help someone make a decision about a company, but it can be tough to trust in these reviews knowing how easy it is for a company to add fake reviews. This leads many to wonder: Is the review I’m reading even real?
For the Users: How to Make Sure You’re Not Falling for Fake Reviews
Fortunately, there are a few different things that users can do to make sure they aren’t falling for reviews that a company paid for or wrote themselves. A few of these tips include:
- Compare Reviews. Always be sure to look at more than one source. Look at Google reviews, Amazon reviews, Yelp reviews, testimonials, and even take to Quora. See where there is consistency and where there isn’t, and look for authentic experiences. This is particularly helpful on Facebook business pages, because you can see the user who’s posting about their experience, and even comment/interact with them about it.
- Read the Reviews More Than the Ratings. You should always read the reviews as opposed to just looking at the number of stars given and moving on. Depending on how many reviews total there are, the ratings can sometimes be misleading. In some cases, people give something a bad review for personal reasons that are irrelevant to you, and it ends up affecting the rating. Aim for the middle ground by looking for businesses that have consistency between reviews and ratings (for example, a business with a handful of really positive reviews but a couple poor experiences and an average rating).
- Follow Trends, But Be Open. If you have seen a trend of good or bad reviews over a few weeks, you can usually believe what they have to say more so than individual ratings. I once came across a cleaning service I wanted to hire, but upon searching for them found only bad reviews. I told the manager I had reconsidered hiring them because there were only bad reviews, and it turns out they had completely new management and had drastically changed their approach. The manager told me if I wasn’t satisfied the service would be free, but if I was satisfied I’d have to write a great review (I ended up more than satisfied and wrote an awesome review). In short, look for trends and don’t be afraid to ask the business about concerns you have after reading reviews.
- Assess the Reviewers. If you can check-up on someone who gave a rating that really changed your thoughts, do it. If their review and experience are valid, they’ll more than likely be happy to share their thoughts about the business with you, and you’ll end up with a firsthand referral/deferral.
It’s certainly annoying that consumers have to take these measures to really trust what a company says, but it’s good to know that there are at least options out there that work.
For Businesses: Are Fake Reviews a Bad Idea for Companies?
Believe it or not, some companies have seen value in creating their own reviews because it gets the ball rolling. Sometimes startup businesses need that extra push to get started, and reviews are great ways to make that happen. This then begs the question: As long as the fake reviews stop after one or two, is it okay to give yourself this head start?
Most would say it is unethical, and I would have to agree. There are other ways to start building up your business’s review reputation without creating fake reviews, such as incentivizing writing reviews, streamlining the review process through an email, or simply by offering outstanding goods and services that inspire customers to give positive feedback. By now, many people have review apps, such as Yelp, and are already accustomed to writing reviews for their own benefit. Encouraging customers to talk about their experiences just gives the extra nudge they need.