What You Need To Know About False Online Reviews

Online reviews are everywhere these days, and they have a HUGE impact on your business. If you have plenty of 5-star reviews highlighting satisfied customers, more people are going to be drawn to your business. In fact, 88% of people interviewed in 2014 admit to reading online reviews in order to determine if they want to go to a local business or not. This represents a 3% increase since 2013, meaning the rise in online reviews is real, and posed to become even more important. 39% of the overall 88% check reviews on a regular basis, while the remaining 49% do so occasionally. (Reference)

According to the statistics, online reviews are clearly important, which can be a good or bad thing for your business. If you are able to secure great reviews, you are in the clear, but a bad review is bond to happen at some point. You have very little control over who signs up for Yahoo, or one of the many other review sites, and leaves a review. So how do you manage your online appearance? Is it legal to hire people to write reviews for you? And is there anything you can do if someone leaves a false bad review? In this blog we answer all of your most pressing questions about online reviews.

How Important Are Online Reviews?

Way more than half of all consumers are checking reviews before frequenting a business, but how does what they read impact their decision?

According to BrightLocal’s annual Local Consumer Review survey, 72% of consumers see positive reviews as reason to trust a local business. Even though the people leaving reviews are complete strangers, 88% of consumers trust these reviews just as much as they would a personal recommendation. Basically, online reviews have turned into a very important marketing tool that holds a lot of weight with your potential customers.

While more people are basing their decisions on online reviews, they are also reading less reviews before making a final decision. The average consumer reads less than 7 reviews before making the decision to trust or not trust a business. This means almost every last review counts because you never know which review someone will read and base their decision on.

All that being said, any business that has a lot of reviews is going to get a few negative comments in the mix; it’s only normal since you truly can’t please everyone. The public generally understands that some people are impossible to please and will complain about anything, and so a few bad reviews in a sea of pleasant 5-stars should not trouble your business too much.

Should You Hire People To Write Good Reviews For Your Company?

Considering how important online reviews are, it might sound like a good idea to hire people to write your reviews, but this plan can seriously backfire. Reviews are supposed to gain trust, and as soon as consumers recognize fake reviews that trust is shattered.

It is estimated that 30% of online reviews are not authentic; a truth the public is not blind to. Consumers are very trusting of online reviews but they do exercise a certain dose of caution. Reviews that do not appear to be written by a variety of real customers will instantly raise red flags. It doesn’t take much for a group of reviews to appear faked.

Even if you hire someone to write incredibly well faked online reviews, you still better watch your back. Yelp collects over 71 million visitors a month, and many of these visitors are reading and leaving business reviews. If Yelp can’t secure authentic reviews, people will stop clicking links to the site. Therefore, Yelp is on a mission to bane fake reviews. The company has instituted a somewhat secret program to find and punish businesses that pay people to write reviews.

Yelp’s vice president of corporate communications references one case in particular, “One jewelry store was paying someone $200 (to write positive reviews). It kind of shows that this is an ongoing cat-and-mouse game. People are always going to try to game the system.” As a result, Yelp is using their mega powers to fight back for the consumer. If they identify someone posting fake reviews they are letting the world know by linking evidence for all to see.

In another instance Yelp uncovered a Long Beach, California moving company that was posting ads on Craigslist offering someone $50 to write a review for their business.

While good reviews can be the difference between a busy storefront and a dead storefront, writing fake reviews is not the best way to achieve success. Fake reviews are not seen as legitimate and actually signal a red flag, since great business practices should generate authentic good reviews. By posting fake reviews you are actually misleading your customers, which is where a fake review can go from unethical to possibly even illegal.

Are Some Bad Reviews Deleted?

If your business has one or more bad reviews you might be working to have them removed. Businesses all over are trying to do the very same thing, which sparked concern that Yelp was accepting payments in exchange for filtering out bad reviews.  The case actually ended Yelp in court, where the company claimed this was all very untrue.

Yelp says that they use automated recommendation software, which filters out about 25% of all reviews in order to promote quality over quantity. Reasons reviews might be filtered out include, biased reviews, or reviews from a disgruntled employee. IP addresses are also tracked and if more than one review comes from the same address it is reason for filtering.

What To Do About Bad Reviews That Are False

If you have received a bad review that is false there are a number of things you can do. If the review is on Yelp you will need a Yelp account claiming ownership of the business. Once you have declared your business, you can respond to reviews and flag reviews that are not legitimate. If you can prove that a review is false Yelp will remove it. Examples of a fake post might be something that is hearsay, irrelevant, or left by an angry former employee.

The owner of a Virginia carpet cleaning business recently went to court over numerous bad reviews, all of which were claimed to be fake and not left by real costumers. As a result, Virginia courts ruled that Yahoo must release the names of the individuals responsible for the negative comments.

This sparked some outrage, as the First Amendment should protect peoples’ freedom to write whatever they want without being identified and prosecuted. But, since the reviews were presumed false, the individuals responsible were no longer protected. While this ruling upset some people, it does prove the courts are actively seeking ways to protect businesses from false online reviews.  (Read Here)

What If Negative Reviews Are Not Faked?

What if you receive a bad review from a legitimate customer? Legally, real customers can write anything they want about their experience working with you. Therefore, the only thing you can do is try and make things right. Regardless if you agree with the comments or not, message the responsible party and see how you can improve their customer experience. Real online feedback is crucial to your future success. Plus it gives you the perfect opportunity to find better ways to serve your customers and improve reviews in the future. (Read more)

New Laws Governing Online Reviews

Online reviews have started to cause quite a stir in courtrooms across the nation as the world tries to figure out how to better regulate online reviews. As online reviews gain more and more popularity new rules and regulations must be put into place in order to properly regulate the system. As of now, the general rules governing online reviews state that they must be authentic, properly represent a business, and not be misleading to customers. You cannot pay someone to write a review, nor can you have your own employees leave reviews either, reviews cannot be bought or biased.

The Importance Of Online Reviews And Business Reputation

Without a doubt online reviews are incredibly important. If your business is doing a great job pleasing the public, chances are your customers will respond with great reviews that help you generate more business. While reviews can be great, they can also be devastating.  Since anyone has a chance to write a review you should always remain knowledgeable about what is being said about your company online, this way you are able to immediately address unhappy customers and flag any false reviews.

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