As online reviews become more important to businesses, there is more incentive to fake and manipulate reviews for profit. It is impossible to know just how prevalent fake reviews are in a specific industry, but one can only guess the percentage to be quite high (at least 30% by some estimates). I always knew that anyone could post a fake review on Google or Yelp with any made-up user name, but I was shocked to learn that major review sites like Amazon allow people to leave reviews for items they haven’t even purchased! To me, that seems like opening the door to fraud and the equivalent of leaving keys in a parked car with a sign that reads “Please do not steal”.
In the news and on the web, I commonly see opportunists cashing in on the power of online reviews by offering everything from fake review writing to services that literally blackmail companies by posting negative reviews and then requesting a fee to take them down. If your business has yet to be affected by fake reviews either promoting local competitors or demoting yours, consider yourself lucky because this is one of the most common complaints I hear from clients in highly competitive markets. I have seen these factors cost even the most well-run companies customers and in extreme cases, cause businesses to shut down completely. One thing is for sure, online reviews have become too powerful to simply ignore.
Removing fake reviews is often not possible because they are difficult to prove and many review websites lack the level of support needed to handle every case of fraud. By far, the most effective solution to both fake reviews and negative reviews hurting your business is to have your own customers come to your defense online and overwhelm negative responses with true stories of their own satisfaction. This not only dilutes negative ratings, but it pushes them off the front page of review websites where most people are going to be looking. Recent reviews also carry greater weight in a customer’s eyes than older ones. Even if your competitors are stuffed with fake positive reviews, your real reviews can easily outpace theirs in quality and validity in the eyes of your potential customers.