Fake online reviews
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How to deal with fake online reviews
Fake online reviews could make or break a business. A sudden shift as a result of either positive or negative online reviews, is likely to impact most businesses in terms of the quality of their customers and the fee income that they are able to generate.
Researchers estimate that about 1 in 4 online business reviews are fake, yet lawyers seem to believe the number is closer to 1 in 2 reviews. This means that it is likely that every other review that you read on the internet is fake, either in favour a company or against it.
Some research was carried out by Harvard Business School entitled “Fake It Till You Make It: Reputation, Competition, and Yelp Review Fraud 24 September 2013”. This research alludes to an emerging industry of fake review creation, which is primarily being driven by business owners who either leave positive reviews for themselves, negative reviews for their competitors or a combination of both.
Those who stand to gain the most out of faking online reviews are the most likely customers and business owners who will become actively involved in faking online reviews.
Fake reviews are likely to be submitted by businesses who suffer from an existing weak reputation, by new businesses or by disgruntled customers. Many of the businesses who fake online reviews, do so themselves, or through encouraging family and friends to help them to write positive reviews about their own business or a negative review about the competition.
There are a minority of businesses who operate as fake reviewers online, who are mostly located outside of the UK. Many of these companies are paid a monthly retainer to produce a set number of fake online reviews which are split between positive and negative reviews.
Many of these fake reviewers are based in India within well established marketing companies who use VPN and other IP detection avoidance tools to hide the true identity of the fake reviews and their location. Very few businesses are able to survive the back of fake positive online reviews because if the reality of the business is in fact hopeless, real customers will find ways to place them out of businesses anyway.
Hotels are very highly susceptible to receiving fake online reviews. There is a very large number of people who will find their hotel through review sites, such as Trip Advisor. Most will at least check their prospective hotel prior to booking with a travel agent. People have wised up to travel brochures depicting empty swimming pools at sunset, delicious food and perfect tranquillity.
When travellers have an enjoyable experience they tend not to be particularly motivated to share the good news, but when holiday plans are spoiled by unfortunate circumstances or by a hotel that didn’t live up to expectations (no matter how unrealistic they were), travellers tend to become much more motivated to write highly emotive negative reviews. To combat this, hotel owners have taken the stance to create positive reviews about their own business to nullify existing poor reviews. This process is intended to drive the bad reviews into the lower rankings and therefore reducing their overall effect of the ‘overall average’. For example, 5 fake positives will sufficiently dilute 1 genuine negative.
The practice of posting fake online reviews, has become a widespread practice. Alternatively, and far more sinisterly, some owners adopt the tactic of submitting fake negative reviews about their competitors. It is no real stretch of one’s imagination to see why. Once a business owner has discovered an apparent solution to all their negative reviews, they may also conclude that this is also a very neat solution to all the positive reviews their competition (deservedly) receives. Because online reviews are such a powerful influencer in the pre-decision process of consumers and most businesses, proving that a negative online review is fake, could be very important to some businesses.
There are ways to assess the authenticity of online reviews to try to filter out the genuine online reviews from the suspected fraudulent negative reviews. Patterns often emerge in a coordinated campaign that could provide strong proof that certain online reviews are fake. This latest Harvard Business School research confirms our own observations that fake and fraudulent reviews tend to stand out as being more extreme than the average industry review, both in terms of the language and tone employed, often being highly emotive and vitriolic. Fraudulent reviews are most likely to be written out of despair rather than for any other reason and this could sometimes be evidenced by the language used in the review as well as by noticeable inconsistencies with other reviews on the same website and on other review websites.
Furthermore, independent businesses that are not part of a national chain are more likely to commit review fraud, presumably because their customers are more likely to be influenced by online reviews or because they tend to find themselves under intense local competition, and therefore under financial strains. Independent businesses might also believe they can get away with faking online reviews and the decision to embark on such action can be made with little trace or risk of exposure. Interestingly, business owners who have fewer reviews are more likely to fake reviews for themselves. The reason for this is likely to be that with fewer reviews, the chances of achieving a low quality score is higher than with a high volume of reviews. Two out of two negative reviews will result in a low rating score for the business whilst two negative reviews out of forty will hardly affect its ratings. Finally, in the UK, young and start-up businesses appear to be more susceptible to low quality scores on review websites simply because of the low volume of genuine reviews.
One of our oldest specialities is the removal of fake online reviews against hotels, guesthouses and restaurants worldwide, provided there is a link to the UK. The business needs to be located in the UK or the fake review should be from the UK. We use our knowledge and familiarity with the back-end of the internet and with the various worldwide legal system to validate authenticity of online reviews and to obtain disclosure, and to then facilitate the removal of fake online reviews from online review websites worldwide.
If you suspect that there are fake reviews published against your establishment, hotel, guesthouse or restaurant, be assured we will obtain the proof you need and ensure the fake reviews are removed from the internet, no matter how many of the reviews are there or where in the world they have been posted.