I wrote this post in 2018 to help people understand the many fake reviews out in the community. Research has shown that people have figured it out. A post I wrote touched on the study showing the benefit of asking and responding to reviews. This post was written all the way back in early 2018, but data has supported my theory that a little nick on your review score can help your overall performance. Digging into that same article from October 2019 shows that small business conversion rate is actually significantly higher for those with a 4,6, a 4.7, 4.8, or 4.9 rating than a 5.0. Even more recent studies have shown the same or similar data. People get it. All reviews being 5.0 isn’t real and the data is showing that the people are responding with their wallets.
The Growth of the Fake Review Industry
As with anything else that is shown to be important to Google rankings, with the importance of online reviews growing, an entire industry has sprouted up to provide fake reviews for businesses in an effort to pass competitors and gain a presence in local markets. I wish I could say that Google catches these businesses all immediately, or even that it was clear to business owners that they were even cheating. Some business owners blindly trust unethical companies that see fake reviews as a path to immediate jumps in rankings and traffic.
Nobody likes to see someone speak badly about them and I know many business owners are upset or even hurt by a negative review. Unfortunately, they are a part of doing business, and in some unscrupulous markets, bad ones show up that were never even clients or contacts. Though Google is working on cleaning up both positive and negative fake reviews, it is best to have a plan in place to just keep getting more reviews and bury those negatives, or respond to them in the proper way, which sometimes is enough to turn people. Sometimes your response to a negative review is actually more effective than ten positive ones.
I just wanted to outline below some of the red flag scenarios where even if Google hasn’t caught cheaters today, it will become clearer over time. While some of these unethical companies put more effort into hiding what they are doing than others, there are some things to look for as a consumer and as a business owner, to combat fake positive or negative reviews.
Here are some things to look out for. In general, just try to follow the Google Best Practices and let the others get in trouble.
- Review counts that are way out of proportion: If you are searching for a product or service and one company has 300 reviews, while all the rest have ten or fewer, that is definitely a red flag. Though it is possible that they are on their game and the others are not, often times they are doing something that doesn’t quite follow the rules. Combined with some other red flags below, this can be an obvious rule breaker that could eventually see all of their reviews removed.
- Nobody has hundreds of reviews that are all perfect: It is understandable to have a handful of perfect reviews, but if a business has 10 or more reviews, and they are all perfect 5’s, there may be something fishy going on. I would venture to say you are probably safer picking a business with a 4.7 or 4.8 average, per the name of this article. You can be surer there are some real reviews in there, especially if there are many reviews on the page.
- Look at who is leaving reviews: You can click on the reviewer’s name in bold and see their review history. If you see a company with many reviewers that don’t have any other reviews or seem to have random 1 or 5-star reviews scattered all across the country or world, rather than a more natural cluster of reviews in one geographic area and a few from other areas they may have visited while away, you may be looking at fake profiles from a fake review network. Take a look and see if a large percentage of reviews for a company seem to be of this type.
- The 1 and 5-star no explanation reviews: These are becoming a little less common because fakers are getting a little better these days, but the lazy fakers used to just leave a review and no explanation, and their profile would show a lot of these at random businesses around the country or world.
- Extremely generic review wording: These lazy people stepped their game up a little and started actually describing their reviews, but they often are extremely generic and don’t suggest any actual relationship with the business.
- Just one review: The profile only has one review and it is that business. Can be a red flag when combined with others or many reviewers like this for the same business.
These are just a few red flag review types. If you dig in even further, you can often find entire fake review networks by seeing the same reviewers coincidentally popping up on the same businesses all over the place. Now any one of these red flags could potentially be possible on their own. A user may sign up for Google just to leave a review for a business they particularly like or dislike and then not review again, but it shouldn’t be a heavy percentage of your reviews.
You can flag reviews that you feel are clearly fake and even go to Google to try to get them removed. Often this is a lot of work for unsure results, as Google is often not paying much attention, though getting better at it. If you are able to nail down a whole network of fakes, you will have a better chance than one or two. Often with small businesses, a competitor or disgruntled employee will leave that one 1-star review that seems to tarnish your perfect score. These are tough to get removed. Google still tries to find ways to algorithmically figure this out at scale, so they often miss individual issues and still sometimes totally miss massive cheats initially, before catching them a short time later.
Keep Doing a Good Job and Asking for Reviews
The better resolution is to just keep doing a good job and keep asking for reviews, and you can push that one or two negatives down on the list. That 4.8 average score may get you more calls than the 5 anyway, as people get better at spotting the fakes. I have heard many stories where a client or business owner tells me they had someone say they were drawn to them by the way they handled a negative reviewer. As long as they aren’t flooding in, it is actually a great opportunity to show your personality and professionalism. Many more people read the negative reviews and how you respond than bother to read the positives, as long as your overall score is respectable.
Google continues to experiment with new ways to try to verify and substantiate reviews. Recently, we saw them begin to point out which reviews were from reviewers specifically in the geographic market of the business, giving it a bit more weight. This will constantly be progressing, but you should always keep asking. Now with Google allowing reviewers to leave images, it is worth asking customers to add a photo to a review. These have shown to be preferred by Google when picking out which ones to show off to searchers. Ask, ask, ask.