BrightLocal has been studying the impact of consumer reviews for the last nine years and, in that time, we’ve seen a huge spike in importance. In our first-ever Local Consumer Review Survey carried out in 2010, fewer than seven in 10 local consumers trusted reviews as much as a personal recommendation and just 70% of people had gone online to find a local business. Fast-forward to 2019 and 90% of local consumers had looked online for local businesses while 91% of consumers say that positive reviews make them more likely to use a business. As reviews have become more ubiquitous, the need to remove fake reviews has soared in tandem.
While fake reviews are good for no-one in the long term, the growth of this dubious tactic is quite enlightening. The fact that huge amounts of time, energy and resources are being poured into fake review spamming is an indicator of just how valuable it can be to have a decent number of reviews.
The ongoing presence of fake reviews also tells us that reviews are a big part of the consumer decision-making process and underscores exactly how important they are for local SEO. As always in SEO, if someone’s trying to short-cut or cheat something, it tends to suggest that doing it properly is worth the effort. You can find our five-step guide to building your review profile the right way, here.
It’s fair to say that negative reviews are every business owner’s worst nightmare. When they’re fake, that feeling is magnified tenfold. Over and above reputational damage, fake reviews could – at least in the short term – give unscrupulous rivals a leg up.
There are plenty of reasons that you’ll want to remove fake reviews to protect your business, especially given how prolific they are becoming.
Let’s take a look at some eye-opening statistics that are sure to convince even the skeptics to take fake reviews seriously.
74% of consumers have read a fake review in the last year, though they’re not always easy to spot
According to BrightLocal research, 82% of consumers have read a fake review in the last year. Among 18-34-year-old consumers, the proportion is even higher, with 92% saying they’ve seen fake reviews (more on that shortly).
The sheer volume of fake reviews being observed is obviously a cause for concern. It highlights how prevalent fake reviews now are, underscoring the importance both of being vigilant and of knowing how to get them removed.
The extent to which fake reviews have infiltrated this area of reputation management threatens the trustworthiness of reviews as a whole – should consumers be exposed to an increasing number of fake reviews, it’s perfectly feasible that we’ll soon begin to see confidence in peer-to-peer recommendations being eroded.
That being said, it’s not time to hit the panic button just yet. While fake reviews continue to emerge, it’s worth bearing in mind that the same Local Consumer Review Survey also shows that trust in reviews and recommendations is on the up.
92% of 18-34-year-olds have read a fake review in the last year
As we touched upon earlier, more 18-34-year-olds have read a fake review in the last year than consumers of any other demographic. While 89% of this younger age group say they have read a fake review in the last 12 months, only 74% of 35-54-year-olds have seen a fake review in the last year. This number drops to just 59% for consumers over the age of 54.
It’s clear that 18-34-year-olds find fake reviews much easier to spot. This could be because they have grown up online as digital natives and so are savvier when it comes to navigating the online landscape. It’s also possible that this constant exposure has given them digital street smarts to the extent that they’re naturally more suspicious or untrusting of user-generated content such as online reviews until given good reason to think otherwise.
This wariness should raise a few red flags for business owners. First and foremost, if your target demographic falls within the 18-34 age group, your immediate concern may (rightly) be that earning their trust and their dollars is going to be an uphill struggle. After all, when it’s universally understood that reviews are critical to the consumer purchase process, how do you bridge the gap when reviews are deemed to be fake so frequently?
A second worry is that this statistic suggests future generations are already being programmed to be wary of online reviews. If that’s the case, you’ll need to find new means of establishing trust with future customers.
In order to tackle fake reviews and instill confidence in those aged 18-34, it’s important to be proactive. Responding to reviews is a local SEO ranking factor but replying can also help to boost trust because it shows that you recognize and value feedback.
Reviews with repeated exclamation points are more likely to come from reviewers who have never made a purchase
According to research conducted by MIT, deceptive reviews (those submitted by consumers who actually haven’t made a purchase from the business being reviewed) have a tendency to use repeated exclamation points such as ‘!!’ and ‘!!!’ in the text of the review.
Use of exclamation points may not seem like a huge problem on the surface but delve a little deeper and it’s the connotation that becomes troubling. Multiple exclamation marks indicate a heightened emotion such as excitement or frustration. The use of multiple exclamation marks mimics colloquial syntax and grammar on social media and messaging apps. Add this to the indicated heightened emotions and there is the worrying prospect of consumers believing the fake review because it’s written in a style that the reader themselves also employs day to day.
Some business owners may not feel the impact of these deceptive reviews, given that their power to mislead consumers depends on the business’s own demographics. If your particular target market doesn’t employ similar styles on social media, you may not need to worry that your audience will be swayed.
Fake reviewers are much more likely to make specific requests to the seller or business
MIT researchers studying reviews without purchases discovered that those leaving a review without having made a purchase contain significantly more words and are much more likely to contain requests for the business such as ‘please’, ‘bring back’, ‘offer more’ and ‘go back to’.
This particular statistic can be quite problematic for those responsible for reputation management because it’s necessary to respond to detailed reviews – even if you’re sure it’s a fake review or that it has been left by someone who hasn’t made a purchase.
As review response speed and frequency is a local SEO ranking factor – and something that 89% of consumers will read – it’s still important to formulate a professional, courteous response. In his post, Google My Business gold product expert Ben Fisher recommends that you should still respond to show genuine consumers that you take all reviews seriously.
As with any response to a negative review, whether it’s true or false, it’s wise to demonstrate a willingness to fix the issue being raised. Invite the reviewer to get in touch privately, either by private message, email or telephone to resolve the issue. In the case of a fake review, you obviously won’t hear from the reviewer but publicly, you have demonstrated you care about service levels, product quality, opportunities for improvement and the customer experience.
The UK’s Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) estimates fake reviews potentially influence £23bn of UK customer spending each year
The CMA has launched a program of work after a lengthy investigation into fake reviews determined that they potentially influence around £23 billion of UK consumer spending each year. It says millions of shoppers consult reviews before booking holidays and buying products or services but found that some companies were buying reviews or paying third party agencies to write fake reviews about products and services.
The 2008 Consumer Protection from Unfair Trading Regulations forbids this practice. The CMA says,
It is a banned practice to use editorial content in the media to promote a product where a trader has paid for the promotion without making that clear in the content or by images or sounds clearly identifiable by the consumer. It is also a banned practice to falsely claim or create the impression that a trader is not acting for purposes relating to his trade, business or profession, or to falsely represent oneself as a consumer.
The CMA says that the use of fake reviews is a concern due to the volume of adults relying on reviews to make purchase decisions and the amount of money at stake. Fake reviews also pose additional problems in that they mislead consumers to spend money with a business or on a product they may not have otherwise chosen. This could mean other businesses are losing out on revenue they may have earnt, had it not been for the fake or misleading reviews.
For some sectors, fake positive or fake malicious reviews have a bigger impact – findings from the CMA suggest small businesses in the hospitality sector in particular are badly affected by fake reviews.
Cherry-picking or suppressing negative reviews can also mislead consumers and affect the ultimate purchase choice.