They act as solid social proof for the quality of your business, directly from the customers themselves.
As far as free advertising goes, positive reviews and word-of-mouth publicity can do wonders to boost your business’s online visibility and credibility. Customers trust other customers who publish honest accounts of their experiences with businesses.
Reviews are so important, in fact, that small businesses who are aware of the value of a 5-star review are sometimes driven to unethical methods of accumulating them. This includes—you guessed it—buying reviews.
While paid reviews might seem like the ideal solution to get you a high number of ratings from seemingly happy customers, it actually isn’t the right path. Purchasing false reviews can actually cause more problems than solve them.
Buying reviews can backfire on your business’s reputation, tainting your credibility and the brand that you’ve worked to build.
If you’re new to the concept of buying reviews, keep reading to find out what it means and how they can impact your business’s online image.
Is Your Business Buying or Creating Fake Reviews?
There are several review platforms customers explore to cross-check the authenticity of your business before engaging with you.
These include Facebook, Google My Business, Yelp, Amazon, and more.
Some businesses that are aware of these sites and their potential customers will go out of their way to falsely amp up their ratings. They will create positive reviews that paint their business or product in the best light, even when they’re not authentic.
It may initially seem harmless, especially if you’re a small business looking to grow your customer base and social media reach, but it is actually riskier than it’s worth doing. Here are some of the ways a business might buy or fake reviews; your business should avoid doing any of these at all costs.
#1. An employee or someone in the company writes a review.
Who better to ask first to write a high quality, fake review than someone within the company itself, right?
Small business owners that opt for this method usually adopt this mentality. Of course, they can just create a fake account and write a review themselves, but that’s riskier.
It’s not so easy to post a review of your own company without coming off sounding rather biased and pumping up the brand too much. In that case, a business owner might turn to their employees, business partners, or others within the firm that can sound more balanced. They might even assign it as a task, making this ask an actual paid job duty.
It is inherently a conflict of interest, and customers might be turned off to discover that the business or company has asked its employees to do so.
Is a fake 5-star review better than no review at all? That’s what businesses who follow this route probably think. Businesses should be wary of making this a regular practice and be careful of asking this of its employees.
#2. Pay a third party/agency to write and post a review.
It’s surprisingly easy to find third parties and agencies that willingly offer to do something unethical like writing fake reviews in exchange for money.
All you have to do is Google “buy reviews” and you’ll find results from several agencies and third-party sites for this purpose. These sites will include phrases like “star review services,” “excellent reviews,” “written by 100% real people,” and other catchy terms to bait business owners.
On top of that, they usually charge very minimal rates, making it all the more appealing to businesses with smaller marketing budgets. There are some companies that have independent freelancers that charge as little as $5-$10 per review.
Fake review services sometimes even go so far as to offer to write negative reviews on competitors’ profiles. Not only do businesses who opt for this display anti-competitive behavior, it can come across as unethical and discourage future customers.
#3. Your business incentivizes a positive review, instead of incentivizing an honest review.
This tactic walks a much finer line. While plenty of businesses offer incentives for leaving an honest review, others will incentivize leaving a positive review even if the customer had a negative experience. Some businesses offer their customers attractive incentives in exchange for a 5-star review.
These incentives can come in the form of discounts, cash backs, free offers, or more.
This is harder to spot usually, as the profiles aren’t fake and they are from real customers or account holders on these review sites.
While customers may leave the review, there is no guarantee that they will not report your business later or spill the details about your incentives, thereby destroying your reputation.
Many times, the better way to gain honest reviews, is to simply ask the customer after their positive experience.
Here’s Why You Should NOT Buy Online Reviews
Why spend the big bucks on traditional advertising when you can pay a couple of reviewers minimal amounts to write glowing feedback?
If your business is formulating that thought, reconsider the temptation. The bottom line is, it’s wrong.
With any of the methods stated before, there is still a great risk of being discovered.
Search engines and review sites have algorithms and bots that exist to sniff out fake reviews, especially those that are unethically ranking higher through false SEO (search engine optimization). Also, if you generate a large number of 5-star reviews with little to no bad reviews or low ratings, your business will instantly seem suspicious.
Here’s why you should avoid buying testimonials or creating fake ones.
It damages your reputation.
Imagine being caught as a business that buys fake reviews. There’s no coming back from that.
As Warren Buffett said, “It takes 20 years to build a reputation and five minutes to ruin it. If you think about that, you’ll do things differently.”
It discourages customers—old and new.
Once you lose your customers’ trust, it’s incredibly challenging to win them back.
Your existing (honest) customers will be dismayed by your actions and question the integrity of your business. Your business may also lose valuable prospects.
It can take a long time to regain that trust and establish your business’s legitimacy again. The cost of your actions would be higher than the initial “savings” made in opting for cheap, fake reviews.
It’s a violation of policies and can lead to your business being flagged.
Almost all review platforms have strict policies in place against fake reviews.
For example, the popular platform Yelp has a Consumer Alerts program in place to warn users of businesses that are suspected of incentivizing Yelpers for fake reviews or buying them otherwise.
Businesses that are found guilty of doing so are often reported and flagged and can have their business pages taken down permanently on such sites.
It could hurt your profits.
In the long run, reputational damage to your brand can seriously inhibit your profit potential. Not only is it illegal to buy reviews according to the Federal Trade Commission (the FTC), but the damaging effects can trickle down financially and lead to enormous losses if not handled well.
So, How Do You Spot Fake or Purchased Reviews?
There may be cases where you haven’t paid for fake reviews, but some still show up on your business profiles. Or perhaps you’re a customer and want to know the signs of purchased reviews. How can you identify these and report them yourself?
Keep these questions in mind as they’re often indicators of a fake or purchased review:
Is it a photo-less profile? Does the name sound fake/generic? Has the user posted thorough reviews of other businesses? Or is that the only review they have left?
Are multiple reviews phrased similarly? Are there repetitions or similar comments across groups of user posts?
Is the spelling and grammar terrible? Does it have a fraudulent tone overall?
Don’t Buy Your Reviews, Earn Them
Customer reviews are meant to be earned, not bought.
The long-run benefits of building your credibility and trust with customers through honest reviews don’t come just in the form of profits. It also allows you to build meaningful and sustainable relationships with your audience.
Unlike paid or fake reviews, these services are perfectly legal, ethical, and will maintain the integrity of your business.
So, what are you waiting for?
Start growing your online reviews today, the right way.