Paying for fake online reviews (and even incentivizing your actual customers to write positive reviews) is a bad idea. We look at why, as well as a better option.
You’d do almost anything to help your business flourish, and attracting positive reviews is one of the most effective ways to grow your business. After all, most customers look to reviews when deciding which businesses to patronize. A recent survey found that 84 percent of consumers trust online reviews as much as personal recommendations. Furthermore, 74 percent of consumers say that reading positive reviews of a local business makes them trust the business more… and seven out of 10 customers will write a review if asked.
So reviews matter. But should you pay for online reviews? The answer is definitively no, but let’s take a look at why that is, and what you can do instead to ethically (and easily) get more positive online reviews.
The Downside of Paying for Reviews
Coupons, discounts, and free merchandise are powerful motivators for customers, so offering these incentives in exchange for online reviews can be understandably tempting. There are several reasons why this isn’t a good idea…
It Won’t Necessarily Work
Say you slide coupons into the hands of a few acquaintances in exchange for posting rave reviews on Yelp. They write five-star reviews and redeem the coupons for your merchandise or services, and you go looking for their reviews… and find nothing. What happened? Those reviews probably got caught in Yelp’s review filter.
It’s a closely guarded secret how Yelp’s review filter works, but the site employs sophisticated algorithms to weed out reviews written by ringers. Reviews are most likely to get through the filter and be posted publicly if they’re written by active Yelp users… and even then, it’s not uncommon for reviews to get caught in Yelp’s filter.
And it’s not just Yelp. Many other major review sites use these algorithms in order to make sure that only real reviews written by real consumers are posted. So when you offer incentives to get people to post reviews, those reviews might not end up being posted publicly, and you’re out whatever money or merchandise you traded for them.
It Can Damage Your Reputation
Imagine a new business opening in your town. You haven’t been there yet, but you’ve seen the business already has a lot of rave reviews. Then someone tells you they were offered a free item in exchange for writing a five-star review. Would you still trust the business or its reviews?
That same scenario can happen to you if you incentivize reviews. All it takes is one person mentioning to a friend that you offer discounts for reviews, and word can spread. What if that one person is an active online reviewer and they write a negative review that says you tried to incentivize them to post a positive review? Not only did your review go up in smoke, but it completely backfired. This happens more often than you’d think. And remember what the survey referenced earlier found: consumers take reviews very seriously when deciding where to spend their money.
It’s also possible that your review tactics could earn you public embarrassment. Review sites look very harshly upon businesses that try to game the system, and they dole out consequences to businesses who are caught trying to buy reviews. For instance, Yelp will post a very noticeable Consumer Alerts banner on the page of businesses it catches soliciting reviews. The banner stays up for 90 days, which is long enough to cause permanent damage to your reputation.
There May Be Legal Consequences
As online review sites have become more and more popular, the legal system has started cracking down on people who try to manipulate the system to get unearned positive reviews. In 2013, New York’s Attorney General caught 19 companies participating in schemes to get fake reviews. Those companies were ordered to pay more than $350,000 in fines.
Even if you’re not paying for fake reviews – just incentivizing your actual customers to post reviews – you should know that the Federal Trade Commission may be watching. The FTC controls how companies use customers and their endorsements in ads. So if you were to create any ads that included quotes from incentivized reviews, the FTC could conceivably fine you.
True, it’s unlikely you’ll face any legal consequences for exchanging goods or services for positive reviews. But it’s not worth taking any chances, especially when you can easily get real reviews from your actual customers with no incentive…
Fellow Reviewers Will Sniff You Out
Let’s say you manage to get your fake reviews past the site filters – that’s not where the risk ends! For review sites like Yelp, whose reviewers are protective of the community, getting caught in a fake review scandal can be your worst nightmare.
These reviewers have enough experience to sniff out a fake review. For example, if a business with a handful of followers and connections has an unbelievably high number of positive reviews with no credibility, it’ll naturally be deemed fake.
So what happens once your ‘trick’ is caught? Not only will the paid review be flagged and removed, but you might also end up getting a lot of bad public reviews from other reviewers in retaliation.
Purchasing Reviews Might Harm Your SEO
Did you know that one of the three most significant ranking criteria for local SEO is customer reviews? When it comes to search results, Google considers what customers have to say about a product or service.
Fake reviews will have a significant negative impact on your company’s ability to rank in local search inquiries – not only on organic results but also those from Google Maps’ local 3-map bundle.
Google has issued a warning to advertisers and brands to refrain from buying fake reviews.
Google uses a spam detection algorithm to sniff out malpractice, including fake reviews. Once your fake reviews are detected and removed, your total number of reviews will fall, leading to a drop in your SEO rank.
Along with that, Google will lower your rank even more, and you’ll have to say goodbye to a large chunk of organic traffic.
Is Buying Reviews Worth The Risk?
No matter how much you want an online review to be genuine, it won’t be. It’s meaningless to your customers because they’re given an opinion by someone who has never visited your business.
It won’t show them what it’s like to buy your product or service in actuality. It might also involve false information that leads to genuine customer dissatisfaction. Even though you’ll have more online reviews on your page, it’ll be a negative business move in the long term.
Fake reviews are easy to recognize. They’re gushy and flattering to an unhealthy degree. Having fake reviews is terrible for your business, especially after people figure it out. It implies that customers don’t have faith in you or your company.
For local company owners, reputation and word of mouth are crucial. Even if your consumers don’t find out about the fake reviews, the review site most likely will.
Furthermore, you’ll discover that obtaining genuine reviews is less difficult than you may have anticipated. The reviews will come as long as you have a decent product or service and are doing your best to guarantee that your clients are well taken care of.
The majority of the reviews will be good, but there’ll be some bad ones as well. Even unfavorable reviews should be maintained as long as they’re genuine and you reply to them, which gives your company an extra layer of credibility.
A Better Way To Get More Online Reviews
Buying reviews just isn’t necessary when you use an automated system like ReputationStacker to do the heavy lifting for you. This system costs considerably less than paying for reviews, and once you’ve automated this element of your business, all you have to do in order to get a steady stream of positive reviews is offer great service.
Better Safe Than Sorry
There’s no guarantee that trading discounts or other incentives for positive reviews will have negative consequences, but there are too many ways that this choice can go wrong. Harming your reputation or facing huge fines just isn’t worth the risk. There’s a better way to get the positive reviews you deserve. Use an automated system like ReputationStacker to encourage customers to write about you for free. Research shows that customers will review their experiences as long as they’re asked to do so. So start getting more online reviews today with ReputationStacker.
Ian Kirby has been working in digital marketing for over 15 years. Having worked both with and for digital marketing agencies and in-house with multiple companies, he has a specific interest and expertise in online reputation management, online reviews, and the implementation of business systems. Ian’s writing, videos, and interviews have garnered millions of reads, views, and listens.