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 just about 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 they trust 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 they're asked to do so.
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 all powerful motivators for customers, so it can be understandably tempting to offer these incentives in exchange for online reviews.
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 opens 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 that they were offered a free item in exchange for writing a five-star review. Would you still trust the business or their 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 just 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...
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.
By sending out a single-question survey to your customers, it finds who had a positive experience and pushes them through to post a review on the review sites of your choice.
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 with today with ReputationStacker.