With the recent spate of fake news dominating the political and social space, I thought it would be good to shine a light on a long standing practice of brands and SEO companies – the fake company/product review; a tactic that shows a horrible lack of strategic planning in exchange for short-term gain that will ultimately backfire with consumers, authorities and search engines alike.
As a digital brand consultant I see it all the time – keyword dense product reviews from ‘consumers’ with little to no history, writing a glowing product review or reviews in the Apple app store, Google Play store, Amazon, Yelp and other sites.
Why do brands use them?
There are three main reasons why brands have used fake reviews.
1. They are presented a quick-win opportunity from their SEO specialist. The idea is to create fake accounts on social media, review sites, APP stores and other online channels, then create keyword dense reviews, making sure to reference the brand name and linking to the business website; thereby creating valuable inbound links.
2. The marketing department is looking to increase brand awareness or to artificially boost a new product launch. Marketing teams – internal or external – are always trying to shorten the duration of a launch campaign, save money and maximise returns.
Fake reviews not only help to drive awareness of products but also give consumers a false sense of security in the value or benefits of a product – increasing short term sales and artificially driving up ROI figures – but ultimately it is very short-sighted.
3. Finally, brands that don’t have crisis mitigation plans before engaging in digital activities leave themselves open to the possibility of negative consumers reviews with no processes in place on how to deal with them. Some brands see fake reviews as a way to bury negative reviews, or to offset the impact of negative reviews by creating an artificial balance.
Consumers still rely on reviews to make purchase decisions
Consumers still rely heavily on product reviews online, and while they are slowly becoming more skeptical – however the following still holds true:
- 84% of people trust online reviews as much as a personal recommendation
- 90% of consumers read less than 10 reviews before forming an opinion about a business
- 54% of people will visit the website after reading positive reviews
- 73% of consumers think that reviews older than 3 months are no longer relevant
- 74% of consumers say that positive reviews make them trust a business more
- 58% of consumers say that the star rating of a business is most important
What about Google?
Google is determined to present consumers with the best and most relevant information possible based on search queries. Polluting their results with fake data is an ongoing concern.
In fact Google has themselves been a target of fake reviews. Fake product reviews in their shopping results, fake reviews in the local business profiles and fake reviews in their search results from third-party sites.
Over the past few years, Google has updated their search algorithms to go beyond search results – measuring consumer behavior at the destination website which now impacts overall search page scores.
So what is the impact to brand?
Brands can face several consequences for fake reviews:
1. Negative consumer sentiment – consumer backlash when the discovery of fake reviews is made. Depending on the severity that can have local, national or international implications and the cost of managing that type of PR disaster can and will outweigh the initial gains.
2. Government Legal Action – depending on your location, the government can treat fake reviews as fraud or a breach or consumer protection statutes. This is a real concern – just ask Aveling Homes who is currently under investigation by The Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC).
3. SEO demotion or deletion – Google can reduce your visibility on search results or remove you completely. It all depends on the severity of your actions. In the end, your long-term SEO potential can be completely destroyed for very short-term gains.
4. It is really expensive – the cost of paying suppliers to setup the profiles, write the reviews across so many platforms – even if you outsource overseas – can cost thousands of dollars with the results only providing short-term (about 3 months) of value.
If you are a brand, you know nothing comes easy or without hard work. The same goes for your online marketing. Be honest to the consumer, have a plan to deal with negative consumer reviews and invest your money into content and engagement, not underhanded practices that will only bit you in the ass down the road. Most of all – if your staff, suppliers or agencies ever suggest these types of activities to you – get rid of them. They are knowingly presenting you with strategies that are wrong and potentially illegal that will only serve to damage your brand in the long-term.