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With 86% of consumers reading them, there’s no denying the importance of user reviews.
Perhaps what most of us don’t think about is…
How many of these reviews are fake?
In the modern era of fake news and instant gratification, it doesn’t take much for something completely false to go viral – and fake reviews are no different.
It’s become easier than ever to pay for fake reviews to either boost your own company or bring down your competition.
But, there are often loads of warning signs to indicate that reviews (or news) could be fake.
The twisted fake news awards
The term “fake news” has risen in popularity over the last few years since the recent U.S. presidential election, most notably from President Trump going as far as to start the “Fake News Awards” in January 2018, presented by the Republican National Committee.
That being said, it’s perhaps not a bad thing that the President of the United States has made us aware of the idea that news could be fake.
It’s become easier than ever to simply write a blog article that is not factually accurate whatsoever, and have it propelled to viral status on the web just by having a controversial headline.
So the buzz surrounding fake news has definitely helped put a spotlight on the importance of fact-checking and taking a closer look at what we’re reading and reacting to online.
Being informed and being able to weed out the real news from the “fake” has never been more important – and with our 6 tips, you’ll be able to spot ’em in no time.
Examples of fake news
The first time I was caught off guard by fake news was the first time I heard of a satirical blog.
This screenshot above is from a website called theOnion, which is popular for writing satirical (untrue articles often using sarcasm, irony, or foolishness to convey a message) articles on a wide variety of categories.
This is perhaps the most common type of article that gets mistaken for fact, often creating an “outrage” snowball effect, with many readers sharing out of shock, rage, or disbelief.
Here are some other examples of popular satirical blogs:
- The Beaverton
- The Lapine
- The Poke
- News Thump
DailyDot.com conveniently has a list of websites that share fake news, so you can be on the lookout for these domain names as well.
6 ways to spot fake online reviews
Aside from watching out for fake, sensationalized news, you also have to keep an eye out for fake reviews, which can be just as detrimental.
Perhaps even more so, because consuming information is not always as costly as consuming products.
When you’re purchasing an item, you want to make sure that it’s trustworthy – that’s the whole point of user reviews in the first place.
Luckily, there are some foolproof ways to detect whether or not a review is fake.
Look for specifics, not generics
Real users know their products, while spammers know just enough to make a coherent sentence. Really short reviews that may be too vague could be a red flag.
Beware of 5 and 1-star reviews
If you find yourself seeing 1-star after 1-star after 1-star reviews for the same business or product, it’s safe to assume that spammers may have been hired by the company’s competition to trash their product or reputation.
The same can be said for the opposite – if a company or product only has 5-star reviews, spammers could have been hired to inflate the product they’re endorsing.
Most of the time, a true user experience is nuanced, having some good and some bad, based on each consumer’s opinions and preferences.
Timing is everything
One interesting trick to weed out some of the fake reviews is to sort a product or company’s reviews by date. If there’s an uptick of reviews posted for one product in a short interval, there could be some coordination happening in the background, especially if they all seem to be either 1-star or 5-star only.
Also, pay attention not only to the uptick of the number of reviews but when they were posted. For example, if a company is releasing a new product, they might want to make sure that their user-reviews show them in a good light so that their product launch might be more successful.
Look for balance
As we mentioned, the average user experience is typically nuanced, having both good and bad aspects to take away overall.
Of course, it does happen that users are extremely satisfied with their purchases, or, conversely, extremely dissatisfied.
What we’re saying is to look out for 35 5-star reviews, or 45 1-star reviews. If there’s a bit of variety, chances are the reviews are more accurate.
And let’s be real…if a product or company has 45 1-star reviews, how are they even still in business?
Ask “so what?”
Real reviews don’t usually include a laundry list of product features.
If it doesn’t answer the “so what?” question, and you find yourself wondering why this review is going on about trivial, unimportant details, it fails the test.
Also, any excessive use of the official product name (as if it were copy-pasted) should definitely be a warning sign.
Pay attention to language, grammar, and spelling
If a user review is completely filled with poor language, grammar, spelling, or sentence structure, it should be an indicator that whoever wrote it was either in a great hurry, did not care about communicating his review properly, and probably isn’t taking his review seriously, in which case you shouldn’t either.
If user reviews seem to use the exact same language in many reviews, it could be a sign that group spammers have simply copy and pasted their fake reviews over and over again.
Something to note: While long-winded, emotionally fuelled reviews may not be fake, they should be taken with a grain of salt.
Even Amazon and Google have fake reviews too
User reviews can significantly affect a business’ success.
One statistic even indicates that a 1-star increase on a Yelp ranking could mean a 5% to 9% increase in revenue for that company, especially if they are independently owned.
It’s easy to see why someone might be tempted to “invest” in some fake reviews to boost their company’s income.
Amazon and Google are no different. It’s important to dig deeper into the reviews than just glance at the overall star-ranking.
Google fake reviews
Google doesn’t have many systems in place to weed out fake reviews, except the user being able to flag suspected fake reviews.
This makes it that much harder to tell whether or not a review is fake.
Reviewer’s other reviews
One feature that is helpful, however, is the ability to see the other reviews one particular user has left. If the reviewer only leaves 5-star reviews on a large number of sites, that’s definitely a red flag.
Fake reviews on Amazon
Amazon, on the other hand, has a couple of systems in place to weed out fake reviews:
- each Amazon user is allowed to leave only 5 non-verified reviews per week,
- Amazon verified purchases,
- no paid reviews, and
- no promotional reviews (reviews made by owner of product, family or friends)
Amazon verified purchase reviews
Amazon verified purchases are reviews labeled with a special badge given to a user when they have bought the item through Amazon.
Related: Why User Reviews Count
Examples of fake reviews
Perhaps one more obvious example of fake reviews is for a product I found named Naturabest Pure Green Coffee Bean Extract – All Natural Weight Loss Supplement.
These are perfect examples of recycled language.
Ironically, both “users” lost 7.5 pounds in 2 months, often repeat the words “coffee bean extract,” and mention how they were “unsure how the coffee bean extract would work with [their] body.”
This is why I would label these as completely fake reviews.
Let’s get real
With fake news and fake reviews taking over, it’s never been more crucial to stay informed and skeptical, especially when it comes to important purchases. There are no shortcuts to doing proper research.
And with user reviews being such an important part of the buying process, it’s important to be able to decipher the truth from the fake – or the alternative could mean losing money, credibility, or pride.
Have you ever fallen for fake news? What is your favourite way to tell whether or not a review is fake?
Let us know in the comments below.