This one starts with me being very naive—more naive than I had perceived, anyway.
I wasn’t born yesterday (as far as I know, since our memories are just data by the end of the day), and let’s just say I’ve lost some money over the years on consumer mistakes. I may have purchased some “revolutionary” methods that would teach me how to make a quick buck, and I may have joined a “free” course or two in my life about dealing in FOREX.
Easy money was certainly made, but unfortunately not by me.
The money I wasted on such mistakes over the years I call “my stupidity box fund”. It’s a never-ending course in life, since people will always find new and ingenious ways to cheat you out of your hard-earned money. You will have to always be alert and be careful not to fall to their trickery.
Having said all that, for some reason, I still had full faith in the legitimacy of Amazon reviews.
A couple of years ago, I was desperately searching for a good set of wireless BT earbuds, since I was all hyped about exercise and wanted to start running while listening to music instead of my self-deprecating thoughts.
I was pretty straightforward in my approach – the items that had the most positive reviews and the highest number of them won over all others. So, I bought a piece that had 3,000+ reviews averaging 4.2. Which, as this research by Spiegel Research Center found, is within the ideal score range for product conversions. So in my case, this worked like a charm.
The BT headphones finally arrived. Their battery barely lasted two hours, they kept falling from my ears at the slightest bounce, and the BT reception was horrible. They had a nice gimmick of having magnets:
But other than that, they were a total sham with a very peculiar design to boot. Odd, I thought. The difference between expectation based on reviews and reality was staggering. So I went back to Amazon to explore some of the reviews further. When I returned to the product’s page, the reviews numbered at 126 and averaged at 2.1.
Amazon had apparently cleaned up the mess. The product was non existent on their SERP, and you could only find it if you had the exact page address. This product was punished for their fakery. Today, the product is “unavailable”, and rightfully so.
Now everything made total sense. I was bamboozled. And another lie was dispelled—the lie of the fake reviews.
The immortal motto “caveat emptor” (or “buyer beware”) coined in Roman times (when someone may or may not have purchased a fake chicken) still reigns supreme. Tattoo it on the back of your palm if you have to, because as long as there is marketing, there will be shams.
Since then, I’ve learned more about the subject, only to discover it was a widespread epidemic. Yet another franchise of black-hat marketing shenanigans.
On just about any platform that hosts reviews – be it Yelp, TripAdvisor, Google Business, Facebook, etc. – you WILL encounter fake reviews. Noticing them will require a more active approach instead of just passively reading them.
There are services out there that offer to fill directories with fake reviews about your business for a profit. Some use bots, other use “review farms” from third-world countries. And they will use fancy words like “guaranteed authentic”, “verified” and “professional reviewers” to entice you to use their service.
How to catch them phonies
So, while questioning everything is a solid philosophical approach to life in my book, we also need to be pragmatic here. How do we, as buyers, “beware” of fake reviews?
Well, let’s start with spotting them, since at the very least you will be better protected from falling for fake reviews if you recognize them. Here are two main tools that I use:
Fakespot.com – You post a product URL and they analyze the product’s reviews. You will see a nice breakdown of the credibility level of the reviews on the product. They are great at exposing bot reviews and farmed reviews, and you will also see the “real” average score of the product. Once you start analyzing every product before the purchase, you will be blown away by just how many fake reviews there are. It’s actually a bit disturbing. And worse still is the snail speed at which these fake reviews are taken care of.
They support review analysis on WalMart, Yelp, TripAdvisor and of course Amazon, and they sport a Chrome plug-in.
Fakespot is amazing, but they’re simply not enough, since there were multiple cases where they didn’t pick up fakes accurately enough in my view (very rarely, but it did happen). Which is why I recommend you use one more tool to check.
Reviewmeta.com – This runs on the same principle, only their algorithms are slightly different, which is why there’s enough variance to catch fake reviews that the other can’t. They support Amazon and Bodybuilding.com.
They also have a nice plug-in for all 4 major browsers. They rely on support and donations, so be sure to drop them a few coins if you valued their service.
That’s the “lazy” outsourced approach, anyway. You can also be more thorough and add your healthy judgment on top of it:
- Make sure you read at least 3-5 reviews of every star tier, if they even exist.
- Be wary of too many glowing 5 star reviews, and understand that very few mid-tier or negative reviews are almost certainly too good to be true. No business is perfect.
“You can please some of the people all of the time, you can please all of the people some of the time, but you can’t please all the people all of the time”
-Poet John Lydgate as made famous by Abraham Lincoln
- Examine the reviewer – do they have a credible record of posted reviews, or is it the only review they posted? Was their account suspiciously created just about the time the review was posted, with no activity since?
- Does the text of the review strike you as a bit “off”? Sometimes something phony just sounds phony, and it’s easy to see. Other times it might be a more advanced type of phony. But, generally speaking, an overly positive simplified tone with only praise and without addressing some practical applications to the service or product is highly suspect.
Should you use bought reviews at first?
Short answer: NO. Not at first, and not at any point.
We need to discuss why you should NEVER resort to faking reviews or buying them. This might seem tempting—not because you’re inherently prone to cheating, but the services that offer them use some very clever rhetoric to make it seem legit. It’s as though you’re doing nothing wrong, “hey your competitors are using us!”, you need to level the playing field, and so on.
Luckily, you can level the playing field in that case rather easily without resorting to fakery yourself and while protecting others in the process (we will get to that shortly).
Here’s reason number one
THEY ARE FREAKING ILLEGAL.
There’s a court case precedent from 2013 where 19 companies paid more than $350,000 because they got caught posting fake reviews. If you invest $350,000 wisely into high-quality marketing, the benefits and traffic you will gain will far surpass any batch of fake reviews.
Reason number two
You can get your local profiles banned and blacklisted for this treachery if you’re caught (and most likely you will be at some point). All that SEO and branding clout you’ve established can be virtually erased with one foul snowball effect.
Reason number three
Even if you don’t get directly penalized by the review service, your brand will bleed credibility because people are vindictive to brands that screwed them over. The more zealous will make their best efforts to tarnish your name across the web. You might convince yourself that it’s just for the beginning to get the ball rolling and that you will clean up your act, but that’s just a lie. If you need to convince yourself to do something immoral, it means that you’re generally morally solid, so don’t feel too bad if you were tempted at some point. Sociopaths, on the other hand don’t think twice about it, but that’s a whole different subject.
Reason number four
It’s not worth it if you run a legit and honest operation. You might see some short-term success, but the damage you’ll endure might destroy you financially and socially. The gains you can make honestly by employing a successful and smart marketing strategy will dwarf any fake reviews you get. If the product or service that you offer is truly good, it’ll be successful with honest white-hat marketing tactics.
Pro Rank Tracker never resorted to using black-hat tactics. We are a very good example on how you can grow as a business in a hyper-competitive niche with a candid and moral approach. Most of our growth is via word-of-mouth marketing, which is a very hard tactic and is generally considered a high-tier approach – it means investing a lot of funds into developing your service instead of marketing and letting the “product speak for itself”.
You don’t have to be like us, but you can certainly stick to a solid moral fiber that will guide your marketing strategy.
The only time it’s legit to pay an external source to review your product is if it’s a well-known authority blog that deals in your niche. Most big bloggers have their own integrity to hold up, so they will think twice about giving a fake positive review about a product or service that they truly found inferior.
How to battle fake reviews and gain an edge over your rivals
Now it’s time to fight the phenomenon. Spot any of your competitors doing fake reviews? Report the phonies. Don’t even think twice about it. They don’t deserve to be your rivals. Let them drown in legal fines and the repercussions of their questionable marketing tactics.
Most review directories and sites that use reviews, including Google+, have a method for flagging fake reviews. This works best when several authenticated accounts have flagged them. Then the review site takes notice and starts penalizing the culprits.
Next, contact the business owner. Maybe they’re innocent (or at least ignorant) and they didn’t even know the SEO expert or agency they employed uses those kind of tactics.
Reporting fake reviews is easy and a very attainable form of consumer justice. The fake reviews get removed, so other consumers will be more careful. Your competition takes damage, giving you an edge in a zero-sum game environment. And the poor exploited business owner finds a different and honest SEO company (you, perhaps?) to promote their business to glory.
Tracking your Amazon and Google Business ranks
Finally, let’s go over tracking your Amazon and Google Local Business ranks and search volume following a successful candid review campaign.
We’ll keep it brief, and if you want to learn more, we will attach links to the full respective guides:
Adding Amazon products for tracking couldn’t be easier – you just need the product’s ASIN, and you are good to go:
Next, since Amazon ranks very nicely on Google, Yahoo! and Bing search as well, add the product URL for regular rank tracking as well:
Add a tag to all of the above to easily navigate to the relevant data from any part of PRT’s tool:
You can see the Amazon search volume of the terms that apply to your product by enabling the “Global” column in the data table:
If the search term is specific to your brand, a rise in search volume on Amazon and the other search engines is a good indicator there is a growth in your branding power.
The full guide’s right here:
|How to track Amazon ranks correctly, efficiently and with 100% accuracy|
Google Business map ranks
Pro Rank Tracker, besides tracking your organic Google, Yahoo! and Bing ranks, can also track specific local ranks on Snack Pack and the top 100 extended map results.
A nice amount of high-quality reviews will benefit your local rankings, so if you play the review game, you also need to see how you rank on Google’s map.
To do that, simply add your business URL and name and a relevant location:
In this example, let’s imagine a restaurant that serves the New York Queens area, so you would naturally care how it ranks for people from selected areas in the vicinity of the restaurant.
PRT can track ranks geo-targeted down to neighborhood levels.
Start tracking. Here are a few helpful guides about local rank tracking:
|Google airport ranks and the new levels of local SEO rank tracking in 2018
A more visually centered version of Snack Pack is soon upon us? Here’s what you need to know!
Fake reviews are like mosquitoes. There are too many of them, and they attempt to suck your blood, occasionally succeeding. And, unfortunately, they are here to stay until some formidable A.I. system takes over and knows how to filter them out along with people that oppose their godlike powers.
Now that you know to avoid fake reviews and why not to use them, it’s time for you to read about the immense power that real credible reviews can have on your marketing success and SEO:
|The Magic Marketing Power of Customer Reviews|
Be sure to subscribe to our blog, since we’ll also be publishing a review strategy guide soon, along with some amazing new additions to our SERP tracker that will blow our rivals out of the water. Stay tuned!
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