Moneyish talks to experts to determine how you can spot a genuine review
Fake it til your product makes it.
That’s seemingly how some sellers try to do it. Indeed, Amazon is reportedly investigating whether some of its employees — mostly in China — were taking bribes from merchants to delete negative reviews online, share internal sales data and unban banned accounts, The Wall Street Journal reported. (An Amazon spokesperson told The Journal that the company has strict policies about this kind of thing and has installed systems to audit and restrict access to certain things.)
While we don’t know what Amazon has uncovered, there is no doubt that fake reviews are a problem across all platforms. Indeed, a survey released last year found that nearly eight in 10 consumers say they think they’ve read a fake review in the past year; and 84% of consumers say they can’t always spot a fake review.
Here are 10 ways to spot fake reviews online:
Examine the timing of reviews. “See if there is a spike in the total number of reviews during a very short time frame. This can indicate a targeted campaign to add new artificial reviews,” says Derek Hales, the editor-in-chief of product testing and research site ModernCastle. There are exceptions though: “Be aware that product launches, Black Friday, Christmas, and other major buy days can yield more reviews during certain periods.”
Look for overuse of “I” and “me” and a lot of verbs. According to research from Cornell University, online reviews that frequently use “I” and “me” are more likely to be fake than those that don’t — possibly because when people are lying they try to make themselves sound credible by using personal pronouns. Additionally, “deceivers use more verbs and truth-tellers use more nouns,” the research found.
Beware of scene-setting. The Cornell study also found that setting the scene could be a warning sign. “Truthful hotel reviews, for example, are more likely to use concrete words relating to the hotel, like ‘bathroom,’ ‘check-in’ or ‘price.’ Deceivers write more about things that set the scene, like ‘vacation,’ ‘business trip’ or ‘my husband,’” the research revealed.
Look for phrase repetition. “Look through several reviews and see if any words or phrases are repeated in different reviews. Reviews that use the same phrase(s) may have been instructed to do so by the party faking the reviews, says Hales.
Watch out for generic names and/or photo-less profiles. One of the big ways that fake online reviews get generated is from “a faceless offshore company pushing bulk reviews on a site under different accounts,” explains Jean H. Paldan, the founder and CEO of marketing firm Rare Form New Media. To spot those, “look for names like John or Jane Smith, or obviously fake names or just numbers and letters. They will 99% of the time not have a profile picture,” Paldan says.
And, says Michael Lai, the CEO of review site SiteJabber.com, “Check the spelling and grammar of the review. Many fake reviews are outsourced to international content farms and are either written in poor English or not in a way a real consumer would express their opinion.”
Dig deeper into the reviewer profile. Another common type of fake review is from a “professional reviewer” — someone who was given the product for free and given extra money, to give a five star review, Paldan says. These are “harder to spot” but you often can if you put in some legwork, she says: “Click on the reviewer profile, and look at all of their reviews. If they have a big trend of giving all five star reviews without any negativity … odds are that they were bought and paid for.” Another hint: If they’ve done a lot of five-star reviews for products owned by the same company.
Look at the middle-of-the-road reviews. “It’s often helpful to sort reviews that fall in the middle of the pack (e.g 3/5 stars). These reviews are often the most honest and insightful about both the positive and negative aspects of the venue and can be used to cross-reference other reviews to look for trends in both positive and negative feedback,” says Marc Nashaat, an enterprise SEO & digital PR consultant.
Sort the reviews. “When in doubt, sort reviews newest to oldest. Generally, if a product is launched with fake (or biased) reviews the truth will come out over time, says brand manager Steve Wimmer.
Look for verified purchases. “Many review platforms will verify if the purchase happened on that site or not. If it did not, it will be an ‘unverified purchase,’ which is more likely to be to be faked review,” says Hales.
When in doubt, reach out. “Reach out directly to the reviewer with questions about their review. Most fake reviewers will not respond, but real reviewers often look forward to opportunities to be more helpful,” says Lai.
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