Every business needs online reviews in this day and age, but buying them isn’t a good idea.
With up to 90 percent of consumers saying that they read online reviews before making purchases or hiring companies — and more than 80 percent of consumers saying that they trust online reviews as much as recommendations from friends and family — it’s clear to many business owners that reviews are an essential part of success.
Even though online reviews are absolutely essential, most people still don’t feel compelled to write them on their own, except of course when they’ve had a negative experience. So how do you ensure that you get plenty of reviews while still protecting your online reputation? If you’re like many business owners, you may be tempted to buy those reviews.
Reviews aren’t so easy to come by organically, and buying online reviews is a quick, easy way to ensure that potential customers have plenty to read when researching your business. Really, all you need to do is google, “buy fake reviews,” and you’ll be inundated with shady companies offering black-hat tactics to help you get ahead. However, buying reviews is a double-edged sword, and if you do, your business is likely to get hurt.
Five Ways Online Reviews Can Damage Your Business and its Online Reputation
#1. Your site could be nonexistent in the SERP.
One of the most profound ways that buying reviews can negatively affect your business by damaging its standing in the SERP (search engine results pages). As far as search engines go, Google is king. Approximately 92 percent of searches are conducted on Google, whereas, only around 3 percent are conducted on Bing and only 2 percent on Yahoo. This means that, if you want your website to show up at the top of the SERP, you need to make sure that your business is in its good graces, which means that each and every review should come organically.
If you’re unaware, you need to note that buying reviews for your business is against Google’s guidelines. According to Google, any reviews you get “should not be posted just to manipulate a place’s ratings. Don’t post fake content, and don’t post content for the same place from multiple accounts.” And unlike Yelp, which will add consumer alerts to fake reviews and the profiles for businesses that buy them, Google can actually take your listing down completely.
Google takes fake reviews seriously because their goal is to provide the best, most accurate results for their customers, and reviews a key part of doing so. The goal of buying reviews is increased visibility for your business, but buying them is a surefire way to eliminate your business’ visibility altogether.
#2. Buying fake reviews is illegal.
Too many business owners, buying reviews on Google or Yelp may seem like an innocent way to boost visibility, but many would think twice if they knew that it’s not only shady but against the law. That’s right, the FTC (Federal Trade Commission) sees buying reviews as illegal, and it could cost your business in a big way.
In 2013, 19 companies were caught by New York’s Attorney General and the FCC posting fake reviews and hiring others to write reviews for them. This initiative was called “Operation Clean Turf,” and it was designed to crack down on astroturfing. The name, “astroturfing,” comes from the concept of businesses buying “grassroots” approval for their business through fake reviews. At the end of the investigation, these 19 companies were ordered to pay more than $350,000 in penalties. Another company, Legacy Learning Systems, was accused of generating more than $5 million in sales by paying affiliates to post reviews for them online and ended up settling with the FTC for $250,000.
However, fines aren’t the only thing you have to worry about when your business is caught buying reviews. You can bet that consumers will get wind of the matter, and when they do, it sends the message that you’re buying reviews because you can’t get them on your own — not exactly a good look.
#3. Fake reviews are more expensive than you might think.
The vast majority of consumers will read around 10 reviews before making the decision to purchase a product or work with a business. And it’s enough just to have reviews; your reviews need to have been written recently — within the last two weeks — in order for people to truly trust them. That means that your business’ bottom line is dependent on your business’ ability to get new reviews on a regular basis, and buying reviews may seem like the only way to save it. But you should know that buying reviews costs more than you might think.
Businesses who offer to post fake reviews for other businesses know that they’re taking a risk, and you’ll most likely find that buying reviews won’t come cheap. The cost of fake reviews could be as much as $10 per review, and that’s nothing compared to the fees you’ll have to pay if your business ends up getting caught paying for reviews.
On the other hand, it costs nothing to earn business reviews organically! All you have to do is work hard, provide next-level customer service and be honest with your customers about how important reviews are for the success of your business.
#4. You can’t gain any insight from fake reviews.
Organic reviews are valuable for businesses in so many ways. They are like free advertising for your business, and they’ll help to convince consumers to take a chance on your services or products almost as much as word of mouth would. They also help to ensure that your business shows up at the top of the SERP, which improves its visibility and increases the amount of traffic your website will get.
However, there’s one other big benefit that comes from organic reviews — you can get valuable feedback that helps you make your business better. A successful business is geared toward satisfying customers’ needs and providing them with an unbeatable experience, but you can’t possibly do that if you don’t have any insight into how your customers feel about your business. Reviews can help you put your finger on the pulse of your customers’ thoughts and feelings, and without them, you’re left lost in the dark.
If you pay for reviews, you can’t possibly know how your actual customers think and feel about your business, and you can’t use their feedback to get better and, ultimately, earn more of their business in the future. That means that the likelihood is high that any organic reviews you do get will be negative because you haven’t had a chance to address the issues your clients have with your business, services or products.
#5. Fake reviews are easier to spot than you think.
Fake reviews can range in quality, from detailed, specific reviews that are super convincing to overly broad reviews that seem fishy from the get-go. While fake reviews can seem legitimate on the surface, with a little digging, savvy consumers can easily spot them.
For example, say someone has written a great fake review for your business, complete with a high-quality image and a detailed description of their experience. When taken at face-value, it’s hard to see the downside of this kind of review, but there are lots of ways that consumers — and Google — can spot a fake review, including:
- Doing a quick search into the reviewer’s previous posts – Either Kelly has eaten at 25 restaurants this week (and it’s only Thursday), or she’s getting paid by multiple restaurants to write fake reviews.
- Looking at the IP address – If someone has written multiple fake reviews from one IP address, Google will spot it.
- Watching out for false information – Sometimes, individuals and companies that write fake reviews for businesses don’t properly do their research and may end up writing false information that can easily be caught by consumers who are familiar with what you have to offer.
These are just a few of the ways that fake reviews are caught. Learn more by reading our previous article — How to Determine if a Review is Fake.
As you can see, fake reviews are easier to spot than many businesses might think, and when you’re found out, it won’t do any favors for your business’ online reputation. When your customers see that you’re buying reviews, they’ll start believing that you can’t get them organically and honestly.
Incentivizing reviews can easily be confused with buying them.
When most business owners think of buying reviews, they often think of people paying a faceless freelancer or company to write fake reviews for them. However, it’s not always that straightforward, and if you’re not careful, incentivizing reviews can quickly turn into or be confused with buying them.
A lot of business owners don’t realize that, when they enter customers in a drawing or offer future discounts in exchange for a review, it’s not so different than buying them outright, and Google will likely see them as one and the same.
For example, offering discounts or free products or services in exchange for five-star reviews is a black-hat tactic that is definitely against Google’s review guidelines, and it’s not so different than offering a discount for reviews in general from all of your customers. Both of these tactics are frowned upon by Google, but the difference is that bribing your customers to leave you five-star reviews could also be illegal.
Stop buying reviews, and start earning them with Top Rated Local®.
Buying reviews can seem like a quick and easy way to boost your business’ online reputation, hang onto more customers and attract new customers, but as you can see, the consequences just aren’t worth the risk. Regardless of whether your business is caught buying reviews by your customers or by Google, Yelp or another review platform, it will spell trouble for your online reputation.
That’s why it’s important to stop buying reviews and start earning them the natural way with the help of Top Rated Local. At Top Rated Local, we help to provide businesses and consumers with a more honest, trustworthy review sites where they can avoid the common online reputation pitfalls, including fake reviews, competitor reviews and more.
Are you ready to get started? Sign your business up with Top Rated Local today for free!