The Shocking Truth About Online Reviews
Have you ever wondered how authentic that online review was that helped you make the worst decision of your life? The world of online reviews is one of deception and has just been exposed in no uncertain terms as such. To prove how shady online reviews are CBC’s Marketplace set up a fake business identity based on a grilled cheese truck called ‘Cheesed Off‘. The fake company brand also had the tagline ‘come get fed up!’. This truck did not exist in any way, shape or form! CBC’s graphics team helped by drafting up a logo and a convincing Photoshopped picture of the Cheesed Off truck along with a bait website.
As a new business they need the help of professionals in internet marketing to quickly get the message out there. But what they find, as a small business starting up is deception with true cause for lost confidence in online review websites? Knowing that most consumers turn to review websites now to help gain trust, it would make sense to find a way to get reviews published on review portals for the fake grilled cheese truck. We don’t care if the reviews are real or fake, we just want them so people will have more buying confidence. In the hospitality industry restaurants and hotels have been known to thrive from the elite #1 Trip Advisor rating. But how easy is it to get faked reviews? That’s what this investigation was about to find out.
- The better your reviews ==> the more trusted you are==>the more customers you get
- Restaurants and hotels do see a marked improvement when star ratings or rankings are increased on popular review sites
How Easy is it to Make Fudged Reviews?
They take their business marketing collateral and a Photo-shopped picture of the truck to internet marketing resources they had found by searching Google.
The first company they contact promises lots of YouTube views for $30. Their current video view count was at about 40. Overnight the view count increased to over 12,000 from this faked count inflation.
This encounter was minor compared to what was uncovered about how deception can be purchased. It should be noted that Marketplace did a very convincing job of appearing like a legitimate business. Almost any marketing company would have taken the bait, but not many [I hope] would offer solutions like writing and submitting false reviews!?
Next, they research the web for people that will write fake reviews for websites like Google, Urban Spoon or Yelp. They stumble across a website that claims to do almost anything for $5. Through this website there was no shortage of freelancers around the world (including Canada) willing to do written and video reviews of any product without ever experiencing the product. The reviews that are artificially generated pass with flying colours. Very few review savvy people, when asked; ‘Can you tell the difference between a faked or real review?’ could distinguish the difference between faked or real.
What’s really troubling about this is competitors could be using these same people to present faked negative reviews. Because we have come to depend so much on peer review this could have tremendous negative impact on the bottom line. It is possible for your competitors to pay for negative reviews aimed at falsely discrediting your wonderful establishment.
Deception is a Product and We Fail Miserably at Detecting it
When an expert at deception was asked ‘How good are we [people] at detecting deception?’ he responded with about 50% of the time. That’s not limited to online, it includes everything we are presented with that depends on peer review for the final decision. There are companies that are taking action such as review skeptic that help humans determine the authenticity of reviews by a complexed text analysis. But you are still left to make the final decision whether you believe the review or the analysis.
Are Fake Reviews Fraud?
According to the New York Attorney General fudged reviews are fraud. The offending companies in their investigation included international and local companies. In Canada a company called Emizr Media Group Inc was found through Google search in CBC’s investigation. Their deceptive tactics of posting fake reviews as a service were flaunted on their website. Unfortunately they are one of countless other resources that provide fraudulent marketing services, casting dark clouds over the industry. Since the Marketplace episode aired on Nov 7, 2014 Emizr Media Group [AKA Danny Han] has removed their website. Hopefully other companies offering similar services get the message.
SUMMARY: Fake Reviews 4 Days After CBC’s Broadcast
There were 3 review websites where fudged reviews were published in this investigation; Google, Yelp and Urban Spoon.
Review Website Results
CBC did contact Google about the fake reviews and received this response:
To date the fake Google reviews remain:
Presumably this is because Google’s network is much larger than than Yelp or Urban Spoon.
Yelp and Urban Spoon results show they have completely removed listings and any reviews for CheezedOFF! How important is the integrity of our reviews? That’s a serious question every review website has to ask. Google seems to be the slowest to react by removing what is deceitful to the common web surfer. Even in their result pages Google’s indexed record of fake reviews can still be found.
This article was written using the CBC Season 42 Online reviews: Faking It Episode as a reference. It clearly shows how easy it is to cook the books in a negative or positive light using completely false reviews online. Online reviews are likely most influential in the hospitality industry, which is the industry I work in. It’s disturbing to learn some internet marketing companies publicly advertise fake reviews as a service offering. The consumer needs to be aware of this world of deception and the responsibilities of review website administrators to insure reviews are real. In this experiment we can see that Yelp and Urban Spoon took immediate action, while Google [the world’s most popular search engine] seems a little asleep at the wheel.
Who are the Bad Guys?
Most hardworking honest people would agree faked reviews are not a sustainable method of marketing. One could say it’s criminal! Who are the bad guys? The simple answer is supply & demand. In order the have a sustainable product there has to be a marketplace. Too many business people do not respect the web for what it was meant to be. That’s where the demand comes from. Plenty of internet businesses operate without a moral compass. That’s where the supply comes from and those are the two culprits.
Hopefully this article has helped you understand more about the truth in counting on online reviews to help make your decision. It’s not that all reviews are bad, it’s the fact some of them are and they may be the ones you take at face value.