Can You Pay for Positive Reviews of Your Business? (And More Importantly, Should You?) 

online review management

Online reviews are more important for businesses today than ever before. As of 2020, less than half of consumers surveyed — only about 48% — would be willing to use a business with a rating below four stars. In fact, about 12% would be unwilling to use a business with a rating below a perfect five stars. Meanwhile, 94% of consumers said they were “more likely to use a business” that had positive reviews in 2020, up from 91% of consumers in 2019. Aligning with this trend, 79% of consumers now “trust online reviews as much as personal recommendations from friends or family,” up from 76% the previous year. 

The bottom line? Consumers trust online reviews — and they don’t trust brands with poor ratings. (After all, when was the last time you were enticed by a gadget or restaurant that only had a 3-star rating?) On the flipside, positive reviews can help attract business, build trust in your brand, and, as our blog has discussed in the past, even help boost your local Google rankings (as confirmed by Google here). Reviews can also shed light on ways that you can improve the customer experience, providing actionable insights that can help your business thrive well into the future. 

While different surveys provide different stats, the data always paints the same picture: good reviews are essential for good business. The question is, how do you get good reviews? 

The correct answer is to provide an outstanding product or service, then follow up with your customers by requesting honest feedback, which Shout About Us makes seamless and automated. Unfortunately, there are some businesses that try to take shortcuts by following a different approach: paying for positive reviews. While that might seem like a foolproof strategy for success, paying for good reviews can actually hurt (or even destroy) your business. If you’ve ever felt tempted to buy 5-star ratings, you may want to read this article first — unless you’re prepared to pay a hefty fine to the FTC! 

online reputation management

3 Reasons Why You Should Never Buy Positive Reviews 

It’s a question we’re asked frequently: “Should my business buy good reviews?” 

Technically, you can pay for positive reviews — but we strongly recommend that you don’t, since you could be breaking the law. Neither does Google, Yelp, or Facebook, or, for that matter, the Federal Trade Commission, which “put hundreds of businesses on notice about fake reviews and…misleading endorsements” as recently as October 2021. 

Our response scribes will come back to that story later as we delve into some of the arguments against fake reviews — along with the potential risks for brands that choose to use them. But for now, let’s get started with our first reason… 

#1: Google, Yelp, and Facebook All Prohibit Fake Reviews  

Fake or paid reviews create a positive bias that erodes trust and undermines authenticity, defeating their original purpose while misleading other consumers. Since they inherently contain inaccuracies and lack credibility, incentivized reviews are prohibited by all reputable review platforms — which happens to be number one on our list of reasons to avoid them! Here’s what Facebook, Yelp, and Google each have to say about fake or purchased reviews: 

  • – Facebook — Facebook broadly prohibits “fraud and deception,” which it categorizes under “violence and criminal behavior.” To quote its Community Standards directly, Facebook “remove[s] content that purposefully deceives, willfully misrepresents or otherwise defrauds or exploits others.” Additionally, under the section “integrity and authenticity,” Facebook also bans “spam” and “inauthentic behavior.” (Earlier this year, for example, Facebook removed a whopping 1,600 groups that were “trading fake reviews.”) You can read a detailed overview of any of these policies by visiting Facebook’s Transparency Center
  • – Google — “Spam and fake content” are expressly prohibited per Google’s terms of use. To quote one support page, “Your content should reflect your genuine experience at the location and should not be posted just to manipulate a place’s ratings. Don’t post fake content, don’t post the same content multiple times, and don’t post content for the same place from multiple accounts.” Reviews that engage in any of these practices fall under Google’s definition of “prohibited and restricted content.” Finally, a separate Google support page bluntly states that businesses should not “selectively solicit positive reviews from customers.” 
  • – Yelp — Yelp bans fake reviews in extremely clear language. As the platform explains, “Offering payment for reviews is against our policies because it artificially inflates ratings,” which not only misleads consumers, but is also “unfair to businesses that work hard to earn ratings and reviews honestly.” Yelp may flag incentivized reviews (or other prohibited content) with prominent consumer alert messages, which the next section discusses in more detail. 

#2: Your Account Can Be Suspended, Deleted, or Flagged with an Alert 

Remember how we said that Facebook, Yelp, and Google all prohibit fake reviews? If that alone isn’t enough to deter you, here’s the second part of that equation: the penalty. If you are reported or detected (which is likely to occur), your account and/or fake reviews may be suspended, removed, or deleted, costing your business money by making it harder for consumers to find and learn about you. Additionally, some review platforms may notify site visitors that they should treat your reviews — and your business — with extreme caution. 

Yelp, for example, utilizes five different types of “Consumer Alerts,” which warn users about accounts that have engaged in harmful, suspicious, or prohibited conduct. Yelp uses the “Compensated Activity Alert” (pictured below) specifically to indicate when businesses have paid for good reviews, with its Support Center explaining, “We place a Compensated Activity Alert on business pages when we receive evidence that someone is purchasing reviews. This alert will generally be removed from the business page after 90 days if the offending behavior stops.” 

yelp reviews

#3: You Can Be Sued, Fined, or Prosecuted by the FTC 

Facebook, Yelp, and Google are only the tip of the iceberg. When it comes to penalties, the Federal Trade Commission may be your bigger concern. 

The FTC is a government organization that enforces a wide range of consumer protection laws, such as the Identity Theft Act and Fair Credit Reporting Act. In its own words, the FTC “protects consumers by stopping unfair, deceptive or fraudulent practices in the marketplace,” such as harassing debtors for repayment, making false claims about a product, or — you guessed it — paying for good reviews. 

The FTC is aggressive about investigating (and in some cases, even prosecuting) businesses that allegedly violate consumer protection laws, such as 15 U.S. Code § 45, which broadly bans both “unfair methods of competition in or affecting commerce,” and “unfair or deceptive acts or practices in or affecting commerce.” How aggressive? As recently as last month, the FTC issued notices to more than 700 companies alerting them that “they could incur significant civil penalties — up to $43,792 per violation — if they use endorsements in ways that run counter to prior FTC administrative cases.” 

According to the FTC’s press release, the businesses targeted include “an array of large companies, top advertisers, leading retailers, top consumer product companies, and major advertising agencies,” suggesting that no brand or business is “too big” to escape FTC sanctions. As Samuel Levine, Director of the FTC’s Bureau of Consumer Protection, was quoted as saying in the press release, “Advertisers will pay a price if they engage in these deceptive practices.” And, at least in this case, that price could be as high as nearly $44,000 per violation. 

Does Your Agency Need a Review Generation, Reputation Management, or Review Response Service

Positive reviews can have negative consequences if they are fake or fraudulent. Not only can your search visibility and rankings plummet, you could even find yourself on the receiving end of a lawsuit.  

The legal and financial risk simply isn’t worth the reward — especially since there are safer solutions that your business can leverage instead, like industry-leading review generation services by Shout About Us. Our review generation process is simple and transparent, providing you with peace of mind that you’re in compliance with Yelp, Facebook, Google, and all other business review platforms. 

To learn more about how Shout About Us can help you generate reviews ethically and effortlessly, read about our three-step review generation process, or ask for a demo of the services we offer. In addition to automated review generation and white label reputation management, we also provide a review reply service that matches your clients with our professional response scribes, available 24/7 to provide custom responses to all of your clients’ ratings and reviews. 

Discover why Qebot, V Digital Services, 411 Locals Business Services, and other agencies trust Shout About Us for review response, generation, and management. Contact us online to get started and move your agency forward today. 

 

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