From spammers to competitors to your former employees or customers, there are numerous sources of fake reviews — and motivations for writing them. Whether it’s an angry worker who wants to hurt your business, a competitor trying to steal your customers, a dissatisfied shopper trying to “get revenge,” a bot spewing out lines of spam, or simply a reviewer who has confused your business with somebody else’s, you need to be prepared with the right review response strategy. This article will show you how. In it, we’ll discuss:
- How to identify fake reviews
- How to handle fraudulent or malicious reviews
- How to respond to reviewers who have you confused with another business
3 Tips for Identifying Fake Reviews
It isn’t always obvious whether online reviews are fake or legitimate. Here are three tips to help you to tell the difference:
- Look beyond the review and check out the reviewer. You should be wary of brand-new accounts, accounts with few “likes” or “helpful” votes, and accounts with little (or no) past activity. You should also be suspicious if similar-sounding usernames appear across multiple accounts that have rated or reviewed your business. For example, if you receive one-star reviews for multiple locations from a single reviewer, you can be reasonably confident the reviews are fake — especially if the timestamps show a string of back-to-back submissions.
- Remember, fake reviews aren’t always negative. You can often identify fake positive reviews through traits like repeated grammatical errors, such as the overuse of exclamation points, and “keyword stuffing,” such as packing a review with repetitive tech specs or product features. You’re unlikely to receive fake positive reviews, which tend to be more of an issue when business owners write (or purchase) them for themselves. This strategy, known as “astroturfing” or “review boosting,” is not only likely to backfire on your business — it can also have serious legal consequences.
- Be suspicious of copycat reviews. If you receive a string of similar reviews, it’s possible they could all be coming from the same author. But what do we mean by “similar”? Here are a few examples of traits to watch out for:
- – Each review is roughly the same length
- – Each review complains about the same issue (such as “disrespectful staff members” or “terrible parking experience”)
- – Each review uses similar language (such as “disgusting,” “horrible,” or “unprofessional”)
- – Each reviewer uses a generic name
Keep in mind that some review platforms will officially “verify” reviews that meet certain criteria. For example, according to ApartmentGuide.com, “Reviews will be certified by the apartment community to ensure the resident is active and that the content is not inappropriate.” Based on that statement, it’s reasonably safe to assume that reviews from ApartmentGuide.com are trustworthy and genuine.
Unfortunately, not all of your business reviews will come with these sorts of assurances. If you think you’ve spotted a fake review, here are some tips on how to proceed.
Dealing with Competitors, Spammers, and Unhappy Customers: How to Handle Fake or Malicious Reviews
Whether written for their own businesses or against others, fake reviews are a violation of Google policy, which explicitly sets forth the following: “Examples of disallowed practices include, but are not limited to: Reviewing your own business. Posting content about a current or former employment experience. Posting content about a competitor to manipulate their ratings.”
Every reputable review platform enforces a similar policy. Here, for example, is a screenshot captured from Yelp…
…and another from TripAdvisor.
You get the idea. As each of these sites makes abundantly clear, fraudulent reviews are strictly prohibited and subject to removal — regardless of whether they’re positive or negative.
This inevitably brings up an important question for business owners: If a review is fake, are you still obligated to respond?
The answer is yes — but perhaps not for the reason you think. The target audience of your review reply isn’t the fraudulent author, but rather, all the authentic consumers who are browsing your reviews. After all, as one BrightLocal survey revealed, “When looking at consumers that read online reviews for local businesses, 96% also read businesses’ responses to their reviews — with 40% saying they ‘always’ read the responses.” The purpose of your response is not to engage the fake reviewer, but to show other readers that you conduct your business with courtesy and professionalism. In other words, your response is an opportunity to demonstrate that consumers can trust and rely on your brand. To write more effective replies to your online reviews — fake or otherwise — we recommend exploring our articles on:
- – How to Respond to a Negative Review
- – How to Respond to a Positive Review
- – How to Respond to a Neutral Review
With that in mind, you always have the option to flag and report reviews that you believe violate a platform’s policies — of course, being careful to follow the rules and procedures for that particular site. Here, for example, is how to request a review removal on Google. As you’ll notice, there are different standards and rules for review removal on Yelp.
A final word of caution on this point before you proceed: While there’s no issue with asking a review platform to remove a review that violates the TOS, you should never ask the reviewer to edit, delete, or apologize for their comments. Even if you believe that the reviewer has acted in bad faith or intentionally lied, asking for (or demanding) retractions will make your business look disorganized, defensive, and unprofessional. If you’re concerned about issues like libel, slander, or defamation, you should speak to an attorney — not get into public confrontations with your reviewers.
Dealing with Honest Mistakes and Mix-Ups: How to Respond to Reviews from Non-Customers
Not all non-customer reviews are malicious. Honest mistakes happen, and, just as a customer can dial the wrong number, they can just as easily review the wrong business by accident. For example, this might occur if you share a similar name with another business, particularly if you’re both located in the same geographic area. It can also occur if you operate a multi-location franchise, in which case the reviewer might have two of your branches or offices confused with one another.
It’s often easy to tell when this has occurred due to giveaways like naming an employee who’s never worked for you, or referring to a city outside of your service area. But in the absence of clues like these, how can you differentiate a sincere-but-mistaken review from a fraudulent or malicious review? Here are a few tips that can help you tell the two apart, enabling your team to determine the appropriate response strategy.
- The more detail and specificity the review provides — for example, names of employees (“Michael is extremely rude”) or descriptions of interactions (“He misled me about the cancellation fee”) — the less likely it is to be fake.
- A neutral or ambivalent review — for example, “Friendly service but unfortunately was too noisy for us inside!” — is unlikely to be fake, since it expresses both positive and negative feedback about your business. The more extreme an opinion, the less likely it is to be genuine. Of course, you should never assume a review is fake solely because it expresses a strong opinion — and if you are dealing with a genuine 1-star review, here are some tips on how to respond.
- Remember to look beyond the review and check the reviewer’s public profile. If they have an older account and/or have submitted multiple reviews in the past, they’re probably a genuine reviewer who has just made a mistake about your business name or location.
If you think the reviewer simply has your business or location mixed up with another, here’s how we recommend dealing with a case of mistaken identity:
- As always, you should start by greeting the reviewer in a friendly tone. If they provide a name or nickname, be sure to include it in your response.
- After setting a friendly tone with your greeting, thank the reviewer for taking the time to share their comments with your team.
- Empathize with the reviewer by apologizing for their negative experience — or, if the review is positive, by telling them how much you appreciate their feedback.
- It’s always an unpleasant surprise to learn that you have the wrong number, and the same is true for customers who are trying to reach a business online. Let the reviewer down gently by politely suggesting they may be mistaken, without resorting to angry, accusatory, or argumentative language. You can explain that you do not have an employee by that name, do not have a franchise in that location, do not have a record of the customer’s transaction, or any other relevant circumstances that will help the reviewer understand your position.
- Encourage the reviewer to follow up if they have any concerns, which will help reinforce your public image as a brand that values courtesy. Otherwise, it might appear to review-readers as though your business is trying to dodge or pass off responsibility for a problem — even if that objectively isn’t the case.
Request a Demo of Our Review Response Service for Agencies and Brands
Don’t have the time or team to respond efficiently to your reviews? Then let our experienced response scribes handle the writing work for you. Through our innovative review reply service, Shout About Us supplies customized and original responses to all of your business reviews, enabling you to prioritize other tasks while you effortlessly deliver great customer service.
Emily Homrok is a freelance copywriter with more than seven years of writing experience. She joined the Shout About Us team as a content strategist in 2020.