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September 24, 2015

Positive reviews being sold for just £4

A London restaurateur has revealed that scammers offered to post online reviews praising his business for just £4. As my company, Igniyte, has discussed extensively, fake reviews can wreak significant harm on your company’s online reputation.

£4 reviews

The Telegraph reported that James Lewis, Managing Director of exclusive London restaurant Gothier Soho, was recently targeted by a fake review scam. Lewis revealed that he was contacted by a fellow user of popular review site Yelp, who informed him that he needed to post positive reviews to generate business.

This led the fake reviewer, Suhayal Malik to offer to create a positive review for him, which would “surely bring in more profits for your business” for a £4 fee. Lewis turned down the offer, noting that he’s received four offers from fake reviewers in the last year alone.

Reviews and online reputation

Manage Reviews OnlineWhy did he turn down the offer? There’s a range of evidence to suggest that positive views can help company owners generate more business. After all, Igniyte’s ‘The Business of Reviews Report’ found that 75% of business owners say online reviews, comments and forum posts are vitally important to the financial and reputational status of their firms.

Essentially, consumers use online reviews to make purchasing decisions. A Bright Local survey conducted in 2014 found that 88% of consumers polled trust online reviews as much as personal recommendations. Because consumers see online reviews as trusted sources of information, so does Google. This means that online reviews often rank on the first page of a Google search for your firm’s name.

Chitika found in 2010 that the first page of a Google search garners 92% of search traffic. Therefore a customer is likely to see positive reviews when they search Google for your name. Conversely if you accrue negative reviews your firm’s online reputation will be significantly damaged. The Igniyte report mentioned above found that one in six firms believe that malicious reviews could destroy them.

Fake reviews

Yet Google prioritises trusted, relevant information and this is why Lewis turned down the offer. His experience with these scammers taught him that it’s quite easy to spot that the ‘positive reviews’ they write for businesses are fake. Lewis explained:  “the ones that are fake are pretty obvious, they are vague and don’t mention little details.”

Google and popular review sites such as Yelp are cracking down on fake reviews. They catch scammers out by asking certain questions, as Lewis noted, “they could also ask for reviewers to provide proof of their visit.” At best, paid reviews will be spotted and removed, and at worst, they’ll generate unwanted content e.g. press, social media activity, from dissatisfied customers, damaging your firm’s online reputation.

CMA guidance on reviews

The Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) has also cracked down on the business of fake reviews. With the help of Igniyte, they issued a report on their initial investigation which outlined how companies should manage online reviews.

This guidance is sorely needed, since the research Igniyte contributed to the report found that 51% of UK firms have been targeted by unfounded criticism/malicious postings in the past year. It further discovered that 20% of UK firms are now spending up to £30,000 per annum on dealing with reviews; a cost they expect to keep rising.

The CMA report offers advice to businesses to avoid any action being taken against them if they’re found to be in breach of the Consumer Protection from Unfair Trading Regulations (CPRs):

  • Businesses should not pose as a customer and write a fake review
  • Nor should businesses enlist a third-party to do just that
  • If you have a commercial relationship with a review site, this relationship should be disclosed on their website – and they should not be ‘cherry-picking’ positive reviews about your company and supressing the negative ones

You should avoid misleading consumers about the identity of reviews; specifically refrain from creating the impression that the review was written by a customer, as Suhayal Malik would have done for Gothier Soho.

Review management

Scammers are offering to write reviews for businesses because they’re a valuable reputational tool. Yet if you rely on fake reviews you’ll do more harm than good, which is why you should invest in review management if you want to cultivate a positive reputation online.

For more information on review management please contact me on tel: +44 (0) 203 542 8689 or email simon@igniyte.co.uk in complete confidence.

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