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March 22, 2016

UK government cracks down on fake online reviews

Reports in the news recently suggest that the UK government is considering making it illegal for people to post fake online reviews.

This further emphasises the importance of taking an organic approach to your company’s online review management, both to avoid misleading the consumer, and to avoid any risk of your business being financially and reputationally penalised.

Trusting others’ opinions

Figures quoted by The Telegraph suggest that roughly 25 million people in the UK, over half the nation’s adult population, use review sites such as Expedia and Amazon to find the best deals online. It’s becoming increasingly important for British companies to harness the power of online reviews to drive turnover.

Customer ReviewsA 2015 report from Reevo, a content generation company, shows the power of consumer reviews. Half (50%) of consumers polled said that they trust reviews more than any other form of product recommendation. Therefore, Reevo found that websites containing user reviews are 3.2 times more likely to convert sales than those without reviews.

Combatting fake reviews

Increasingly, consumer trust in online product recommendations has led to the rise of fake reviews. UK government consumer agency The Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) says that consumers who research hotels, books and other purchases online are being misled by millions of fake reviews orchestrated by businesses to misdirect potential customers.

The CMA estimates that collectively, UK consumers waste £23 billion per year due to fake reviews. In recent times, the Authority has started implementing measures to combat fake reviews. For instance, the CMA recently took action against online marketing agency Total SEO and Marketing Ltd.

They found that the company had posted more than 800 fake reviews on behalf of 86 small businesses across 26 different websites between 2014 and 2015. Total SEO and Marketing Ltd has since agreed to stop posting fake reviews. The CMA has also written to the agency’s clients to warn them that letting a third party post fake reviews on their behalf is illegal.

Furthermore, the CMA has released an investigative report which lists how businesses should follow consumer laws concerning online reviews. The authority also revealed the courses of action they will take against any website or firm found to be in breach of these regulations.

Governmental action

The UK government’s Department for Business Innovation and Skills (BIS) has now indicated that it could implement further policies to tackle fake reviews. The same Telegraph article cited above reports that the BIS is currently considering whether to make the posting of fake reviews online in the UK illegal, as well as imposing fines for breaking this law.

Whitehall is also considering whether it should make companies improve the terms and conditions listed on their websites, which it warns can often be “complicated and extensive.” Research from the consumer group Which? looked into the terms and conditions for travel and car insurance. They found that some policies were more than 38,000 words – longer than Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet.

Commenting on Whitehall’s plans to introduce new consumer protection rules to combat fake online reviews, a BIS spokesman said: “We are looking to enhance competition by creating more engaged consumers that demand better deals from businesses. Consumers need to understand what rules will apply to a transaction as a result of the terms and conditions and when they may be challenged.”

Cultivate organic approach

Increasingly, reviews are becoming a vital component of business marketing. They allow your company to build a positive reputation which gains consumer trust, potentially driving sales. Yet I would advise you to avoid fake review strategies. They attract unwanted attention from online consumer forums and publications that could damage your reputation.

Ensure that your reviews are totally organic. You should implement measures that persuade customers to review your business of their own volition e.g. provide a space on your company’s website for reviews. Google values relevant content so if you implement an organic review strategy, consumers will leave positive reviews which rank on the first page of Google for your company’s name.

Considering the fact that the vast majority of users only look at the first page of a Google search, this strategy will ensure that your firm develops a positive reputation online.

Think of your company’s reputation

Companies should refrain from posting fake reviews online. This can have a damaging effect on your brand’s image with consumers and if the BIS goes ahead with its plans to make posting fake reviews online illegal, could result in significant fines. You should adopt an organic approach to review management to ensure your business develops an image as a trustworthy company online.

For more information on online reputation management or review management please contact me on +44 (0)203 542 8689. You can also email me at simon@igniyte.co.uk in confidence.

 

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