Can you trust online reviews for local businesses?

In this 4-minute read:

  • Don’t be afraid of skepticism
  • How to tell if a review is fake
  • Why do people post fake reviews?
  • What’s being done about fake reviews?

The most common way to determine whether to shop at a new business is to look at their online reviews, whether those are from Google, Yelp, Facebook, or any other review platform. Sometimes, however, it can be difficult to tell if the reviews we read are real.

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We’ve all heard of businesses paying for positive reviews, and many people create fake profiles online. So, how do you know if you can trust online reviews for the local businesses you research? 

Skepticism about online reviews is good

First, don’t feel bad if you are skeptical of a particular review or set of reviews. Fake reviews do exist, so you need to trust your instincts, and skepticism is constructive for helping you sort out the trustworthy reviews from those that aren’t. 

There are all kinds of sketchy practices that businesses use to game the review system, so if you feel that something is off, it’s probably because it is. 

How to tell if a review is fake

It can be difficult to tell is a review is trustworthy, but it all comes back to that skepticism. Be smart and trust your instinct. Pay attention to these signs to see if something feels off about the reviews you are reading:

  • After not receiving reviews for months, there are suddenly 20 reviews within the span of 30 minutes
  • A huge influx of new reviews at the time a new product is released
  • Repetitive phrases throughout different reviews
  • Anonymous profiles with no image or with images that aren’t of real people
  • False information about the company

Read how to spot fake online reviews for a more in-depth look. 

You can also try browser extensions like ReviewMeta and FakeSpot to see what trust ratings they give to the reviews you read. There are tons of resources created to help consumers like you to find good, honest reviews.

Why do people or businesses post fake reviews?

Online reviews have a powerful impact on businesses. They can help local businesses rank better in the search engines (so they can show up in front of customers like you), and they also have a huge impact on converting new customers to their products and services. 

Most of us read reviews before opting into a new service or committing to a new product. And this is why there is such a huge emphasis on online reviews. Some companies will do anything they can to get your business, even to the point of buying or creating fake reviews. 

When a company posts fake reviews or pays someone to post fake positive reviews on their own listings, they are just trying to get you to buy what they’re selling. It’s a “black hat” tactic that goes against most search engines’ guidelines. 

Another type of fake review is when business owners or employees post fake negative reviews on their competitors’ listings to influence potential customers. This is also against most review platforms’ policies, and can create more confusion about the legitimacy of online reviews. 

What is being done about fake reviews?

With the amount of false information on the internet, is there even a way to trust any of the reviews that we read? Fortunately, the search engines and review platforms are dedicated to providing authentic experiences and they each have their own way of handling review scammers. 

Yelp and Google both have the ability for any of their users to report suspicious reviews for possible removal by the platform administrators. To learn more, see our complete guide to removing fake reviews, and help report false reviews when you come across them. 

In addition to the popular search engines and review platforms cracking down and trying to provide the best customer experience for their users, law enforcement and regulatory authorities are taking this type of false information seriously and have put laws into place to protect people from unjust review practices. 

Purposely misleading customers violates federal law and can be grounds for a lawsuit under the Lanham Act, which was enacted by Congress in 1946. The Lanham Act was put into place for trademark registration and protection, but it also covers deceptive advertising practices. 

In recent years, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) brought a case against fake paid reviews in which a company posted fake reviews on Amazon for a weight-loss supplement. This led to an investigation into their product and huge financial obligations. 

It is the goal of the FTC to protect and educate consumers, so there are guidelines and laws in place that require these online review platforms to subject to trustworthy practices. As the problem of fake reviews increases, the attention from regulatory authorities and review platforms is also increasing.

Should I just ignore online reviews?

Definitely not. Don’t discount all reviews because of the few that may be misleading. While it may seem there is a huge amount of deception out there, there are a lot of genuine reviews, too. You just need to know the signs to look out for and pay attention to the reviews that come from real profiles, with full names, and photos of real people. 

Pay attention to business owners’ responses on Google and Yelp reviews. These can offer you more insight into fake negative reviews and give you more information about how businesses treat their customers. 

Online reviews can tell you the good, the bad, and the ugly about the businesses you are researching, and that research is important for making sure you get the best customer experience possible. 

Real reviews are valuable to consumers and businesses

With more and more news coming out about the FTC and other organizations fighting fake reviews, most local businesses are trying to adhere to trustworthy review practices and provide their customers with feedback from real people. 

You can help contribute to the solution by sharing your own honest experiences with the businesses you come across. 

For business owners looking to get more honest reviews from real customers, consider trying a reputation management solution that will help you facilitate the process of managing all of your online reviews, all in one place, with one login. Learn more, plus get free reputation monitoring and customer insights when you sign up for Womply Free!

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