How much do fake reviews hurt or help my business?

In this 6-minute read:

  • How to spot and remove fake reviews
  • How much do bad reviews (even fake ones) really impact small business revenue?
  • Why negative fake reviews are less damaging than you think
  • How fresh reviews correlate with increased small business revenue

Your business’s online reputation does have a real-life impact on your bottom line, even for small, local businesses. For this reason, and because online review sites have taken the place of word of mouth in the 21st century, many business owners panic when they find fake or negative reviews, and try to remove negative reviews on Yelp, Google, Facebook, and TripAdvisor.

What people say about your business online matters, and you should care about what your actual customers are saying about your business. Online review platforms are a great way for business owners to get feedback from the people they serve.

But how much might fake reviews (negative or positive) actually help or hurt? Let’s see if we can shed some light on that.

Take control of all the online conversations happening about your business with reputation management software. Learn more, plus get free reputation monitoring and customer insights when you sign up for Womply Free!

How to spot and remove fake online reviews

Before we get into the impact of review on your revenue, let’s talk about how to tell if a review is fake. Everyone gets upset by legitimate, negative reviews, but you shouldn’t have to put up with fake ones. If you’re concerned a review might be fake, there are a few things you can look at:

Lots of negative reviews that came in around the same time

Sometimes, even if the first complaint is legitimate, a disgruntled customer might get their friends and family to all leave negative reviews—even if they’ve never patronized your business.

Duplicate complaints or content

Sometimes, a bad actor might create a bunch of fake review-site accounts to allow them to leave false reviews, but they typically don’t have the smarts to write unique content each time. So if you see a lot of reviews with the same or similar wording, this can be a red flag.

Spam contained in the review

Sometimes competitors, scammers, or paid shills will leave reviews for your business and then include a link or words recommending another business, or even malware-ridden sites. These can usually be easily spotted and flagged as spam.

Anonymous review profiles 

Sure, some people like to keep their online profiles anonymous for reasons of privacy, but lots of times the fake ones try to slip under the radar by using anonymous accounts. Fake accounts typically don’t upload a photo, or if they do, they’ll use an emoji or cartoon to make it seem more personal. This paired with an obviously fake name can a bad sign.

False reviews left by mistake

Sometimes reviews simply don’t make sense. Occasionally a customer will leave a review for the wrong business by accident. Their intended recipient of the review may have a similar business name, or perhaps it’s a franchise business and they intended to review one particular location. If you feel a review is obviously in error, you should flag it for review and possible removal by the review site admin.

attractive woman confused looking at phone

If you are highly skeptical of review or have definitive evidence that one is fake, most online platforms have a way to report or flag reviews. Just be careful about doing this too often, because your account can be suspended if you are unjustly flagging reviews simply because you don’t like them.

The bottom line is, if a review is probably legitimate, there’s very little chance it can be removed, even if it’s very negative.

However, if it meets the criteria of a fake review and/or breaks the terms of use, Google, Amazon, Yelp, and other review platforms will review your “flag this review” report, and if they find that the review breaks the rules, they will remove it. This can take several weeks, so don’t expect the review to disappear immediately.

Learn more here, including a step-by-step walkthrough for flagging/removing fake reviews on Google and Yelp: The complete guide to removing fake reviews.

So how much do fake reviews help or hurt a business?

Now that we’ve talked about how to spot and flag fake reviews, let’s talk about how much you need to worry about them in the first place. The truth is, people are getting pretty savvy about spotting fake reviews, so fake positive reviews will be treated with skepticism and fake negative reviews probably won’t hurt you that much.

Womply’s research study on the impact of reviews on small business revenue showed that:

  • Businesses whose reviews are 0-5% negative earn less than those whose are 90-100% negative
  • Businesses whose reviews are 15-20% negative earn 13% more in annual revenue than businesses whose are 5-10% negative
  • Businesses whose reviews are 35-50% negative still earn close to the same as the average business

Have a look:

remove yelp reviews

It may seem strange that businesses with zero negative reviews earn less than poorly-rated businesses, until you consider what an absolutely pristine, 5-star review rating might mean to potential customers. 

When you search a business online and you see nothing but 5-star reviews, what do you think? Well, the data suggests that people may be wary of these businesses, potentially doubting the legitimacy of the reviews, or questioning the credibility of the business.

What’s more, if you do business in the real world, you WILL get some bad reviews. Some people are simply not going to be satisfied no matter what, and will blab about it online. That’s just a fact of our increasingly online life. Truly 5-star-rated shops are often those that are new, unproven, and may not be doing a lot of business yet. 

Here’s another way to look at your star rating compared to potential revenue:

remove bad yelp review

Note that businesses with star ratings between 3.5-4.4 make the bulk of the revenue. So to sum up, Womply’s study data suggests that even if fully HALF of your reviews are negative, you may not need to stress out as much as you thought—if you’re taking steps to get fresh reviews. Which brings us to our next point.

ANY fresh review is good for business (and real ones matter most)

Another key data point the study illuminates is that “fresh” reviews (good or bad) are more valuable than old, positive reviews. Of course, fake reviews (good or bad) can be hard to spot in some cases, and if they don’t meet certain criteria, they may be impossible to remove. However, our study suggests that you should be more concerned with getting a regular supply of legitimate reviews (good or bad) rather than stressing out about the occasional negative and/or fake review. 

As you can see below, businesses in the study without any reviews within the past 90 days (known as “fresh” reviews) earn 20% less than the average business. Getting more than the average number of fresh reviews, on the other hand, correlates with a 52% increase in revenue.

remove yelp review 2

Potential customers may put a premium on recent reviews and be more likely to spend money at shops with more fresh customer feedback.

In other words, any review posted within the past 90 days is valuable and correlates with increased revenue for small businesses—regardless of whether the review is “good” or “bad.”

Save time and do more with online reputation management software

Of course, working to spot and flag fake reviews, get fresh customer reviews, and managing those reviews on multiple review sites takes a lot of time—time that many small business owners simply don’t have.

Reputation management software can be a big help in this regard. Womply’s small business software collates all your reviews from all the relevant review sites, and allows you to read, reply to, and manage them in one place with one login. 

You can even set up auto-replies if you so choose, and depending on the software package you select, use email marketing to build customer loyalty and encourage repeat visits from your best customers.

With Womply you can also get total visibility into your customer interactions, local competition, and business revenue trends so you’re never caught off guard. Learn more, plus get free reputation monitoring and customer insights when you sign up for Womply Free!


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