Spotting Fake Reviews and Why to Avoid Them

Two weeks ago The Consumerist put out an excellent article on how to spot fake online reviews.  A week later, after enlisting the help of their shrewd reader base, they compiled a list of 30 additional symptoms of online review fakery.  Both pieces are superb and deserve a full reading, but here are a few highlights that stood out to us:

  • The reviews are all left within a short period of time of each other.
  • Reviewers names are all variations of one another, i.e. happykat1234, happykat7593, happykat6687.
  • Reviewers have no other reviews on the site.
  • Multiple reviews that are exactly the same.
  • The reviewers say the entire name and model of the product over and over.  This is often a sign of a cheap attempt to game search engine results.

To help illustrate these points, we set out to find a few offenders.  As it turned out, we stumbled upon a single profile that flaunted all of these conventions.  Can you guess which one?

limo chicago

If you guessed Chicago Limo aka Nightstar Limousine Inc, give yourself a pat on the back.  Let's take a peak inside and see how blatant these fakes really are.  Below is a sampling of 5 reviews:

fake reviews

  • All five reviews are left on the same day, May 21, 2009.  In fact, even more reviews were left on this date, but my screen was not big enough to capture them all. 
  • Reviewers "kylem" and "lawlawmya" both leave multiple reviews, they don't even bother creating variations of their usernames.
  • Duplicate reviews appear twice.
  • Every single review uses the business name, Nightstar Chicago Limo, twice.
  • Finally, if we click through to each reviewer's user account we find that all three shills have never reviewed anything but this specific Limo company.

The fakes do not stop here.  A full perusal of this business' profile reveals almost nothing but fake reviews.  Is this the limo service's doing?  It is impossible to conclude with certainty, they may simply be victims of a spam campaign created to make them look bad.  However, few people are likely to give them the benefit of the doubt, myself included.  Regardless, they are on the front page of Google, while other companies, whose profiles are not packed with fake reviews, are not.  

So, why aren't we all packing our profiles with fake reviews?  We offer four reasons why you should avoid this practice:

  1. First, and most obviously, fake reviews just look bad.  What good is getting found on the first page of a Google search if your profile is met with nothing but disgust?  Nightstar Chicago Limo may very well be a dependable limo service, but many prospective customers probably aren't willing to find out, as they have no interest in hiring a company that might engage in manipulative business practices.
  2. It is hard to write a fake review that goes undetected by everybody.  People are getting wise to fake reviews.  These two pieces by The Consumerist detail more than 30 symptoms of a fake review.  Can you write a fake review that avoids ALL of these pitfalls?  Furthermore, are you confident that your fake review will fool everyone?  It only takes one astute person with a loud voice to expose your review as a fake.  Are you cleverer than him?
  3. It's a waste of resources.  Do you have any idea how much time goes into crafting a good fake review?  First, you must register an account. Then, in order to make your account look legitimate, you must spend some time building up your account by reviewing other businesses.  Finally, after enough time has passed (so it doesn't look like you opened the account just to review your own business), you must craft a review that avoids all the telltale signs of a plant.  All that work for a single fake!  And, if you want to pump multiple reviews into your profile, be prepared to repeat this arduous process many times, carefully spacing your fakes out over time to avoid bunching the reviews around a single date.  Oh, and don't forget to keep reviewing other businesses with all the accounts you are juggling.  It would be mighty suspicious if many accounts started going dormant immediately after reviewing your business, don't you think?
  4. You can't fool Google.  Here at EZlocal, whenever someone leaves a review, we log their Email address and IP address.  You can be absolutely certain that Google collects this information as well.  Google also has a way to track much of your browsing history.  If you visit Google, or a Google subdomain, or a site that hosts Google Ads, or if you just navigate to a site using Google search, they take note.  They already use this information to custom tailor advertisements to you.  It's only a matter of time before they put all these pieces together and snuff out all the fake reviews, too.  And, when Google does drop the hammer on fake reviews and fake reviewers, are you prepared to accept the consequences?  Google controls the search results; can your business survive if you are never found in an online search again?