For local businesses, especially in certain industries, third party reviews on sites like Yelp or TripAdvisor are absolutely crucial to the company's success.
In turn, this also affects the business's ability to show up at the top of Google search results for relevant terms.
You've probably noticed that there's a “map pack” at the top, and that when possible, you'll see a set of five stars indicating the average review for a business.
Not all reviews are legitimate.
To qualify as a real review, it must be created by a customer who was involved in a transaction with the company in question.
Real reviews can be negative or positive, and getting the occasional bad review is just part of running a business.
Some reviews are spam.
Basically, they're fake — often created by your competitors to make you look bad, make themselves look better, or otherwise “game the system” in their favor.
Unfortunately, review spam works, at least when it comes to Google and SEO.
In a recent blog post, Moz explains how to recognize review spam so that you can report it.
What is review spam?
A false review is one that misrepresents either the relationship of the reviewer to the business, misrepresents the nature of the interaction the reviewer had with the business, or breaks a guideline.
- The reviewer is actually a competitor of the business he is reviewing; he’s writing the review to hurt a competitor and help himself
- The reviewer is actually the owner, an employee, or a marketer of the business he is reviewing; he’s falsifying a review to manipulate public opinion via fictitious positive sentiment
- The reviewer never had a transaction with the business he is reviewing; he’s pretending he’s a customer in order to help/hurt the business
- The reviewer had a transaction, but is lying about the details of it; he’s trying to hurt the company by misrepresenting facts for some gain of his own
- The reviewer received an incentive to write the review, monetary or otherwise; his sentiment stems from a form of reward and is therefore biased
- The reviewer violates any of the guidelines on the platform on which he’s writing his review; this could include personal attacks, hate speech or advertising
All of the above practices are forbidden by the major review platforms and should result in the review being reported and removed.
How to spot spam reviews
Here are some basic tips:
A reviewer’s profile indicates that they’ve been in too many geographic locations at once. Or, they have a habit of giving 1-star reviews to one business and 5-star reviews to its direct competitor. While neither is proof positive of spam, think of these as possible red flags.
Numerous 5-star reviews that fawn on the business owner by name (e.g. “Bill is the greatest man ever to walk the earth”) may be fishy. If adulation seems to be going overboard, pay attention.
Over the course of a few weeks, a business skyrockets from zero reviews to 30, 50, or 100 of them. Unless an onslaught of sentiment stems from something major happening in the national news, chances are good the company has launched some kind of program. If you suspect spam, you’ll need to research whether the reviews seem natural or could be stemming from some form of compensation.
The sheer number of reviews a business has earned seems inconsistent with its geography or industry. Some business models (restaurants) legitimately earn hundreds of reviews each year on a given platform, but others (mortuaries) are unlikely to have the same pattern. If a competitor of yours has 5x as many reviews as seems normal for your geo-industry, it could be a first indicator of spam.
None of your staff can recall that a transaction matching the description in a negative review ever took place, or a transaction can be remembered but the way the reviewer is presenting it is demonstrably false. Example: a guest claims you rudely refused to seat him, but your in-store cam proves that he simply chose not to wait in line like other patrons.
If any individual or entity threatens your company with a negative review to extort freebies or money from you, take it seriously and document everything you can.
Obvious guideline violations:
Virtually every major review platform prohibits profane, obscene, and hateful content. If your brand is victimized by this type of attack, definitely report it.
In a nutshell, the first step to spotting review spam is review monitoring. You’ll want to manually check direct competitors for peculiar patterns, and, more importantly, all local businesses must have a schedule for regularly checking their own incoming sentiment.
For larger enterprises and multi-location business models, this process must be scaled to minimize manual workloads and cover all bases.
You can read more about fighting back against review spam over at Moz.
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