You might be aware of how important online reviews are, but did you know online reviews can change 67.7% of purchasing choices?
Customers use online reviews to help them determine if a business or product is trustworthy. Positive reviews have become key for the success of businesses.
But online reviews aren’t always generated in an honest way. Creating fake online reviews for businesses has become its own market.
Some companies have been in the practice of hiring a third party to write positive reviews for payment. This might be alarming to you (or not), but are fake reviews illegal?
Keep reading to learn about the legal and ethical implications of purchasing online reviews!
Are Fake Reviews Illegal for Businesses Today?
All businesses want positive, genuine reviews online. But are they allowed to pay for them? According to the Federal Trade Commission, reviews must be authentic and credible.
The FTC has also noted that businesses who engage in online reviews should not write, generate or publish fake reviews. This means the FTC holds businesses accountable for practicing fair and equal generation of reviews.
Websites that receive reviews might use different algorithms. These will help them determine if reviews or comments are fake. Writing negative reviews on a competitor’s website might also be caught by these algorithms as fake. It is also possible to face litigation for generating fake reviews.
So if you’re looking to buy online reviews, you could be subject to penalties from this government agency. But despite the implications, fake reviews can improve ratings and product reputations.
These positive ratings affect purchasing decisions, and this is often a numbers game of getting the most reviews. So businesses might be weighing the pros and cons of engaging in this activity.
But is it a good business decision to pay for online reviews? Other than legality issues, are there any other implications?
Is it Harmful to Business to Pay for Online Reviews?
Each site that accepts online reviews has its own business practices and rules. Google, one of the top sites for reviews, says that it’s against their terms of service to pay for reviews. They refer to this as a conflict of interest.
Additionally, to protect the value of their own site, they believe reviews are most valuable when they’re genuine and not biased. Yelp and Angie’s List have similar policies. Yelp is also requesting business owners don’t request reviews at all (even from actual customers).
It’s also not recommended to leave ghost reviews for your own business. These can be flagged fairly easily if you’re creating a fake alias.
Google could delete your review or remove your business listing altogether.
Also, if a customer is angry with your business and they suspect your reviews are fake, they may call this out in a negative review. All this means losing your customers’ trust and credibility. Recovering from a damaged reputation is a difficult task for a business to take on.
So if the potential outcomes of paying for fake reviews don’t appeal to you or your business, you might consider some alternatives.
Alternatives to Paying for Reviews
Without directly paying for fake reviews, businesses can still find ways to generate more reviews from real customers. Some owners choose to offer a discount or free deal if a customer leaves a positive review. Some debate the ethics of this type of practice, but it falls within the gray area of the legal system since these are actual customers.
Another way to generate more reviews is through email campaigns. Businesses can include instructions for how to leave online reviews and where they’d like the client to write them.
The same practice can be done through social media. So if a business has a large following, they can leverage this to request online reviews.
You can also choose a more direct, in-person approach. This can include signs in your store or restaurant inviting customers to let you know about their experience. Having an up to date strategy is key since many customers check the dates on reviews to make sure they are recent.
Engaging with reviewers also helps you get more positive reviews. If someone who is thinking about buying your product sees you engaging with reviews online, they might also leave you a positive review.
Even if you receive a negative review, it could serve as a chance to improve your business practices. Generating lots of reviews will also balance the positive with the negative.
Engaging with negative reviews can be equally beneficial. It will give you the opportunity to invite the customer to return or for you to resolve their issue. Have a professional tone and approach to these responses to continue to reflect your business in the best light.
Generate Positive and Real Reviews
If you started this article wondering, are fake reviews illegal? The answer, according to the FTC, is yes. But there are alternatives for generating more reviews online.
Focus your efforts on creating a campaign to get customers leaving your business or engaging with you online to leave you a review. Keeping a close eye on all your reviews will help you to respond and keep track of them.
To avoid the potential outcomes of paying for fake reviews, focus on generating real reviews. Some negative reviews might appear in the process, but they can be used as a lesson for improvement.
Real reviews are extremely beneficial for your business, so create a reviews strategy that works for your business!