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What is review spam and why does it matter for your business?

By Will Stevens - August 21, 2017

Spam is all over the internet. From your inbox to your blog comments, it’s likely that you encounter spam on a daily basis.

And now there’s a new area of spam business owners need to be aware of – review spam.

In this article, we’ll explain what review spam is, why it matters, and what you can do to combat it.

Review sites are now a crucial part of doing business online. Research shows that 77% of people look at reviews before buying online.

People now use sites like Facebook, Google and Scoot to help them decide whether your business can be trusted. This alone should be encouragement enough for you to monitor and respond to your online reviews. But the existence of review spam makes it even more crucial that you keep an eye on what people are saying about you.

By doing so, you’ll be able to get spam reviews removed as quickly as possible.

What is review spam?

Spam reviews are reviews that are wholly or partially untrue, or that breaks the guidelines of the site on which the review appears.

Broadly speaking, review spam falls into two categories. The first is people who are trying to make their own business look good. The second is people who are trying to damage someone else’s business.

The motivation for the first group of people is pretty obvious they either want to make their business appear more popular, or they want to their business to rank higher in review site search results.

To appear more popular, the business needs to attract more positive reviews. It can do this by either paying for reviews that are 100% falsified, by incentivising people to give biased good reviews, or simply writing the reviews themselves.

If the aim is to rank higher in a review site’s search results, then sheer volume of reviews can help achieve this. So again, it’s a case of businesses reviewing themselves, offering incentives in exchange for reviews, or paying for fake reviews.

The motivations of people seeking to damage a business are more varied. It could be someone trying to damage the reputation of a rival business. It might be a former employee aiming to do harm. There are even cases of bad reviews being left as a form of protest.

In some instances, people who actually have used your business and had a good experience might leave a bad review in the hope of getting a discount, or refund. Or someone who has had a bad experience might go overboard and leave an abusive review, which violates the review site’s guidelines.

And of course, there’s a possibility that you may have accidentally solicited some spam reviews yourself. If you’ve ever asked friends and family who haven’t used your business to leave you a review, then it’s worth your while to treat these as you would other spam reviews. That goes for any review incentives you may have run in the past. If the review platform you use discovers you’ve done this (even without realising it was wrong) then you could be in trouble. Worse still, your customers might find out and your reputation may take a hit.

A warning

Now, some people may read this article and think that spam reviews can help them achieve positive results, and a better public image, but you should put any such thoughts out of your head immediately.

Although it’s possible for review spam to have a short-term positive impact on these things, it isn’t guaranteed. And more importantly, the costs of getting caught – the hit to your reputation, and the chance of your listing being removed from the review site you’ve spammed – are so high, that they could put the existence of your business at risk.

So don’t be tempted by review spam.

What about bad reviews?

Bad reviews that are a true reflection of a customer’s experience with your business can’t be counted as spam, no matter how tempting it may be to do so.

Responding to bad reviews is an important part of maintaining your business’s reputation, so make sure you try and put right any genuine problems that have arisen.

Of course, as we discussed above, people who have a genuine complaint may cross the line and violate the terms of the review site they’re using. But even then, you may want to decide to attempt to resolve the complaint rather than treating it as spam straight away.

How can I deal with spam reviews?

The first step to dealing with spam reviews is by making sure you regularly monitor the reviews you’re getting.

One way to do this is to set up a Google Alert for your brand name. That should help you spot any new reviews that are published across the web. Here’s what to look out for.

A rush of reviews

Most businesses will receive a steady flow of reviews, so if you notice a large influx of them, it’s a warning sign that someone may be leaving spam reviews. If you can’t think of an explanation as to why you’d get a sudden flux of reviews (such as a busy period) then you need to look into things more closely.

Emphatic language (one way or another)

If your reviews are excessively bad or good, then it’s possible they’re spammy. Don’t presume a review is spam simply because you’re described as “the worst business in the world”, but do treat it as a sign to investigate further.

The story of the review doesn’t add up

Does a review contain “facts” about a customer’s experience that sound either unlikely or impossible? This is another warning sign. Some instances will be obviously made up such as if a customer claims to have visited you on a day when you’re closed. Other claims may need further investigation. After all, if something has gone badly, you or your staff are likely to remember the customer in question.

A history of strange reviews

On some platforms, you can read all the reviews left by an individual. This allows you to quickly see if there are any suspicious patterns to their reviews. For example, do they leave reviews for businesses thousands of miles apart within a matter of hours? Or do they always review businesses in the same niche, and give one business five stars and all its competitors one star?

Obvious guideline breaches

Threats, abuse, or advertising another product are all obvious breaches of review guidelines and can be reported to the review platform.

Reporting review spam

Once you’re as certain as you can be that you’ve identified a spam review, or reviews, then it’s time to report it.

Reporting methods and guidelines vary from site to site, but it should always be easy to find the rules, and a way to report review spam.

In fact, most review platforms feature a report button under each individual review. That means if you’re using Local Listing from 123 Reg, you’ll be able to see and report spam reviews with just a couple of clicks.

What about reporting competitors?

Although it’s easier to monitor your own reviews, it’s also possible to keep track of rivals to see if they’re attempting to gain an unfair advantage over you.

You can use similar tactics to the ones outline above to identify potential review spam, and then report the reviews to the site in question.

The biggest downside of keeping track of competitors in this way is that it can be very time consuming.

So by all means keep an eye out for competitors who might be using spam, but don’t use up to much of your pressure time doing it.

Summing up

Staying on top of spam reviews is an important part of managing your business’s online reputation. Be on your guard and don’t let anyone maliciously damage your good name.

Equally, don’t be tempted to use any spam review techniques in the past, and if you already have, make sure you get those reviews removed.