How to Spot Fake Reviews

Writing Style

Pay attention to the language/grammar. Often the same person is faking multiple reviews, so there will be noticeable tone similarities, spelling errors, etc.

Unnatural Language

This falls in with keywords, but reviews written internally or by perhaps a family member often don’t come across as natural. Rarely would an unsolicited review use words like honest, trustworthy, timely, etc. all in one review. If you get the feeling the review looks more like a promotional statement, it probably is.

Formatting

If a company is writing their own reviews, they are eventually going to fall into a pattern. Look at how the review is formatted, the amount of words, intro/body/closing. If you see a number of reviews on the page that look similar, this should raise red flags.

Review Submission Dates

How close are reviews being written? It is highly unlikely that one company will have 5-7 people writing reviews on them in a single day.

Keywords

The use of specific industry related words often indicates that they were written by marketing companies trying to boost web presence. I.e., homeowners will very rarely use keywords like mentioning specific paint brands or key phrases like “video camera drainage inspection in Vancouver.”

Company Size

Think about how large the company is – for example if they are a small roofing company (1-2 trucks), it is unlikely that they would have been able to complete 300 roofs in one year, let alone get 300 homeowners willing to write reviews.

Review Locations

Reviews concentrated on only one platform should also raise flags. You should look at a company that has their reviews spread out across multiple sites. Some sites do not verify reviews for accuracy and other site may have found loopholes or ways to manipulate posting guidelines. You should be suspicious of any company that has dozens if not 100’s of reviews on one site and only a handful on other sites. For further on this see our post on how your good reputation can hurt you.

Duplicate Content

Another way to check reviews is to take a review, copy it or a portion of it and post it directly into the Google search bar. Now this is less relevant today as it was a few years back but many companies using review writing services were primarily just using a templated comment that was used over and over again. Searching for the content of that review in Google would often show the same or all too similar testimonials posted on multiple sites for multiple different businesses.

Similar Reviews

Look for multiple similar reviews written by the same person. Some renovation review sites like HomeStars run promotions for homeowners to write reviews and receive an incentive like a gift card. You can click on the reviewer’s profile to see other reviews that have written. If you see multiple reviews written for companies in a similar vertical, that may be an indicator that they are fake. (How many driveway paving companies would you use in one year?) The reviewer may have used two if it were because they fired one of them then you wouldn’t see two glowing reviews would you?)

You should never base your hiring decision off what you read on one site. “If it’s on the internet is must be true” never should be your fall back excuse. As with any decision that involves parting with hard earned money, research must be done checking references, building licenses, BBB ratings, online reviews, builders associations, etc. should all be done to form an overall opinion of the shortlist of companies you are looking to hire.

Why are there fake reviews?

Why is it important to learn how to spot them?

Much has come to light in the last year about positive reviews, fake reviews and their impact on local businesses and brands. Amazon launched a lawsuit against companies using fake reviews and inflating the popularity of certain product on their site. Yelp, also accused of having many fake reviews, has taken the proactive approach of suing companies for buying fake positive reviews.

Home services businesses and contractors stand about as much to gain (or lose) on the quality of their reputation, so it is no coincidence that there are a lot of fake reviews being written both for and against companies online. Some of the bigger sites in Canada like HomeStars, and TrustedPros get a lot of traffic by homeowners when searching for reputable companies to deal with and as such, they need to and have taken steps, to weed out the fake reviews on their site. Canada’s largest site, Homestars.com, has come under fire in the last year for some of the shadier client listings and has homeowners upset over reviews on their site. As such, they have implemented another round of checks and balances on their site to ensure their reviews are trustworthy.

Knowing how to spot potentially fake reviews is important. No matter how good these companies get, you will never be 100% certain that these reviews are authentic. The CEO of HomeStars, Nancy Peterson, was on CanadaAM recently talking about ways to spot fake reviews on HomeStars. While well intentioned, there was much to be further communicated about ways to spot fake reviews that go much further than just the presentation of their profile.

Peterson stated in the article that about 15% of the reviews on her site are likely fake. To clarify, of all the reviews submitted they flag 15% as fake, many more can slip through the cracks. The number of fake reviews on the site can never be accurately accounted for. In the case of Yelp they estimated 20% of their reviews are fake.

Here is traditionally how people have encouraged less than authentic reviews on sites like Yelp, HomeStars.com or Facebook (ConstructingU does not condone or recommend the use of any of these methods):

  • Asking Friends and Family for Reviews
    Many businesses have asked friends and family to write reviews on their business, even if they have done work for them. These reviews are very hard to track because they will all have been written by different people on different computers with different IP addresses. A review site could take the further step of requesting an invoice, but if it’s the reviewer’s brother’s company they are writing the review for, how hard would it be to get that invoice?
  • Cash Rewards for Reviews
    A business may incentivise their clients to go and write reviews on their company. So they directly incentivise the client (i.e. gift cards) or indirectly by entering the reviewer into a monthly draw. How many people when given a $50 Gift Card are going to leave a negative or less than perfect rating?
  • Purchasing Reviews Through Third Party Services
    Some sites offer review writing services and for a fee they will post positive reviews on sites like Yelp and HomeStars. You can go to sites like Fiverr.com and blatantly purchase review gigs for $5.
  • Writing their own reviews
    Tech savvy individuals have been known to bypass reviews filters and post reviews to their own profiles. Although this technique is very challenging to accomplish in high volume, it is not impossible to do with a little knowledge on how IP addresses and browser header information works.

 

Ms. Peterson’s HomeStars interview on CanadaAM on how to identify fake reviews suggested that a consumer should trust companies that have:

  • Expanded detail and descriptions (paid listing)
  • Pictures (paid listing)
  • Previous reviews of the company (free or paid)
  • A business licence and insurance (paid listing)

Not surprisingly, these are characteristics of listings with upgraded profiles.

The reality is, however, that paid listings on that site are much more likely to be ones faking reviews than their non-paying members and here is why:

HomeStars is such a significant site in the Toronto area that many contractors have gotten to the point where they cannot afford to leave. They have put all their eggs in one basket, and if the site were ever to go down, it would be catastrophic to their business. There is pressure to stay up near the top of this site’s search results. The only way to do this is to have new, positive reviews published regularly. Much like Google search rankings, the majority of leads are going to go to the first couple of spots. It is near impossible to tell how many contractors fake reviews, but given the potential loss of revenue a company may face by losing a spot or two on their rankings, the temptation is real (and frankly, legitimate) – especially if they suspect (or know) that their competition is doing it.

Another interesting aspect is this: HomeStars itself directly incentivizes homeowners to write reviews on their site in exchange for gift cards or contests to win expensive products. There are numerous postings on RFD (redflagdeals.com) sharing this as “a deal” when their promotions go live. This causes the site to get flooded with 100’s of new fake reviews from people looking to score $10 Starbucks cards for 5 minutes of work. These reviews are posted with no malintent, yet false nonetheless.

 

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