The power of customer reviews is undeniable. One of the first things anyone does after hearing about a new business is to look them up online to get a sense of their reputation. According to a Brightlocal Survey, more than three out of four consumers say they trust online reviews as much as personal recommendations.
On the flip side, how trustworthy can online reviews be when even major platforms are struggling to keep up with fake reviews?
A huge amount of energy, time, and resources are currently being poured into publishing misleading reviews intended to boost sales. For example, cybersecurity website Safety Detectives recently discovered a fake review operation that involved more than 200,000 people.
Previously, operation rings primarily used bots to generate mass amounts of fake reviews; it was automatic and convenient for them. Not to mention easier to spot since AI bots aren’t the best at grammar. However, software has since been developed to spot these fake review accounts, forcing operation rings to become more sophisticated.
As a result, fake reviews are even harder to spot. Operation rings recruit real live people to write statements praising particular products and then provide specific criteria they must follow to avoid detection.
Better Business Bureau, named as the site consumers trust the most in the same Brightlocal survey, complied tips on how to spot a fake review and what signals to look for in a high-quality, legitimate review.
Look for well-balanced reviews. Fake, misleading reviews tend to be extreme. They are over-the-top snippets that read more like a sales pitch by listing product features. A genuine review will often detail what they liked most about the product without using marketing jargon and provide feedback on what would’ve made their experience better.
Watch out for overly rave reviews, too. For example, 3/5-star reviews tend to be written by real people. Too many perfect five-star reviews tend to be a potential red flag.
Click on reviewers’ profiles. Fake review operations tend to recruit people to purchase products in exchange for 5-star positive remarks or also build more sophisticated bots that generate hundreds of reviews. Is the reviewer’s name too generic? Is the profile picture stolen (a reverse image search can help with that)? Does the reviewer have a reliable history with a wide range of experiences, or are they all perfect reviews?
Repetitive phrasing. Fake review operations will provide specific phrases and features they want their recruits to mention. If you see similar phrasing and the exact same features suspiciously mentioned repeatedly, that may be a group of fake reviewers.
Look for verified purchases. Verified purchases are badges posted alongside the review to confirm there was an actual transaction. While verified purchases can be forged if the reviewer was later reimbursed after “purchasing” the product, it’s still an additional layer of legitimacy. Not all verified purchases are fake.
Look for reviews on multiple websites. If you’re unsure whether or not to purchase a product, search for it on other website platforms. YouTube videos are a great way to hear in-depth reviews, especially since vloggers must disclose whether it’s a sponsored promotion to meet FTC guidelines. Cross-referencing will give you a clearer idea of how the business is performing across the board.
The Value and Differentiating Factor of BBB Reviews
When BBB receives a customer review, we have several safeguards in place to ensure the review is valid. In addition, we encourage all businesses, especially BBB Accredited Businesses, to respond promptly, be transparent and enhance their online reputation management.
But don’t take our word for it, here’s what SearchEngineLand has to say about the distinct value of BBB reviews.
“Unlike many review sites, including Google, they take the validity of reviews seriously. I do extensive manual monitoring of the data on the BBB and have found they are one of the most reliable sources of local business data on the internet. Like Google, the BBB also doesn’t accept listings using virtual offices or P.O. boxes and aims to represent the “real world.”
BBB's review process is unique; all reviews submitted through BBB.org are fully vetted by BBB staff to ensure an actual interaction took place between the business and consumer. We do this by ensuring the following:
- The reviewer must provide an email address, click to verify its legitimacy, and complete a customer review submission process.
- The reviewer must certify, by actively checking a box, that the review is truthful and accurate.
- IPs are tracked and monitored and can be blacklisted if necessary.
- Businesses can challenge the review if they believe there was no interaction with the reviewer. BBB will reach back out to the reviewer and request substantiation of the marketplace interaction.
- If a consumer files a complaint with the same email address about the same issue, the customer review is suspended. Consumers cannot submit both a complaint and a negative customer review.
These vetting procedures are unique to BBB, and both businesses and consumers experience an elevated level of protection when they communicate their experiences through our customer review program.