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We all know that the Internet is full of advertisements, but what some may not know is the fact that some advertisements pop up where you would least expect it. Where specifically? Online reviews.
Yep, manufacturers and companies actually manipulate reviews in a variety of ways right here on the Internet. It’s all about good press, of course. However, some ways are sketchier than others as you’ll soon be able to tell.
Some methods companies use are rather direct while others are a little more hands-off than others. Either way, you should know that it’s very important to investigate reviews while you are simultaneously investigating potential purchases.
Hiring SEO-Friendly PR
Public relations are a big part of any company, but in the modern age, you have to hire someone who knows what they are doing. For instance, most companies who are into the whole online review manipulation game hire such services which are heavy on search engine optimization (SEO). As some of you may know, search engine optimization is a key element when it comes to online promotion, and it’s one part chance and one part science.
According the financial service Mint, companies have made use of such services as far back as 2010. In Internet time, that’s like a 30 years, so that’s a pretty good while. Public relation services tend to identify already-existing positive reviews and articles about their clients and use various optimization strategies to elevate them to the top of search engines. So while poor reviews exist, they typically fall to the bottom of the pile.
You really can’t blame these companies for wanting only their good sides to shine. Besides, everybody has bad press, and sometimes it’s overdone. Even still, if you want to find legitimate reviews, it would be in your best interest to look beyond the first few pages of search.
Posting Fake Reviews
In case you didn’t know, companies post fake reviews. (Real shocker, eh?) No, we all know about those fake reviews out there: “FANTASTIC SERVICE, WOULD COME AGAIN – GREAT PRODUCT!!!!!!!!”
There’s not much of a way to claim this, but if you look around enough, you’ll find some copy-and-paste fantastic reviews here and there. Because of this, Cornell University created Review Skeptic, a site that is openly for “entertainment purposes only”.
The site came into existence after a study found that some hotels tend to publish glowing reviews about themselves all over the Internet. At Review Skeptic, you can copy and paste reviews on the site to verify if they are fake or not. Furthermore, if you know a review is fake, the site requests that you let them know — this helps save proper data for future usage.
Paying Off Consumers
Back in 2012, Time Magazine published an article about a company named VIP Deals which sold leather tablet cases for around $60. However, when potential buyers ran searches for the cases for their Amazon Kindles, an ad would pop up selling such cases for under $10 plus shipping and handling. In most circumstances, this would be considered sketchy. Guess what? It was sketchy.
Gullible customers took advantage of the offer, oddly enough, the cases did arrive, and as a matter of fact, they were legit – no cheap knockoffs. However, included in the packaging was a letter requesting the buyer to write a review on Amazon that also said, “We strive to earn 100 percent perfect ‘FIVE-STAR’ scores from you!”
Cool, cool. No problem here. There was a problem, though – this: “In return for writing the review, we will refund your order so you will have received the product for free.”
Yeah. Not cool. These things happen, folks.
Affiliate Reviews (We Don’t Do ‘Em, BTW)
Last but not least, there is the concept of affiliate linking. You may know about them, already. Consumers receive a custom link to a product from something like Amazon’s affiliate program, and whenever this link is clicked, they get paid a small amount. This is okay in some situations. For instance, if you were my friend, and you told me you were buying a product that I just bought, I could say, “Hey, do you mind using my affiliate link since I told you about the thing?”
Not too bad. What’s sketchy is when popular bloggers write amazing reviews about products, link to them, and then promote them on their website as if they are legitimate reviews. That? That’s a little wrong.
(As a note, at MakeUseOf, we’ve done a few sponsored reviews, but we make it clear that they are sponsored. We also don’t include affiliate links.)
Hopefully, the above notes will help you think about what you see about products you buy online. This isn’t necessarily an article that says, “BE PARANOID!” It’s more of an article that says, “Be thorough.”
What other ways do manufacturers manipulate reviews? Do you have your own tips to spot fake reviews? Have you ever based a purchase on a manipulated review and regretted it?
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