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“User reviews” are actually a pretty recent phenomenon. Before the prevalence of the Internet, user reviews were called testimonials, and you’d only see them on TV commercials and product pages. Nowadays, anyone can write anything on any product – and there’s no filter for what you can say. Enter the problem of fake and falsified user reviews.
If you spend any time researching products and services, you’ll run into a fake review. It’s inevitable. Yelp, Amazon, Google Reviews, Newegg. Go anywhere and you’ll see them all over the place. “But Joel“, you say, “I read a lot of reviews and I’ve never seen a fake one.” Oh, but you have!
That’s the kind of sentiment that truly proves the dangers and problems of fake reviews. They’re so hard to distinguish from real reviews. Fake reviews damage the integrity of the reviewing system and can mislead consumers into buying something they otherwise wouldn’t have bought.
So how do you spot fake reviews? Here are some of the biggest red flags that may signify a falsified review. Just to be clear, if you see one or two of these flags, the review may still be genuine. However, if you see a lot of these, then there’s a good chance of it being fake.
Extreme Emotions & Tone
If a particular review skews in one direction in an extreme way – whether it’s way too supportive or way too criticizing – then you should be aware that the reviewer did not write that review with a genuine heart.
If a review says nothing but good things, then the person likely has blind loyalty for the brand or they’ve been paid to write good reviews on the company’s behalf. Either way, these reviews aren’t going to help you very much. Nothing is ever perfect in the world of real reviews.
Similarly, if someone has nothing but bad things to say, they may be on a campaign to slander or defame the product or company. If everyone is saying bad things, that’s one thing, but if the general consensus is good and someone gives a 0-star rating with vitriol, then be skeptical.
Personal Details & Anecdotes
If I had a dime for every review I read that said “this product changed my life“, I’d have enough to retire right now. Testimonial reviews are often – but not always – fake, mostly because people don’t really talk in testimonial mode unless they’re specifically endorsing a product.
But along those same lines, watch out for reviews that come in story form. “My husband and I were out grocery shopping when we decided to stop by the local Best Buy and WOW! This TV immediately caught our eye!” Yeah, no. Those are the kinds of reviews that people write to tug at your heartstrings and make you more open to buying the product.
Unusual Sentence Structure
Unusual sentence structure comes in two forms: the perfect grammar type and the foreign language type. Neither of these are inherently bad, but if they go to the extremes, then they can be indicative of a paid review.
When the review sounds like it was written by a professional writer and uses awkward phrasings that you’d normally see in a product description – like “this program integrates seamlessly with my other programs” – then there’s a good chance that it was a paid review to make the features seem awesome.
On the other hand, when a review tries to be professional but undoubtedly falls short in spelling and grammar, then you may be looking at an outsourced review. Yes, some companies will pay freelancers in the third world (mostly China, India, and the Phillipines) to talk up their products in user reviews. Keep an eye out for them.
Excess Sarcasm Or Humor
This may be obvious, but sometimes it’s hard to tell when a reviewer is genuinely being funny or when they’re just writing a bogus review as a joke. Basically, if the review has nothing of substance in relation to the actual product’s purpose, then feel free to ignore it.
In fact, as a general rule, if a review wanders off topic from actually describing the product, then flag it as a fake and move on. You may skip over some genuine reviews by doing this, but you’ll end up saving yourself a lot of time.
What Can You Do About Fake Reviews?
Fake reviews are like pornography: it’s hard to create an exact description of it, but you’ll know it when you see it. Even knowing the warning signs of a fake review, it can still be tough to spot one – so here are some good habits you should form to protect yourself from being burned by them.
- When looking for reviews, check out reviews from multiple people. When using Amazon, for example, read 1-star reviews, 5-star reviews, and reviews in between. Get a general feel for what people are saying and throw out the outliers.
- Don’t rely solely on user reviews. Sure, it might seem like user reviews should be more genuine than professional reviews, but not when fake reviews are taking over. Professionals have an ulterior motive with their reviews, but at least most of them know what they’re talking about. If user reviews line up with a professional review, then you know you’ve hit the jackpot.
- Seek out reviews from multiple sources. Don’t just look at the big-name review spots like Amazon, Yelp, Google, CNet, etc. Find as many reviews as you can. The larger the sample size that you can put together, the more accurate of a picture you’ll be able to see.
- Report fake reviews when you see them. Some sites, like Yelp, have built-in features that allow readers to alert the admins when you come across a fake review. Not all sites have this option, though, so you may need to contact the site’s support team.
- And lastly, you can help other people by writing reviews of your own. If you buy something online, leave a review! Whether you liked it or not, whether the item had a big price tag or not, write your opinions for others to read. If we all start writing more reviews, then we all benefit in the end.
Have you had any experience with fake reviews? How do you spot them? Let us know in the comments.