January 8, 2012

Spotting Fake Reviews on the Web

I just did a google search to find auto repair shops in my home town.    I was pleasantly surprised when the google results had two shops which both had pretty good reviews with >4 out of 5 stars average.   But then I read some of the reviews and they just seemed ... suspicious.   

Almost all of the reviews were 5 star reviews, they had a first name but no last name given and the comments were very positive but usually pretty generic in nature.   I clicked on a couple of the reviewers and noticed that two of the reviewers both reviewed mostly the same set of companies.     Then I noticed that most of the reviewers had submitted reviews for various businesses in multiple states shortly after one another.     If you believe the reviews then one reviewer went to a Moms fitness club in California, had a car towed on Colorado, hired a plumber in Toledo Ohio and then got their office AC fixed in Australia and finally got some keys replaced in New York, NY all within a 7 day period.    I think not.

Unfortunately there are folks out there that pay for fake reviews.  This article at Trak.in captured an image of an ad hiring people to write reviews.    I think that most of the reviews on the internet are legitimate but you do have to be on guard for some fakes.  

Some red flags to look for :

1. Lots of 100% positive reviews.   Of course a good product or service can have good reviews but its also a potential sign of fake reviews.   Pay attention to the distribution of ratings that the reviewers give.   If >90% of the reviewers give 100% rating then that may be a little too high.
2. Generic language.    A normal review will likely touch on some specifics and note some details.   Fake reviews are more likely to be widely generic in nature.  The reviewers are not real customers so they can't talk with first hand experience so they can't be too specific.
3.  Overly happy and positive language.  Repeat positive adjectives in multiple reviews are a possible sign of fakes.   If every reviewer gives five stars and makes sure to point out that the company is honest, thorough and fair then that may be more than coincidence.
4.  Perfect English.    If nobody ever makes a spelling error, has good grammar and fixes every single typo then that is probably not real.   GO read an average webpage with random people making comments and you'll see lots of spelling and grammar errors. 
5. Randomly Generic reviewer Names.    If all the reviewers have fairly random generic names then that may be suspect.   When many people pick a username on the Internet they will choose some sort of nickname or pretend name.  Everyone doesn't simply go by their common first name.   Reviews from Veronica, Mike, Luanne, Matthew and Terry are a little more suspect than reviews from "J. Armstrong", "RoyRoyRoy", "David Price" and "Colorado123".
6. Multiple reviews within short time period.    If almost all the positive reviews are spread over a short period then this could be a sign of fakery.  

Once you see a few red flags you can do a little more digging. 

Investigate the individual reviewers a little more.  Click on the reviewer names.   Fake reviewers are going to give all positive reviews.   If they were normal real people then there would be several less than positive or negative reviews.    If you see a lot of reviews on widely various products or businesses in far flung places then this is suspect.   If the red flags above are consistent in all the reviews then that further puts them in doubt.    If the reviewer has 20+ reviews that are all 5 out of 5 stars spread across various states then they are probably not a legitimate reviewer.

Check other review sources.     Rather than only look at Google results, also check Yelp, Bing, Yahoo, etc.   Do a google search for products or services and the word 'review' to find more review sources.


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