Savvy marketers and business owners know how valuable customer reviews are. It’s tempting, then, that for a few bucks on Elance, Craigslist or Fiverr, you can recruit an invisible army of ‘customers’ to populate your profiles on Yelp and Google+ with 4- and 5-star reviews.
It’s quick, it’s easy, and it makes your business look good, right? What could possibly go wrong?
To be blunt, everything.
Sure, you may experience some temporary benefit in the form of a burst of new business and the confidence that comes with your new five-star status. But over time, a wall of fake reviews will not only destroy your reputation, but possibly the business itself.
Here are five reasons why you should never buy or solicit fake reviews.
1. Review sites will catch you
Many review sites have filters designed to catch and publicly shame businesses soliciting fake reviews. The reviews you’ve spent hard-earned money to generate will inevitably be filtered out — and your page will be flagged to notify potential customers of your practices.
2. Your readers will catch you
Your customers are more alert than you think. Even if the review site doesn’t filter out your bought reviews before they see the light of day, readers can sniff out fakes pretty easily – and they may mention their observations in their own review.
Why? Fake reviews sound, well, fake. It’s nearly impossible for an Elancer in Bangalore to comment authentically on the cleanliness of a Texas restaurant’s bathrooms. When they see that your reviews don’t line up with reality, prospective customers will lose interest in spending their money with you.
3. It’s tough to fix a reputation for lying
Having fake reviews is worse for your reputation than having bad reviews or no reviews at all. Consider it: would you rather be viewed as a flawed business or a dishonest one? It’s much easier to repair a reputation for slow service than for lying to your customers. Simply commit to improving the speed of your service and word-of-mouth will take care of the rest over time.
Get caught lying, and your customers will find it difficult to trust you again.
4. Authenticity builds trust
Real reviews – even negative ones – make your review profile appear more trustworthy. Remember, your review profile is an extension of your business as much as anything else. An honest and authentic reflection of your business will naturally build trust, regardless of a little less-than-glowing feedback.
5. Fake reviews are fraud
In a notorious case in 2011, the FTC fined Legacy Learning Systems $250,000 for hiring fake reviewers.
And in 2013, a firm named Glowing Reviews was forced to shut down after settling a lawsuit from Edmunds.com, the automotive research company. For $25/month, Glowing Reviews would send out fraudulent, well, ‘glowing’ reviews to major review sites like Yelp, Google+, Foursquare, and Citysearch. The settlement also required them to divulge their business practices to Edmunds, who would use the information to seek out and litigate against similar companies going forward.
The takeaway here: just don’t buy fake reviews. It’s illegal, it’s bad for your customers and prospects, and it’s bad for your business.