Why Fake Reviews are a Bad Idea

Behavioural research is big business.  Every year, millions of pounds are invested in customer research ahead of product launches.  Focus groups, customer panels, beta tests are all used, and all have a place in the product development cycle. The more a business knows about how the market will react to their product, the better they can align the features and benefits of that product with the target audience and ensure its success.

Things don’t always go right of course.  At the weekend, Apple, reverted to an older version of their Final Cut software because the newer version was apparently inferior – or at least it was perceived as being inferior.  That’s a rare mistake from Apple, but it’s not a rare mistake in commerce.  Businesses get things wrong all the time, and more this can have a severe impact on their bottom line.  While it’s easier to ask for forgiveness than permission, it’s generally less costly for an organisation to get things right than to make things right.

Before launch, it’s possible to revise the specifications, change the look and feel, and rename the product.  After launch, all you can do is wait for the reviews and hope for the best.

Review Sites

there’s an old adage that if someone likes a product, they’ll tell one person about it, if they don’t like it, they’ll tell 10.  That’s no longer the case.  If I like something, I’ll probably tweet about it or share it on Facebook.  That means that around 500 people will know.  If I don’t like something, I’ll do all that and post a review on something like Review Centre.

If I really don’t like something, there’s the nuclear option of creating a standalone negative website that I can optimise to rank for the name of the product so that when anyone researches the product, they’re going to see my blunt assessment of its shortcomings.

If you’re going to piss anyone off about low quality products, don’t piss off someone who does SEO for a living.

Faking Reviews

If you own a business, it’s really tempting to post some glowing reviews on the web as part of your marketing strategy.


Anyone who needs to write a fake review about their product is someone who is trying to paper over the cracks.  Someone who probably knows all about the weaknesses of their product from the initial focus group testing but couldn’t be bothered to rectify the mistakes.

That person thinks that by putting a few 5 star reviews online they’ll automatically convince users that the service is worthy of a 5 star review.

They’re wrong.

The only thing a fake review will do for customer confidence is erode it.  It will also wind up a customer with a legitimate grievances and increase the likelihood that they will take their complaint further.

Also, and this is worth thinking about, fake reviews are illegal under the CAP code for online marketing because they’re a form of marketing communication, and as such they are legislated for.  If you use them, and someone picks up on it and reports you, you’re going to get fined.

3rd Party Fake Reviews

This is also a problem for businesses.  Particularly from competitors.  Fake reviews written by 3rd parties can be positive or negative depending on the objective of the poster.  Perhaps they want to undermine the quality of your products with negative reviews; or given the CAP Code perhaps they want to try and create the impression that you’re writing fake reviews to promote your goods.

What You Should do

Knowledge is power.  Knowing what people are saying about you, good or bad, is as important as the pre launch work that goes into a product.  Set up social media tracking to review what people are saying about you, regularly research the bigger online review services like Review Centre, and set up RSS feeds from Google Blog Search that will inform you when ever someone writes a post about your products.

Keep on top of what people are saying and take notice of it.

If your products are poor, improve them.  Listen to what people are saying about you and act on it.  Market research should never stop at launch, in fact it should never stop. If you treat customers cynically, they won’t be customers for long.  If you feel the need to lie about what you sell then maybe you shouldn’t be selling it.  You’re operating in an age where feedback is instant and the average consumer can share their negative experience with hundreds or thousands of people immediately, rather than simply telling a couple of their friends.

2 replies on “Why Fake Reviews are a Bad Idea”

  1. Interesting post. 3rd Party fake reviews are an interesting development.
    People are both paying for 3rd party reviews and paying to have them removed.

    However your article doesn’t consider the possibility that a consumer might not realize a review is fake and may still be confident in it. I think you give people too much credit!

    A very recent study in Cornell showed that people have a no better than 50/50 rate of spotting fake reviews.
    Havent got a link but it came out in the last month.
    Their software, however catches 97% apparently. Interesting all the same.

    (I work in the industry, in reputation management and in clearing these fake reviews)

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