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Stephanie´s Ramblings - Cheating the Game: Fake Reviews and “Astroturfing”

posted on 9 October 2013 by Stephanie Bogue

The Game

The game is e-commerce.  It is you versus all of your competitors at once. The playing field is the internet and the fans are your customers.  They are either rooting for you with positive reviews or against you with negative ones.  Needless to say, it is tough out there.  When a business receives a negative review, it can sway the outcome of the game.  And vice versa, when a business receives positive reviews, well then it could win the game of sales or popularity.  There are many games throughout the years and it is difficult to stay in the top tier.  But, what if the games are rigged.  What if people have been paid off to write either negative reviews about your competition or glowing reviews about your business?  In the world of e-commerce, this behavior is called “astroturfing” and shows its face in the form of fake reviews.  Many businesses have resorted to cheating the review system and the trend has only gained intensity since customer reviews provide such a heavy impact on the success or failure of an online business.  

I don´t think it is a secret that most fake reviews are submitted to popular review sites (like Yelp) and business comparison platforms.  The reason for this and the problem, in my opinion, is that these review systems are a bit flawed.  Basically, anyone that opens an account can leave a review, whether or not they were an actual customer.  So, the review sites have become the middleman between you and your disgruntled customers. The idea behind these review websites was to be neutral and transparent. Sounds good, right?  However, all the power then belongs to this middleman, the review site, as to what to do with the positive or negative reviews.  The horror stories can begin here for businesses as I have heard of instances where bad reviews put a bullseye on your business as a potential customer to these review websites to hide or move negative reviews for a monthly fee.  And, with the great influence review sites have over the general population, many potential customers turn to them and make decisions on what they see there.

Fake Reviews

But, back to the more basic problem, your business has negative reviews. What can you do about it?  

Many businesses have turned to the dark side when faced with negative online reviews.  They have either attempted to flush out their negative reviews by creating fake accounts and posting fake positive reviews or damaged the reputation of competitors with fake negative reviews or both. Some do this themselves while others hire out and pay to have this kind of work done for them.  And many businesses, both big and small, have resorted to this cowardly behavior.   

Unfortunately, it doesn´t stop there.  The SEO companies have also given into lesser business practices. Since e-commerce has boomed, SEO consultants and companies have also.  My initial thought was great, there are experts out there to help, right?  I was surprised to read a recent article where 19 businesses (most of them SEO companies) were busted in a New York sting operation for solving the problem of negative reviews by either writing fake ones or hiring people to do it for them (read more here).  

I guess the silver lining here is that there are operations and organizations at work to expose “astroturfing” and heavy fines were slapped on the companies that provided fake reviews as a remedy to dealing with a negative review problem.  Even the review sites are tightening up their belts as they attempt to filter out suspicious reviews (read more here). However, I find it interesting that both fake reviews and trust in customer reviews are on the rise together.   


My advice is to manage your own feedback system yourself or with a reliable third party and learn how to manage negative feedback.  If at all possible, try to ensure only your customers are able to review your service. This is your real bread and butter.  Review websites are popular and do have a huge impact on businesses everywhere, but I wonder if their power and influence will begin to dwindle as the problem of fake reviews only gets worse.  For now, the best way to deal with review websites is to create a vendor account and login to make comments on both negative and positive reviews you that are there.  This shows you are actively listening and responding.  In the big game of maintaining a thriving and growing business, transparency and playing by the rules of customer feedback will take you far.   



Stephanie BoguePermalinkKommentare 0
Tags: customer reviews, fake reviews, seo, sem, negative review, negative reviews, fake review, marketing
Views: 240


Stephanies Ramblings - Your Customer´s Two Cents: Online Customer Reviews and How to Manage

Posted on 15.08.2013 by Stephanie Bogue

I have written and read hundreds of customer reviews and even worked in the business of collecting customer reviews for websites.  And still, I am always fascinated and a bit surprised when I realize that I just bought a book online, or booked a reservation at a restaurant or a hotel for a vacation based on online customer reviews.  I do not know any of these people and I have no idea where this review came from; however, after I read between 5-10 medium to very happy customer reviews and see an overall 4-5 star rating for the business, I usually feel pretty comfy clicking the checkout button. 

When I was working in the customer review business, someone explained it to me like this.  Imagine you are standing outside of two stores, one is advertising how great they are themselves and the other one has a bunch of people outside talking and chattering about how great it is.  Basically, is it more credible to broadcast how good your business is yourself or is it better to let your customers do it for you?  I always thought that was a great way of explaining what customer reviews do for your website.  Word of mouth has withstood the test of time as the best way to attract customers. I think it is safe to say that online word of mouth has been translated into customer reviews. So, if you do not collect customer feedback, now is a great time to start.

A few options on how to collect customer feedback

Manage feedback internally:

Testimonials:  In my eyes, customer testimonials are an old fashioned, small business way to communicate customer experiences.  Although a bit outdated, I believe these contribute to the positive image of an online business.  A good experience from a number of your customers that is posted on your website will build trust among new browsers.  My biggest word of advice here is to keep it fresh.  So often, I see testimonials posted from 2 or 3 years ago.  So, it appears you asked for feedback once, and that was it. 

Customer feedback system:  With the right planning and tools, you can also manage your own customer feedback system.  It is important to think about how you will collect the feedback and what will work for your business.  Make it easy!  Customers do not want to receive a four page review link or take more than a minute or two to share their experience.  Keep it simple when it comes to how to leave a review.  Remember, most of the time, only people that have had a negative experience will want to speak up.  Make it easy for those that have had a positive experience to leave reviews as well.  Think about how you will deal with negative reviews.  Is it better to display them and comment below on the action taken to remedy the situation or will you go another route?  And last, broadcast your feedback across all channels possible.  Keep in mind, undertaking the task of managing your own feedback system will require some manpower on your end. 

Using an Independent third party to collect reviews: 

This is a great way to go if you have the budget for it.   A small investment here can have significant ROI.  Depending on the size of your business and what your needs are, these companies determine a cost per review or a monthly fee.  There are a lot of options out there so be sure you find the company that suits your needs best.  If you have a Google Adwords campaign, look for a customer feedback service that can integrate the reviews into your Adwords for the seller ratings and yellow stars.  Essentially, this option is best if you are working on search metrics such as SEO, SEM, and collecting a larger number of reviews.  Almost all have social media integration. 

In the end, no matter how you choose to do it, it is vital for your online business to collect feedback from your customers.  The advantage is that you are more in control and aware of what is being said about your business.  Consumers are aware that no business is completely perfect.  A perfect 5 out of 5 rating can be suspicious and a few negative reviews are forgivable, especially if it is obvious you took steps to resolve the problem.  Collecting customer reviews is a great way to make this all visible to your clients, and believe me, they want to see it!

Christin SchmidtPermalinkKommentare 0
Tags: stephanie bogue, stephanies ramblings; online customer reviews
Views: 753



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Wie immer
24.09.2013 14:11
Danke für den lexikalischen Hinweis
05.09.2013 18:03
Grosses Potential - Für mehr "anfassbaren E-Commerce"
05.09.2013 10:48
05.09.2013 09:15

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