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How to spot a fake customer review

Published on Wednesday 22 October 2014 in The Shoestring Marketing Blog

How to spot a fake customer review

The grass may look greener……but check it's not astroturf

You can buy pretty much anything from the comfort of your own sofa now. And when you are shelling out for a big ticket item like a van or something else for your business, naturally you want to find out about who you are buying from. Of course, the best recommendation you can get for a company is word of mouth from someone you can trust. But when you don't have that luxury, most of us head for on-line customer review sites to get a feeling for a company. It's no big surprise then that many unscrupulous companies are paying people to write fake internet reviews about their products or services - sometimes known as 'astroturfing', to make their company appear better than it is. But how do you spot a fake review? Here's our guide to help you sort the wheat from the chaff:

Beware of poor English

Many black market reviews are written overseas by freelancers who don't speak English. If a review sounds like it has been translated from a foreign language, it probably has. Give more credence to reviews written in well-constructed and grammatically correct English.

Manipulating Google…..and YOU!

A major reason why people write fake reviews is to manipulate Google's search engine results. By using lots of references to their company and the products they are selling within a bogus review, they aim for their company to be listed before their competitors when customers use a search engine. If you see this type of review written then it should stand out that it has been written for two reasons; Firstly to manipulate Google and its search results, but secondly and much more unforgivably, to manipulate YOU and YOUR buying decision!

Here's just one example of the Search Engine Optimisation led fake reviews we have seen recently:

"The team at **** * Vans really understand the needs of van drivers. I wasn't precious about which van or manufacturer I wanted but I knew I needed a new van for my business. I spoke to one of the team in length about my specific requirements and decided on a new Peugeot Partner van because of its size, price and load capacity. I would definitely recommend **** * Vans to my colleagues."

Concrete evidence

More trust should be given to reviews that give in-depth analysis of a product or service. If a review is too abstract it might suggest that the reviewer hasn't ever experienced the product. Have you ever reviewed a product or a company that hasn't even delivered your order yet?

"I can't wait for my new Citroen Relay van to arrive. I've looked at the brochure and it comes with all the features I need."

Or would you go to the bother of writing a review for a company or product you bought two years ago?

"I bought a new Volkswagen Transporter from ****** Vans a couple years ago and it is still going strong. I haven't had any problems with it and it has always been reliable. This is definitely a van I would recommend."

Ab Fab!

Your red flag should be raised when you read over-effusive reviews with lots of exclamation marks. Not many products and services are 'absolutely fabulous!!!!!!' Genuine reviewers tend to share the good and the bad. Similarly, scathing reviews with nothing good to say may also be written by a competitor with an axe to grind.

"Great recommendation by *****Vans, the Volkswagen Crafter is built to do the job, pin-sharp handling and a cleverly designed cargo area. Plus, it's cheap to run!

If you're looking for a new van then I highly recommend you use ***** Vans"

Sounds like an ad?

Then chances are it's been paid for. If someone waxes lyrical over a product or service with masses of verbs, adverbs and praise and without any 'buts', it could be too good to be true. If you can't imagine someone saying it in a normal conversation, chances are it's bogus.

"As a delivery driver I was looking for a new van which would be perfect for deliveries in a busy city centre. ***** Vans were great, they helped me find the right van at a low price and delivering the Citroen Berlingo free of charge to my front door meant it didn't interfere with my deliveries!

I have already recommended ***** Vans to others."


"The Renault Kangoo might be compact but it's big on performance. The ideal van to drive around busy city centres and easy to park."

Learn from history

Lots of consumer review sites will let you click on a reviewer's profile to see what other products and services they have reviewed. Avoid one review accounts and your guard should also be up if a reviewer has written about several products in a single category. How many vans can a person buy?! It's also worth thinking twice about people who only leave five star reviews, they may be duplicitous.

Template reviews

Check the date of reviews. A sudden influx of reviews written on the same day, or reviews that repeat the full name and model of a product a lot of times are tell-tail signs that a template is being used to produce false reviews.

Read plenty of reviews

Don't be swayed by an isolated review. Look at lots of them on varying websites. If you rely on more than one source your chances of getting biased reviews are diminished.

Ultimately, no matter how well you do you research you need to remember 'Buyer Beware' and apply a good dollop of old-fashioned common-sense. Only pay credence to reviews that are balanced and reflect that the writer can actually describe using the product or service.