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August 24, 2023

20 Consequences of Buying Fake Online Reviews

Buying fake reviews is never a good idea. Laws are changing, the downsides are many, and it's important to know the risks. You're better than that.

The Short Version (We're All Busy):

Don't buy Google reviews. Or any other sort of online feedback. Ever.

The Long Version:

There are many varieties of online review fraud. One of the most prevalent, which comes with the highest risk to your business, is paying for disingenuous and fraudulent customer feedback. 

Sure, it’s tempting. Fake reviews and star ratings can give any business a short-term boost - but don't be fooled: in the long run, buying online reviews is an awful idea. Abysmal. Simply too terrible to risk. We implore you not to consider it.

Fake Reviews: A Definition
Fake online reviews encompass any feedback that is not a genuine opinion or experience related to a product, service or business. They can be either positive, neutral, or negative depending on whether the intent is to help a business or hurt a competitor. Fraudulent reviews do not reflect the honest opinions of actual customers.

Still mulling it over? If you think you can get away with playing fast and loose with customer trust by manipulating public opinion through fabricated five-star assessments, guess again. You're going to land in hot penalized water, lose customer trust and/or end up with a massive fine quicker than green grass goes through a goose.

Not 100% dissuaded as of yet? You will be by the time you’ve finished this article. Not only are fake reviews simply fraudulent (and beneath you), but there's a whole host of other reasons why this sneaky tactic won't pay off for marketers. Keep reading to find out what they are, and we had very little trouble coming up with so many.

20 Potential Consequences of Paid Reviews

Where do we start? There’s no way the (debatable) upside of paying for reviews is worth, or matches in terms of pros, the myriad of likely cons(equences). Let’s break down some of the potential negative effects: 

  1. Damaged Credibility: Fake reviews will damage your reputation. Once customers realize some reviews are fake, because they’ve either heard that through the grapevine or noticed the low relevance/quality themselves, trust evaporates.

  2. Hurts “SEO” Rankings: Search engines often penalize the local or even national visibility of businesses found to be using fake reviews, which puts your hard-earned organic rankings in jeopardy.

  3. Legal Consequences: Businesses can face heavy legal penalties if caught buying reviews. The FTC recently proposed new laws making the practice officially illegal everywhere in the USA, and we’re confident this legislation will go into effect.

  4. Breach of Platform Guidelines: Where would you be… if banned from GBP? Most online platforms have guidelines against fake reviews; breaking these can lead to penalties, including removal and permanent banishment.

  5. Negative Publicity: If your business is caught manipulating reviews, it could lead to a public press pillorying. Search Google News on the subject and see for yourself how much coverage the topic is getting.

  6. Customer Disappointment: Fake reviews are designed to raise customer expectations, leading to disappointment when the product or service doesn’t match up.

  7. Misrepresents Your Brand: Even if every one of them is positive, fake reviews endanger brands and may lead to a distorted public image. Let’s say you bought a package of 1, 5, or 10 thousand fake reviews. Would you then go through them all looking for harmful or inaccurate representations?

  8. Triggers Skepticism: An abundance of positive reviews can make shoppers skeptical, especially if there are no criticisms at all. A few negative reviews are actually valuable, as they add to authenticity and consumer confidence.

    Consequences of buying fake reviews

  9. Lacks Constructive Feedback: Genuine reviews provide constructive feedback, helping businesses to improve. Prospective customers will also appreciate seeing you take this type of feedback to heart in public.

  10. Lost Business Opportunities: A loss in credibility can likewise lead to lost business or even partnership opportunities, affecting your business's growth and bottom line.

  11. Monitoring Relevance: Constant review is required to ensure the fake reviews appear genuine and relevant to your company, which is always time-consuming and costly.

  12. Risk of Exposure: With technology advancing, it’s easier than ever to identify fake reviews, risking exposure. Just like Google’s algorithm is now trained to look for low-quality AI articles, it’s also gunning for feedback fraudulence.

  13. Encourages Unethical Practices: Fake reviews encourage unethical business practices, leading to a detrimental company culture. Where will you draw the line in terms of what you’re willing to do to get ahead?

  14. Creates False Demand: Fake positive reviews can create artificial demand for a product or service. This can ultimately prove costly, and at a minimum often makes the perpetrator appear scammy, spammy and slimy.

  15. Misleads Customers: Fake reviews mislead customers, which is unethical and can lead to loss of customer loyalty. Similar to disappointing them, lying to customers has to happen first, and can prove detrimental in so many ways.

  16. Devalues Genuine Reviews: Fake reviews devalue the genuine and make them less impactful or convincing. We could call this the “little boy who cried wolf” effect. By buying reviews to supplement the real ones, you may be canceling out the real altogether.

  17. Unpredictable Results: The results of fake reviews are unpredictable and may not bring the expected boost in sales. There may be zero upside at all - you just won’t know for sure until you pull the trigger.

  18. Distorts Market Research: Fake reviews can muddle invaluable market research and make it challenging to assess genuine customer preferences. Marketing 101: Understand your target market. You’ll be at a tangible disadvantage here.

  19. Long-term Damage: The damage caused by fake reviews can be long-lasting, impacting the business's trustworthiness for years to come or resulting in a proper reputation crisis. We’re not talking about a little bad word of mouth or a temporary rankings dip - this is Chapter 11 territory.

  20. Fines, Fines, Fines: If you haven’t been keeping up with the news, again - the FTC has proposed new anti-review-fraud laws which can come with a $50,000 fine for every fake review posted, and every time one of them is seen by a consumer

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How to Spot a Shady Review-Related Vendor

There are many companies that offer legitimate review management services and effective feedback generation strategies - but all of the reviews are from real customers in those cases. If you’re not sure if a vendor’s offerings are within FTC or major platform guidelines, ask. If you don’t like their answer, walk away. Quickly.

Trust your gut. If something doesn't feel right, it probably isn't. Look out for vendors who are overly pushy, have a lack of knowledge about their products and general guidelines, or try to get you to make a purchase without giving you time to think. If it walks like a duck and talks like a duck, it's probably a dodgy review charlatan trying to make a quick buck. So, keep your guard up and your wallet/reputation safe.

Why Buying Fake Reviews is NEVER Worth the Risk

When it comes to online shopping, what's worse than a product with no reviews? One with fake reviews, dear reader.

Not only is it morally questionable, but it's also risky business. Platforms like Google, Amazon and Yelp (not to mention the FTC) are cracking down on fake reviews left and right, and if they catch you red-handed, the consequences can be severe. You must put in the work to build up a collection of genuine, trustworthy social proof instead. Your bottom line, reputation and conscience will thank you.

Genuine Customer Feedback Matters Most

Forget about surveys and focus groups, real customer feedback is what truly matters when it comes to your potential for success. I mean, who knows your product or service better than the people who are actually using it? You might think you know what your customers want, but they’ll always surprise you with original insights. So listen to your customers, whether it's good, bad, or ugly, because their opinion is the only one that really counts. Phony reviews don't offer these benefits, and who can’t benefit from brutally honest feedback?

One More Time for the Cheap Seats

All in all, the takeaway is simple – buy reviews at your own risk. Despite what vendors may claim, you probably won't outsmart anyone and you're certainly not going to fool customers, platforms or the FTC. Not for long, anyway. Instead of taking shortcuts to build rock-solid online reputations, put effort into creating products and services that can stand behind themselves. 

To stay above board, consider a review generation software, like Invite, that automatically texts each of your real customers to leave a genuine review - so you never even need to think about paying for fake ones.

Automated Review Generation  Collect authentic reviews from your customers. Learn more about Invite

Dave Pye

A digital marketing dinosaur, my SEO career began in 1999 at one of Boston's first digital marketing agencies. Prior to becoming Widewail's Director of Search I had a long focus on GMB, reviews and local organic visibility for automotive dealerships in competitive locales. Regardless of a specific industry, this decade of experience was the perfect precursor for a role supporting our innovative Engage and Invite services. Originally from Canada, I enjoy hockey, Frank Sinatra, writing on a variety of subjects, old movies - and am the proud parent of a geriatric Boston Terrier. Customers, peers, or anyone with online review-related questions are encouraged to contact me, anytime.

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