With the increase in customer interaction via social media, review sites are becoming a much more important part of the online consumer experience. Unfortunately, what many of us assume about reviews is not the truth. Not knowing how online reviews really work can be damaging to you as a business owner and misleading to you as a consumer. It’s time to expose the truth about reviews.

Some Reviews are Fake

Actually, that’s not true. The fact is, MOST reviews are fake, especially product reviews. When you’re out there researching your next tech purchase or trying to find the best new author for your ebook collection, many of the reviews you see have been paid for by the benefitting company or individual. Even though you may be a diligent researcher making only the most practical purchases, there is always someone trying to trick you into buying their product. Rich companies spend thousands (and probably much more) to hire armies of reviewers to spread their overzealous fandom to review sites far and wide.

Not only that, but those same companies hire black-hat bloggers to publish content with “Top 10…” or “Best of…” lists that just happen to include their brand. Even more underhanded are the paid advertisements designed to look like reviews and awards bordering your favorite websites and the fake social media personas meant to talk up a particular product or service to their demographic. Even the apps you download are guilty, preventing users from continuing beyond a certain point unless they are given a 5-star rating!

Sometimes fake reviews aren’t hired or forced, but come from vengeful customers instead. Perhaps they were unhappy with your product or service. They certainly have a right to leave a review to let others know about their experience. However, particularly angry clients can urge their friends to leave similar reviews even though they were never customers! Sites like Google and Yelp are trying to crack down on this, but often, they are powerless when it comes to differentiating between real and fake reviews and thus, take no action.

That Bad Review Email is a Scam

To make things worse, it’s not just the customers and companies, real or fake, trying to trick you. Reputation management firms send out mass emails that claim, “We found a negative review about you!” Seeing this, you react frantically, trying to locate the review in question, and upon finding none, you call the company to find out what’s wrong. This is how they get you to sign up for services you don’t need. They play upon your ego or business reputation so they can get paid to do nothing. Don’t fall for it! Instead, set up a Google notification with your name on it and another one with your company’s name. Then, every time a new webpage pops up mentioning either, you’ll get an email about it. If you have an SEO or PR team like Jurevicious Studios, they are probably already doing this for you.

Yelp Doesn’t Show All Your Reviews

In the past, black-hat SEO firms simply pushed bad reviews down a few pages by adding several fake positive ones. As a result, review sites like Yelp are becoming selective about which reviews they decide to show. You’d think your reviews would simply be listed chronologically, but this is not the case. Instead, they try to show a wide breadth of reviews over time and type, picking out any they believe are crucial for potential customers to see. In so doing, they decide your review fate and there’s not much you can do about it.

Bad Reviews Can and Will Stick Around for Awhile

We get calls all of the time from people desperate to get rid of their bad reviews. Unfortunately, those bad reviews probably aren’t going anywhere, even with the help of a skilled SEO team. Your rating is cumulative, so it takes a long time for positive reviews to bring it up after a bad review. Since we don’t recommend artificially boosting your reviews, you will need to live with the ones you get. If you honestly believe you’ve been falsely reviewed, you can contact the review site, but it will probably take a legal battle and some hard evidence to make your case. The best thing you can do is reply to the review, making sure your side is heard, and to encourage new, satisfied customers to leave their own opinion. Eventually, good business practices will prevail.

Your Customers Don’t Know How to Review You

If you’re trying to establish a reputation on Yelp, Google, or elsewhere, or desperately trying to outweigh a negative comment, then you should urge your customers to leave reviews. Unfortunately though, not everyone knows where or how to leave a review. You’ll want to make it as easy as possible for them, so they don’t inadvertently hurt your reputation or prevent their review from being published.

If you send out any digital information after a purchase, be sure to include a link to your review page. Along with this, add instructions on how to leave a review. The key is to be detailed and honest. Short reviews aren’t often selected by Yelp and can look like spam to other sites. They should include what they bought from you, how their experience was, and whether or not they would recommend your business to others.

In some cases, reviewers must have an account to leave a review, which is one more step on which you could lose them. Be sure to let them know if having an account is free or not and give them multiple reviews sites as options. You can also create a testimonial page for your website. This allows you to control which reviews are seen and when.

Good or Bad, Your Reviews are Great for SEO

If you’ve ever searched for a particular product or service, you’ve likely noticed that underneath the first few Google entries are a list of locals and their ratings. These first-page listings are coveted spots that can only be obtained by getting Google reviews, good or bad. Additionally, every review profile you create includes a link back to your site – and review sites like Google, Yelp, etc. have great page ranks, so having a backlink there does a ranking good! The more reviews you get, the more powerful that link becomes. Of course, savvy Google users will take the time to check your rating, so good reviews are still better for traffic than bad ones.

Take advantage of all of the review sites available to you. The obvious favorites are Google, Yelp, and Amazon, but people can also leave reviews on networking sites like Facebook, ReciProty, and Elance as well as on industry sites like Avvo for lawyers, GoodReads for authors, and HealthGrades for doctors. The more trusted sites that host your reviews, the better your SEO. Of course, you’ll also be opening your company up to fake and/or negative reviews, so proceed at your own risk. If it’s too much for you to manage, consider investing in an experienced SEO, PR, or marketing team who can create your profiles, persuade real customers to review you, and track your ratings.