online reviews

Consumers are increasingly utilising online reviews to engage with businesses and, ultimately, inform their purchasing decisions. By the day, it is becoming ever-more vital that you learn how to keep online reviews honest, so that fake content does not damage your firm’s reputation online.

Power of online reviews

In 2014, research from Bright Local[1] indicated that 88% of consumers trust online reviews as much as personal recommendations. Meanwhile, data released by the British government last year, suggests that over half of consumers now regularly consult online reviews before buying products and services.

Consumers often post reviews on social media sites, as well as specialist platforms such as Trust Pilot and TripAdvisor. The content posted on these platforms is seen as trusted information by Google, so it ranks prominently in searches for your company’s name. The first page of Google searches attracts 92% of search traffic[2], so when negative reviews rank for your firm, they can damage your image.

Assessing the impact

Igniyte research recently featured on Small Business illustrates the impact of negative reviews. We found that 52% of small firms have experienced a decline in business due to negative reviews. Nearly half 47% of those questioned have been impacted by bad or malicious reviews over the past year, while 79% admitted that online comments, reviews and forum posts are important to their business.

Commenting, Igniyte Director Simon Wadsworth said: “taking control of a company’s online review and content strategy is crucial to its success.” 30% of those polled spend five hours a week managing reviews. Offering review management advice, he noted: “It’s about having a robust business with good customer service/complaint handling processes and strong positive dialogue as its starting point.”

Fake reviews

It is key that your review management strategy prioritises honesty. In the last few years, claims have surfaced suggesting that some firms dishonestly post fake reviews online to promote a positive reputation to consumers. Also other companies have been targeted by rivals, opportunistic consumers or trolls with disingenuous negative content, damaging their online reputations significantly.

In 2015, The Competition & Markets Authority (CMA) cracked down on negative reviews. In early 2016, the CMA took action against Total SEO, an SEO agency which was found to be posting fake reviews on behalf of clients. Speaking at the time, CMA Director Nisha Arora said that negative reviews “must be handled lawfully,” adding that “posting fake reviews about clients is unacceptable.”

Management platforms

The CMA’s crackdown serves as problematic for businesses which use services such as TripAdvisor and Trust Pilot to manage their reviews. In light of the CMA’s crackdown, some platforms are addressing the issue. Trust Pilot, for example, has amended its review process in light of the CMA’s report, to promote honesty.

There is one review management platform which has always prioritised honesty – Feefo, which was founded in 2010 by Matt Eames.[3] Feefo only lets people review online when they have definitely purchased products or services from the firm they are reviewing. Client merchants supply their sales data, which the platforms utilises to draw reviews out from consumers.

Feefo’s approach has been successful. The platform has 3,000 customers who pay Feefo to handle reviews. Among its major clients, the service counts UK menswear retailer Charles Tyrwhitt, US travel company Expedia and insurance provider AXA. It is expected to increase revenue to £10m by 2017 and is expanding beyond online reviews, to more generally inform consumer purchasing decisions.

Explaining, Eames said: “We’re investing a lot of time and effort and money in innovations and how Feefo can touch more consumers’ lives wherever they are purchasing. Reviews will always be at the core but we want to help consumers make better purchasing decisions offline.” Recognising shifting consumer trends, for instance, the service is looking at giving consumers the ability to scan product barcodes via phone, bringing up reviews. By adopting this approach, Feefo is promoting ease of use to users, who are increasingly utilise hand-held devices to inform purchasing decisions on the go.

Damage limitation

There are various means your company can use to keep reviews honest. It is also vital that your team is alerted to disingenuous content online as soon as possible so you can engage in damage limitation efforts, such as hiring review management platforms or reporting the false review to website moderators and Google, to ensure it does not rank in you search results. Set up Google alerts for your firm’s name and variations of your name, so you can act on fake content posted online immediately.

It is vital to note that Google is clamping down on fake reviews. In 2013, it warned companies[4] that “fake glowing testimonies” will be removed, adding that “all reviews come from first-hand experience and do not allow posting reviews on behalf of others.” Instead of posting fake reviews, focus on providing excellent products, services and customer services, so consumers have a reason to leave a positive review of your business, generating content which will rank highly on Google searches.

[1] http://searchengineland.com/88-consumers-trust-online-reviews-much-personal-recommendations-195803

[2] https://searchenginewatch.com/sew/study/2276184/no-1-position-in-google-gets-33-of-search-traffic-study

[3] http://www.managementtoday.co.uk/meet-entrepreneur-keeping-online-reviews-honest/entrepreneurs/article/1412241

[4] https://searchenginewatch.com/sew/news/2241393/google-warns-seo-businesses-to-avoid-fake-reviews