How to Spot Fake Local Business Reviews

One of the big changes in culture that has come from the Internet is in how we as consumers do research on local businesses we're considering working with. While in the past we primarily relied on friends, family members, and colleagues' word of mouth recommendations, we now instead often first head to Google, Facebook, or specialized websites like Yelp. 

As with all new things, there are both pros and cons. And, online reviews of local business like automotive service shops and HVAC companies are no different. 

The major pro is that you can get a much wider spectrum of customer reviews. However, this comes with a major drawback too -

Fake reviews. 

Fake reviews are a serious problem as they can lure you into a business that's going to take your money and deliver very poor service. No one you know would have ever referred you to them. But, fake reviews they paid for help con you out of your hard earned money. 

The good news is that fake reviews are not all that hard to find if you have any idea of what to look for. In fact, they can be spotted rather easily with a tiny bit of practice. 

Here are three of the biggest tells that a company may be using fake reviews to promote their business. 

Bookends

Probably the easiest way to tell a review profile on a website for a local business is full of paid fakes is the bookend pattern. 

The easiest way to explain what a bookend pattern looks like is to think of a business getting a ton of 5 star reviews along with a ton of 1 star reviews without much in between. 

Here is an example for an unnamed business on TrustPilot

trust pilot review

While it's not an even split between "Excellent" and "Poor", the fact that there are so many unhappy customers yet somehow there are also a lot of thrilled customers with not much in the middle is a reg flag.

Compare that to a business that has a more natural review profile. 

trust pilot random business

This business has done a great job at pleasing their customers. Sure, there are a few unhappy people, but you can't please everyone.

The main point is that this looks like it makes sense. You have a lot of happy customers and only a few that were less than pleased. It's not a profile showing two extremes. 

You can see this same pattern for businesses that do a poor job at pleasing their customers but have not tried to manipulate their review profile. 

unhappy customers

You have a whole heap of unsatisfied customers and only a few that thought they received good service. Again, this is showing a realistic pattern and not the extremes of having both very happy and very angry customers.  

A good business gets good reviews and a poor one gets poor reviews. You don't get a solid mix of both. 

You'll actually see this pattern on e-commerce sites like Amazon where users can leave product reviews too. 

Popular Days

Another huge tell for if a company is engaging is some shady dealing in order to pad their review profile with a lot of fake positive reviews is they tend to get a bunch of compliments on the same day. 

For example, if they have a lot of reviews coming in on random days over the course of several months, then they get a massive surplus of 5-star or positive reviews all on one day, there's a good chance they are not real. 

Here's a business review from SiteJabber for a company that has a wake of unhappy customers. 

sitejabber review

Yet, they miraculously received a quick shot of 5-star reviews over the course of a couple days. 

5-star 1
5-2
5 star 3
5 star 4

If this looks fishy to you that's because it is. Sometimes it's even worse with a company having months of 1 and 2-star reviews and then suddenly they get dozens of 5-star reviews on the very same day. 

Cadence

The third red flag is a little more difficult to spot at first. But, it's also pretty easy to spot with some practice. 

If a company's positive reviews all kind of sound the same, it should be a prompt that you need to investigate in more detail.

We can even see a bit of this in the above section where all four of the 5-star reviews use the word "Great" and two of them use the exact same heading, "Great customer service". 

They're just too similar to be random and realistic. 

Other red flags are if most of the positive reviews end with an explanation mark, or if all the positive reviews are very short and generic. 

If you see a lot of reviews like this for a company with a suspect review profile, you might be getting conned -

"Great company. Recommend!"

"I'm so happy I picked them to help!"

"Great service!"

A couple of these mixed in might be fine, but if all the good reviews are lacking substance and appear generic, be careful. 

Additionally, if all the positive reviews are written in a way to exactly contradict the poor reviews, that's suspect too. 

In other words, do the positive reviews actually tell you something about the business, or are they all fluff that look like they were written by the same person? Or, were they made to say the exact opposite of what others have complained about? 

Final Word

When looking at online reviews for businesses, it's important to not just look at their aggregate score but to dive deeper and see what people are actually saying. 

Businesses know how important maintaining a good reputation is, and many unscrupulous ones will happily pay for services to try and manipulate their poor online reputation into a more positive one. 


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