This year, online reviews have been a big talking point. Reviews on Google, TrustPilot and more are an important part of the buying process, helping brands leverage social proof and increase credibility. However, they have recently been the centre of discussion around bribery. Customers have often been bribed for good reviews for some time now, but this has taken more of the spotlight this year, with review sites cracking down, and mainstream press bringing more attention to the issue.

In April this year, the BBC in the UK reported that fake five-star reviews were being bought and sold online. The investigation by BBC 5 live uncovered online forums on which Amazon users were offered full refunds for positive reviews, and was able to buy positive TrustPilot reviews in similar circumstances.

The investigation by the BBC highlighted reports that around half of product reviews for certain products on Amazon are likely to be unreliable, and whilst around three quarters of adults in the UK use online review websites, around half of those believe they have seen at least one fake review.

Amazon and TrustPilot have said they are against fake reviews, with Amazon introducing measures against what it called “incentivized reviews” – reviews that were obtained by offering some sort of incentive. Many feel this has simply driven the practice further underground.

Following the investigation, TrustPilot changed its reviews policy. Previously, negative reviews would often be flagged as spam by companies, and taken down whilst investigated. Once they were proven to be true, would be returned, but would often have been ‘buried’ by positive reviews at that time. Now, the review site will not remove negative reviews during the investigatory period. This month, it has been reported in the UK that retailers could have to check whether reviews of their products are genuine under new guidelines from the British Standards Institution in a new standard dubbed ISO 20488, for retailers and other companies to ensure the validity of online reviews.

There have been a number of cases of businesses being penalised for incentivizing people to review their products or services, including the Louisville, Kentucky law firm Winton & Hiestand Law Group, which had the vast majority of their reviews removed after it was reported on the Advertiser Community forums. The power of online reviews in the buying process is known to be huge, which is why such efforts have been made to keep review sites and services credible.

There must be another way…

How can businesses increase their chances of getting positive reviews, without risking penalties? We asked the Go-Mash Expert Community for their ideas.

“In this day and age, most people are lazy and won’t take the time out of their day to make the effort of writing a review. Sometimes it just requires making things as easy as possible for people to leave a review. If you own an online business, this can be simply leaving a link to the Google reviews page at the bottom of your email receipt. If you own a brick and mortar business, having a sign near the cash register explaining that positive online reviews help small businesses “like us” thrive. Sometimes people just need a little nudge.”
James Russell, Founder – FindBitcoinATM

“Just do good, remarkable work. People are more than happy to recommend work that they are definitely sure will not make them look bad for referring it. When you do outstanding work, people will trip, stumble and fall trying to get you referrals. Because your good work makes them look good. As soon as you have exceeded a customer’s expectations, that’s the point of getting a recommendation or a review. Just do good work.”
Prosper Taruvinga, Online Prosperity Consultant

“I always recommend clients to forget about getting reviews. Focus instead on making the customer experience amazing. Make what you offer far better than competitors offer. Then you get great reviews with no risk. Sales and margins get better too!”
Denis Oakley, Strategy Consultant at Denis Oakley Strategy Consulting

“One thing we do in order to gain positive reviews, is to gently ask our satisfied clients to share their positive exper ience in a review. Studies show that people who are unhappy are way more motivated to share it in a review, while people who are happy with the service just move on without the need to share it online. So, we just kindly ask those happy ones to share it. ANother thing we do is to provide bloggers with complimentary services in exchange of their honest review shared on their blogs.”
Jane Wilson, Business Manager at the Melbourne branch of Fantastic Cleaners

What do you think?

Do you have any other tips? Please tell us in the comments below!

Category:   Advertising, Marketing
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