In a competitive online business world, it can be the quality of social proof that makes or breaks a brand. Whether it's compelling testimonials, the word of influencers or positive online reviews, the power of recommendation is a well-established concept.
However, there's a blot on the landscape. The proliferation of review sites has lead to increasing numbers of fake entries, often purchased from so-called SEO companies who offer glowing reviews by the hundreds. If you're tempted to use one of these services to give your social proof a boost, then be careful: it's a tactic that can easily backfire, and here's why.
Damage to Credibility
Although it's great to have good reviews, if your company receives nothing but glowing recommendations, it starts to look more than a little suspect. Buying fake reviews can quickly dilute the credibility of your genuine ones, without adding any benefit.
It Could Cost You Heavily
In most jurisdictions, fake reviews can quickly fall under the legal category of false advertising. While it's a murky area and prosecutions are uncommon, do you want to risk a hefty fine that could send you out of business?
They Destroy Loyalty
Whether you're caught red-handed or become an object of suspicion, if a customer feels you're lying to them, the chances are slim indeed that they'll stay loyal to your brand. With careful management, you can often turn a poor review to your advantage, but fakery is a stain on your reputation that won't easily scrub off.
Search engines work hard to provide the best results they can for their users, and a large part of their ranking algorithms may include authentic customer ratings and satisfaction signals. Try and game the system (especially on a platform such as Google maps), and you risk damaging your traffic or even receiving a ban. Could you cope with losing all your organic search engine visitors?
Lastly, the simple fact is that companies offering this kind of service are placed very much toward the darker end of the marketing spectrum, and you can't rely on their business ethics being above reproach. Once you've paid your money, can you honestly trust them to deliver on their promises, or will they be as dishonest with you as they are with the review sites they target? Even if fake reviews don't actively harm your brand, there's every chance you'll simply waste your money.
In the dog-eat-dog world of online business, it's sometimes tempting to take a short cut to success. However, this rarely works out well - and with fake review services especially, the results could be the polar opposite of what you intended.