Tackling Fake Online Reviews: How to Detect a False Promotion

It's common knowledge in the business world that online reviews have monumental value in influencing others to make purchases. Many consumers now base their purchasing primarily on customer reviews, especially with local directories like Yelp. This awareness has led marketers to manipulate reviews that can mislead consumers. Here are ways you can spot fake online reviews.

Fake Online Reviews On the Rise

Researcher Fakespot has found that the highest volume of phony reviews on Amazon is for cell phones (64%) and sports/outdoor gear (45%). Other products that attract a high percentage of distorted favorability include beauty (44%), pet supplies (32%) and grocery/gourmet food (25%). One way you can detect fake reviews is by ignoring stars or ratings and focusing on remarks, number of posts for a particular product or analyze the post on Fakespot. The site analyzes thousands of listings on Amazon and Yelp. A simple method to spot fake online reviews for hotels is to compare reviews on Expedia and TripAdvisor. Radically different opinions often suggest rigged results.

How To Detect Fake Online Reviews

  • use of marketing speak instead of common language
  • redundant reviews with similar content
  • every review is extraordinarily positive
  • frequent vague trashing of competitors with inflammatory language
  • stories about switching from a negative to positive opinion
  • mention of discount codes or specific plugs where to buy the product
  • similar reviews appear for various locations of the same chain
  • early reviews before the product is even released
  • the reviewer consistently only promotes one company
  • usernames ending in over 3 numbers indicate automated programming

Jargon and Extremes May Expose the Hype

Always beware when a reviewer uses the full name of the product down to the model number each time it's mentioned. The common consumer doesn't talk like a salesperson. Even diehard enthusiasts will use popular nicknames of products for the sake of brevity instead of stating the full product name repeatedly. Once they have established they're talking about an Apple iPhone7, for example, they are likely to just say iPhone afterward. Consistent use of the brand or product name in all caps is another dead giveaway of hype by an insider. One of the reasons a marketer will use the full name over and over in various reviews is to speak directly to search engine bots with the hope of getting multiple links indexed or to create the impression of popularity. That's actually a black hat scheme that search engines define as web spam. It's an ill-advised move since it can backfire and get the spammer blocked or penalized. Extremes are another indicator that write-ups may be insincere. Phrases like "incredibly awesome" or even more exaggerated like "it's the greatest ever" could just be overblown jive talk. If the hyperbole dominates the post without giving details about the product, it starts to seem like confirmation that the reviewer doesn't know much about the product and perhaps has never even used it. Overly negative extremes can create suspicion that someone is being paid to bash a competitor.

Self-Promotion: A Different Type of Fake Post

Fake reviews come in many forms. Sometimes marketers abuse review sites just to give themselves free publicity after posting weak reviews that don't help the consumer. It may just be quick fluff with an emphasis on leaving a web address that is irrelevant to the product. The marketer, who may not realize they are committing useless web spam, may make these posts for hours on different sites, thinking they are getting away with generating free advertising for themselves. This type of activity has been frowned upon by search engines, which may detect fake reviews if duplicated posts trace back to the same source.

Cracking Down on Posers

Amazon is leading the way to spot fake online reviews, as it is suing over a thousand individuals the company has accused of writing paid artificial product views. The world's biggest online store also verifies some reviews that the reviewer did in fact purchase the product. Other sites only allow reviews if the customer has bought the product through its system. Evidence suggests that not only are deceptive reviews widespread, they are generating plenty of doubt, which hurts the credibility of sites that host these bogus plugs. Nearly 60% of consumers are suspicious of brands that get too many positive reviews, according to researcher Mintel. Cornell University is also working on combating this online deception by developing a computer algorithm that can detect fake reviews. Its ground-breaking software is called Review Skeptic, which compares language used in authentic vs. manipulated posts. Its 90% accuracy rate outperforms human analysts.


Sometimes it's easy to spot fake online reviews, especially if they are overly favorably with little substance. Other times this manipulation can be more subtle and requires critical thinking. Posts that paint a company as bigger than life and can do no wrong are red flags, especially if you see similar posts on several different sites for the same product. Hard sell language like "I recommend" is another sign of possible paid hype. Authentic reviews normally have less of a generic sales pitch and more of a unique personal perspective.